The essay entitled “Bridges for Evangelicals: Journeying into Contemplative Spirituality and Spiritual Direction” by Elsa McInnes discusses five “great divides” that evangelical followers of Christ must cross over in order to enter into a more contemplative spirituality. I offer these here for your review and comments …

1.  Sacred or Secular. The ancient Greek philosophical idea that divides sacred things from secular things is not part of the life of Jesus Christ. With this divide removed, God is then free to express himself to us through his creation, through the arts, music, etc.

2.  Knowing or Feeling, the Head or the Heart, law or love. Evangelicalism stresses knowing God through the mind. Yet knowing about someone is not the same knowing someone personally. As with our close personal relationships with other people, we must not only approach God intellectually but also through our emotions and senses.

3.  Doing or Being, Inner Journey or Outer Service. Evangelicalism stresses visible ministry activities and generally looks down upon any inner spiritual reflection. Yet we are and must be human beings before we can become “human doings”. Who we truly are, spiritually, our true spiritual identity, is just as important (if not more so) than the spiritual or religious ministries we perform.

4.  Individualism or Faith Community. Evangelicalism emphasizes salvation of the individual. Yet evangelicals often find themselves isolated from the rich traditions of other parts of Christianity. It’s only in the whole of the experience of the greater Christian community that someone can find his or her true identity and calling in Christ.

5.  Mastery or Mystery. Evangelicalism tends to want to define the exact meaning of the Bible and the nature of God. Yet those same sacred scriptures say that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Yet even with our close human relationships, there is always an element of discovery and mystery. How much more so with God?

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A few days ago, Michael Spencer, a.k.a. “The Internet Monk“, wrote a thought-provoking opinion article about Evangelicalism for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper entitled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”:

Mr. Spencer, a long-time blogger and commentator about issues related to the Evangelical Church, is also the blogger behind the Jesus Shaped Spirituality site.

The article is divided into four parts: an introduction, an explanation about why, in the author’s view, Evangelicalism is going to collapse, a summary of what will be left in the wake of the Evangelical Church, and, finally, a discussion of whether this upcoming collapse will be good or bad.

The introduction explains the thesis of this commentary article. Evangelicalism will not die but will shrink to half of its current size in two generations. More aggressively secular societies will lead to more hostile public policies towards Evangelical Christianity. In the face of public pressure, many evangelical churches and para-church ministries will either fade away or grow increasingly secular themselves.

The collapse of Evangelicalism will occur because of financial difficulties, too close of an alignment with conservative politics, ignorance about history and theology, and consumerism, among other things. In Mr. Spencer’s view, megachurches will never completely vanish, but they will become increasingly weakened as they emphasize “relevance” over doctrine.

Many evangelicals will go to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Others will go into the growing house church movement. Mr. Spencer also predicts that “emerging” churches will fade away by blending back into Mainline Protestantism. He also sees the rise of Pentacostal/Charismatic churches becoming the dominant part of what remains of the Evangelical Church.

Perhaps in a tip of the hat to Shane Claiborne and other new monastics, Mr. Spencer observes that the church will need to return to being countercultural and “empire subvers[ive]” instead of relying on a sense of entitlement and privilege.

I found Mr. Spencer’s critiques of the “pragmatism and shallowness” of evangelicalism to be his strongest. The failure of Evangelicalism to build across the generations through personal discipleship is perhaps its greatest weakness.

Mr. Spencer provides more detailed information about the coming Evangelical collapse at:

Book Review: “Quitting Church”

Posted in: Reviews by bill-o on October 11, 2008

“Quitting Church” is a very good snapshot of the current state of the Church in the United States. As the field of accounting has both the balance sheet (a snapshot in time of the finances of a company) and the income statement (the top line and bottom line), this book could be compared to the balance sheet of Christianity in the U.S. The book is written by  Julia Duin, religion editor of The Washington Times.

[A little background that is not in the book might be helpful here. “Church quitters” are often looked upon very negatively in evangelical church circles. They are usually seen as spiritual backsliders, a dangerous spiritual state for Christians. “Church hoppers” are those who frequently change church congregations. While not as bad as quitters, hoppers are sometimes looked at with some level of caution, depending upon the circumstances involved. Finally, churches that lose a substantial number of members are often called “dead” or “dead churches”.]

In the past, mainline denominations were losing members during the last few decades. Today, it is the evangelical churches that are cresting in attendance and beginning to lose congregants. Evangelicals, who once openly criticised mainline churches for being “dead” are now beginning to watch their own members head out the doors. The author says the following about what she calls (appropriately) the “evangelical monolith”: “… [It] is simply the emperor before losing his clothes. The form is there, but the substance-the strength and the people-has long departed.” “Quitting Church” is a book which discusses the issues surrounding this new phenomena of people quitting the evangelical church.

A key part of the book was how Ms. Duin compares the state of the Church in the U.S. in the 1970s to today. The 70s were the last move of true spiritual power and fervor in Christianity in the U.S. The 70s were the peek of the Charismatic movement as well as an influx of new believers into non-Charismatic evangelical churches. However, the spontanaeity and freshness of the move of the Holy Spirit thirty years ago has now been replaced with services that are either micromanaged and packaged to the point of being cold, dry, and boring or that revolve around the personalities of their pastors.

The reasons for people quitting their churches are varied: spiritual abuse (not a main topic of this book), boredom, or loneliness (especially in large churches). Men and singles, in particular, are abandoning traditional church structures as they perceive that their particular spiritual needs are not being met. Working mothers may be the next large group of believers to leave. Young adults are also absenting themselves from churches: As Ms. Duin notes, soon, only 4% of U.S. teens will be Bible-believing Christians. If present trends continue, the church in the U.S. will be half of its current size in 15 years.

As with most problems in organizations, we must start by looking at the top, and pastors (ministers) come in for both criticism and sympathy in “Quitting Church”. In the book, pastors are “surrounded by a wall of secretaries and voice mail”. In “Quitting Church”, pastors who started out fearless eventually became timid. After all, fearless leaders “unnerve the structure”. Pastors are caught in a system that requires them to spend 12 to 15 hours of preparation each week to give a sermon each Sunday. This inevitably leads to cutting corners as per the intellectual substance of their messages. What is preached on Sunday mornings is now less and less challenging. Pablum is substituted for substance. In today’s churches, new Christians are spiritually fed, but the more mature are bored. Today’s messages from the pulpit are “spiritual baby food”. Many pastors themselves are burned out and are quitting church, too. Churches in the U.S. are much more akin to Corporate America than to the 1st-century communities of Christ-followers. They are institutions where “senior pastors” and “executive pastors” (terms found nowhere in the New Testament, by the way) act like CEOs and vice presidents of corporations.

So, what would draw people back to church? An answer that Ms. Duin points to is the yearning for community. After all, following Christ means living a way of life. Churches may become more open in format and less focussed on the audience vs. preacher paradigm. House churches are also on the rise. Some will abandon evangelical churches for Catholicsm or Orthodoxy. People could even move to web-based churches where “congregants” log in and out. The emerging church will also draw its share of those who had previously quit church.

As Mark Batterson is quoted as saying in this book: “Coffeeshouse are postmodern wells, and we are following in the footsteps of Jesus and meeting at wells. I have a sense that God is calling the church out of the church.” This reflects what Sam Soleyn calls the “decentering” of the Church. Mr. Soleyn has noted how this decentering process must precede the Church’s eventual “recentering”. The book “Quitting Church” is a good snapshot of the decentering work that is going on in today’s Christianity.

As Ms. Duin quotes a friend of hers saying: “The church is not like Christ”. The church needs to “decenter” to the point where it is like Christ and then it can build towards a brighter and more organic future.