Friday, May 29, 2009

Christian Education And The Church

... after a quick detour to discuss Ida, I am back to continue the discussion of "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" as it has been predicted by Michael Spencer ...

As a lead-in to a continued discussion of Spencer's reasons why this is going to happen, I cannot let go of the bothersome assertion that evangelicals need to stop being perceived as constituting a "threat to cultural progress." Just this week I ran across a discussion (National Review, May 4, 2009, p. 44) of heroism and the notion that "courage consists in making the right decisions in difficult circumstances." This seems to me to be wholly applicable to the "Offensive Christianity" I spoke about earlier and our call to be bold in the face of a culture that is hostile to our worldview. To do otherwise is, in my opinion, to betray the very core of what we claim to value or, as Charles Peguy once put it:

"It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of looking insufficiently progressive."

In Christianese, this amounts to being both in and of the world. This is not how it is supposed to work but, as Spencer rightly points out, it is exactly the kind of thing the American church (in general) has become ...

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
There is no denying either of these facts. With encouraging but rare exceptions, I see these trends lived out in many ways on college and high school campuses, and in the pews and Sunday school classes of churches I visit. This is one reason the "New Atheist" onslaught has been so effective. Those targeted by it are unprepared to defend themselves against it -- they grow to believe the atheists have a point. Listen to the confession of a believer-turned-atheist who has since returned again to the faith of his youth:
"I was raised in the church, went three times a week, went to private Christian schools, was active in youth ministry at my church, went to conferences, took nearly ten Bible courses, read my Bible, and attended Bible study regularly for several years, and yet the New Atheism sucked me in. As sad as it is, I think that the New Atheists say a whole lot more about the state and culture of modern Christianity than they do about themselves. As crazy as it may sound, the evidence that they put forward (as weak as it is) was intellectually much stronger than anything I had encountered in the Christian church." (SALVO, Winter 2008, p. 29)
As you ponder that remember; this young man returned but he represents a tiny minority of those like him. Most leave and never look back. And we are woefully unprepared to stop the exodus.

I sincerely hope that those anti-intellectualists out there, who I run into from time to time, are listening. To deny and/or dismiss the intellectual component of our faith is not to exalt ourselves to a "more spiritual" realm. It is to give up on those who desire intellectual fulfillment and ignore the fact that we were, among other things, told to "love God with all our mind." The proof that we have largely abandoned this exhortation is in the cultural pudding Spencer addresses here.

I agree with him. And if the collapse he envisions comes about, I believe this will be the major reason that it does.

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