October 24, 2020

Riffs: 01:27:08: This is the End……of Evangelicalism, my Friend

jim-morrison_small.png***Music by The Doors: “The End.”***

There was an elf that met the children at the door. Also in this room was a store that had Barbies, action figures, Brats Dolls, and all of the most popular items that you would find in a Toy-R-Us catalog the day after Thanksgiving. In order for kids to get the merchandise, they had to say a memory verse and earn store credits. The first thing my kids said to me when I went to pick them up was ”Daddy, can we start going to this church?” Can you blame them? For kids, this was a dream church.

If you listened to the interview I just did on Steve Brown, Etc., you may recall a moment when Steve and Eric asked me what was wrong with evangelicalism, and I said it was over. Steve gave a more hopeful view and I admitted that there were some hopeful signs out there, well off the media radar and among ordinary people.

Well Steve, it was a moment of weakness. You were being nice and I fell under your influence. But then I read C. Michael Patton’s post “The Entertainment Driven Church,” and I realized I was right: Evangelicalism is over. Long live post-evangelicalism. (Whatever we are/it is.)

The is “the end” of evangelicalism, and it’s not dying with a whimper. Oh no. It’s going out with party hats and noise-makers. And Bratz dolls. And Barbie. And video games. And an elf. And the Word-faith message. And Starbucks.

The end of evangelicalism isn’t the deep vacuum of space. It’s the Borg ship. With pizza, a band and great commercials.

Is this Christianity? If you realize you answer no longer has any basis in reality, consider just being honest: No, it’s not.

Are the living dead in a George Romero movie “people?”

Given the choice between any gnostic cult, Buddhism, atheism or what this church is doing, which do you pick as closer to Christianity? Pray about it and get back to me on that one. You wouldn’t like my answer.

You see, it’s actually much worse than even Michael admits. Patton’s kids have already been infected with the virus. They’re all going to start blinking like Osteen. The pastor of this carnival? He’s already got his sermons in book form, with a picture of him looking very indy-spiritual-sexy on the inside cover. And he’s on the program of ten “pastor’s” conferences somewhere, so he can tell what “God” is doing at their “church.” How many people believe he’s the voice of God? How many want to be him?

Make no mistake about it. This operation isn’t connected to the rest of Christian history or teaching the doctrines of the faith because they LOATH THEM. They’re boring. They’re old. They want nothing to do with them. Aside from borrowing the five letters “Jesus” as the brand image for their message of “here’s how to get what you want in life,” and using Biblical texts to make bizarre points about your own power to create that wonderful salvation called “success in life,” there’s far more connection to Starbucks than to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.

It might even be better if the kids stayed with the elf, because here’s Michael’s summary of the exposition for the day.

Mark 7:33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; “Jesus took him aside”=Jesus wants to deal with us each individually
“Jesus spit”=Jesus had to form the saliva in his mouth before He spit, therefore, we are to let Him form our words.
“[He] put His fingers into his ears…He touched his tongue…and his ears were opened and his speech impediment was removed” (v. 35)=sometimes we don’t hear people rightly because we already have the wrong words in our mouth. Therefore, we have to have the right words in our mouth.

Michael finds a couple of nice things to say about the overall outcome of this talk, which proves that living near Tulsa is not a good thing. Run, Michael. Run.

And what is the response of the traditional Anglican church Michael visited? I really wish I knew. Do they understand that in some ways they are increasingly one of a very few outposts that are trying to hold onto the treasure that these megachurches are throwing out labeled “trash?” Do they understand how many people are going to wake up in that game show and say either “Is this it?” or “There is no God. I’m done.”? When they do- as thousands one day will- what then?

I wonder if that Anglican congregation has any idea that someone like Michael- who has been through amazing, terrible things in his life- might just be looking as all of this as more than an observer. He might be looking for where, in the worst of the darkness and the storm, will Jesus be found in community, Word, sacrament and worship?

This isn’t about kickin’ worship bands or big screens. Take them, take them. I don’t care. What I want to know is if we recognize that the disease is overtaking the evangelical body, and the time has come to think like people upon whom an evangelical dark age has come? The barbarians aren’t at the gates. They are running the city. We can’t shut the gates. We have to find places to survive. We can debate how big the hole in the side of the ship is all we want. The fact is: this ship is going down.

Christ’s church will survive and triumph. But in America and the West, the entertainment driven “church” is going to dominate. For those who will not be absorbed, for whom resistance is not futile, there are choices to be made.

Yes Michael, it was entertaining. But be afraid. Be very afraid.

The bus to Rome is leaving now, and it seems that every seat is filled. Oh…what’s that? Seems that a much larger bus to Atheism is pulling into the lot, and there are plenty of seats available.

***Music slowly fades out…..”This is the end…..”***


  1. Hi Michael

    I concur.

    But then I said as much on Patton’s side too.

  2. ahh…there’s the generational gap. See I would have quoted REM, not The Doors.

    “it’s the end of the world as we know it…”

  3. Here where I live, one church outgrew its rental space and needed to move. So it moved to an indoor amusement park.

    From the church’s website:

    – Pre-school classes are held in Little Bigg Town
    – [Church] services are held in the Inflatable Room next to the Event Center.
    – Free passes are given to kids on Sundays and to teenagers on Wednesdays to enjoy the fun attractions before and after service!
    – [Amusement Park] features laser tag, miniature golf, go-carts, video arcade, inflatables, battle-tech, Little Bigg Town, bowling, and a carousel. Plus, a complete pizza, pasta, and salad buffet!

  4. My hope and prayer is that the whirlpool made by evangelicalism doesn’t suck down the rest of us with them.

    Nicely said, Mr. Monk.

  5. Yes indeedy, the seeker-driven church is going to hell in a handcart.

    But my response after reading the article isn’t to wring my hands and lament (or rejoice) the end of evengelicalism. For every nutjob church — okay, for every ten nutjob churches — there’s a decent bunch that’s banded together because they love and want to seriously get closer to Jesus, and reject anything that detracts from Him.

    If you want to get technical in your terminology, it’s the nutjob churches that are post-evangelical: they were evangelical but have since rejected the true evangel in favor of another, shinier one that will pack the pews, fill the offering buckets, and get their pastors a book deal.

  6. I live near one of these places and have seen folks from our UMC leave to go there. One went on and on as to how her child loved the place, where kids can go down a slide into their classroom from above while parents can watch them do so as cameras catch the whole thing. I always wonder how high the ante will go, how much hype must follow. What happens when the kids get bored with the slide? What next? I shudder to think.

    Many people are seemingly buying into it. My impression on going there is certainly “high energy,” but I have left thinking that it’s all “now” with no link to 2,000 years of Christian faith and tradition. I certainly hope and pray that you are right about people eventually souring on this, as your description really isn’t “a pretty picture” at all, despite the many who may see it that way–at least now.

  7. Christianity “programmed with excellence” is becoming more and more sickening to me.

    The problems people deal with cannot be adequately addressed by affluent evangelicalism. The solutions to those problems will not be addressed by affluent evangelicalism. The mess that I as a sinner have made of myself and the problems of sin in my life, as is the case with all of us, cannot be adequately addressed by contemporary, affluent, programmed, excellence-oriented, purpose-driven, and whatever else the church-growth and megachurch gurus choose to pursue and reveal to the people.

    The root solution, and answer, is Jesus Himself.

    The empire is dying. Long live the King!

  8. I’ll tell you what, you find somewhere relatively warm and start a little Southern Baptist church. And then I and a couple of other Catholics who still actually believe in any of this s*** will find an old priest whose day job is a fire watcher, and we’ll rent the church from you to hold Mass every Sunday.

    You’re welcome to drop in, and we’ll all have a wonderful Sunday dinner after.

    Because Walker Percy (Love in the Ruins and the sequel, The Thanatos Syndrome) *was* a minor prophet. At least.

    The whole deal behind Revolution 21, and the two programs (3 Chords & the Truth and Four Songs) is to find a way to reintegrate faith and culture, and culture and life, and faith and life . . . and just to be who we are. Unapologetically. Without feeling the need to do baiting-and-switching.

    My greatest fear (and what drives me to sometimes despair of the whole project)? That it’s too late.

    That it’s a doomed proposition.

    That what I’m trying to do is as lost a language as Aramaic.

    In other words . . . we’re on opposite sides of the Reformation, but I feel your pain, brother. Big time.

  9. REM – ahhhh beat me to the punch! 🙂 or “Elvis has left the building” – i found this article very helpful

    EO theologian David B Hart
    “Religion in American: Ancient and Modern”

    “The Borg” – exactly brother

  10. Michael,

    And people wonder what the appeal to fundamentalism was? At least you knew where you stood from week to week. You didn’t have some putz chirping the death of Christianity from week to week behind a pulpit, ripping out the very pages he was preaching.

    We fought for an inerrant Bible (bad word for you, I know) and this is the remainder. If it’s not the sufficient rule for faith and practice, it doesn’t matter whether it’s inerrant of made by Martians. Entertainment is not closer to Christ than flat, classic liberalism.

    Then there’s the children’s church with the fire-truck baptismal. When the child goes under, the sirens go off and 100 other kids want to get dunked without knowing what in the world the cross meant. We dunk them anyways because they speak our maggot-ridden confession of faith: sentimentality. Blessed are those who mourn…

  11. Some years ago I walked the aisle and gave myself to vocational Christian ministry. Since then I have wavered between bailing ship on Baptist churches since they seem the most infected and I wasn’t interested in leading the circus or trying to figure out how to stay a follower of Jesus in this milieu and bring as many with me as I can, which has yet to make me a pastor.

    Thanks for ranting!

  12. There is no bus leading to Confessionally Reformed Churches? Oh yeah, they can’t afford expensive rides (i.e. Pope-mobile). Well, they do have a small transit van heading to the 3-Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards, if anyone else is interested.

  13. (In the following story, you may or may not find a point relevant to this discussion. I tend to see quirky metaphors in everything.)

    My sister told me that she had refused to give away the fake bills to the kids for saying their verses. But, I pointed out, “Even without the money, isn’t the whole point to earn jewels for saying the verses?”

    She then asked me if she had told me the story about the time her 4 year old came home from church and hadn’t gotten the jewel he was supposed to get for saying his verse. With the little one on the verge of tears, Daddy insisted on coming to the rescue….he would return to the church and get his child’s hard earned jewel. Ignoring his wife’s protests and insistence that the church would already be closed he left on his mission. Later, he returned. “Did you get the jewel?” my sister asked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of tiny, multi-colored, plastic gems. “No one was there who could tell me which color jewel he earned so I just grabbed a handful”.

    I’m not sure that I can explain why, but her story made me laugh until I cried.

  14. I visited Parchment and Pen before visiting IMonk. Two of my daily must-read blogs on the interwebs, by the way. Interesting depiction of an entertainment driven, seeker sensitive church. Below is an excerpt from a rather long essay I wrote a few months ago journaling my departure from a seeker sensitive church:

    “In contrast to the proceeding statement, the contemporary seeker-sensitive church/movement, by definition, is concerned with meeting felt needs of the ‘unchurched’. It inverts, with the best of intentions, clear biblical mandates of being set apart from the world. Also, when pragmatism and marketing trumps sound doctrine, we find ourselves redefining the nature of the church and often times inadvertently redefining and diminishing the Person of Christ. From the prevalence of life coaching sermons, we find a Christ who exists to repair our relationships, He repairs our finances. We develop a tepid Christology where, much like the old soft drink commercial, things just seem to go better with Christ. The seeker sensitive church becomes seeker centered.”


  15. While they may not be using the best methods most of the people/churches running Awana are truly trying to train up children in the way of Jesus.

    There is still life in evangelical churches. Not all of them…probably not even most of them but there are still groups of Christ-followers banding together to follow Jesus meeting in places with signs that say “Baptist” or “Methodist” out front.

  16. Apparently someone is hearing me say “there are no good evangelical churches anymore.” Hardly. That would be idiotic, to say the least.

    I’m saying that, as a body, evangelicalism is terminal. There is life and health, but short of a miracle, evangelicalism as we know it will die in the future, and something that is being born in the aftermath of evangelicalism will move forward with its legacy.

    Whatever that “post evangelical” body is, it will not be the evangelicalism of the 20th century that has become the bastard child Patton visited. Such churches despise whatever it means to be the church and reinvent the church in the image of the culture.

  17. i rarely have anything intelligent to say, so I ask questions.

    When was the hey-day of evangelicalism in America?

    If it is dead now, when was it great?


  18. Evangelicalism as I discuss it is the run from Spurgeon through the Charismatic revival/Jesus people days. Post civil war to 1970’s. Dominated by Spurgeon, Moody, Finney at one end, Billy Graham at the other.

    Lutherans claim the name for themselves, but they have a particular meaning.

    Many of the Reformed tend to believe it refers only to the heyday of Calvinism. Reformed Reformation through Spurgeon’s Downgrade.

    Lots of options. Hart in Deconstructing Evangelicalism says it never existed.

  19. What we were told in church history was that in the 1920 fundamentalism and liberalism battled for supremacy. Fundamentalism wanted to withdraw from culture to guard truth. Liberalism wanted to melt with culture at the cost of truth. Evangelicalism paved a third way from the 40s onward by trying to hold on to much of the truth, yet reach out to other denominations to engaged culture on a broad front with truth. C.F. Henry, Billy Graham, etc. are the pioneers of modern “evangelicalism”. They may exist as a sub-category to your broader definition of evangelicalism, but that’s what I think is held in a lot of modern church history as its start.

  20. What we call fundamentalism today does come out of the 20’s, but evangelicalism of the Henry/Graham variety goes back to Spurgeon. No doubt about it in my mind.

    For the guys who want the Puritans to be evangelicals- like J.I. Packer- I need to beg off on anything that produces state churches of any kind.

  21. I think the problem starts with identifying “churches” like the one Patton visited as “Evangelical” when they are nothing of the sort. We groan when the MSM call Osteen the pastor of the largest Evangelical church in the country, but then we turn right around and call similar shows “Evangelical churches”.

    I would say the Evangelical movement is alive and well, but it doesn’t include everyone who claims the name and we need to become more discerning about whom we accept as one of us.

  22. Well regardless of when it started or who is in it, I think what we are witnessing is the distillation of several flaws in our engagement with culture. Evang. has many flaws in its modern attempts to engage and interact with culture, those strains with the larger flaws produce the more “freakish” versions of churches such as the one in the post.

  23. over here in the uK we’ve just never been quiet that good at being slick and so the whole are much less polluted untill them damm aussies started coming over with it

  24. Patton’s example is indeed on the very extreme end of the spectrum. Most of the churches that fit into what we are calling the ‘modern evangelical’ form are probably like my church–filled with extremely loving people who are helping one another and trying to reach out to others with the message of Christ in a way they believe is relevant to the culture they live in. The problem is that they are speaking a language that is reaching an increasingly narrower segment of the population–and there are other problems with this approach that have been discussed at length by others.

    Of course, since the culture itself is changing rapidly, that does mean that ‘culturally relevant’ churches will be constantly morphing and changing, as well. So the evangelical church that attempts to keep up with the culture will of course never look the same from one day to the next. But, despite its obvious weaknesses, I can’t see that this approach will ever disappear entirely.

    New approaches to conveying the Truth, new models of functioning as the body of Christ and new understandings will continue to emerge just as they have done throughout church history but that didn’t mean the old forms disappeared altogether. They continued on, adapting to one degree or another, serving a purpose and reaching people.

    A church is made up of people and the people have a culture. Their churches will look like their culture. The consumer/entertainment approach to church will only disappear when the consumer/entertainment culture disappears.

  25. I would like to remind people here that the Reformation and evangelicalism are not identical. You can have your liturgy and sacrament without your medieval accretions and dictatorial church government.

    That said, I am all for tricking/bribing kids to memorize Bible passages. After many chocolate bars, I had quite a few Psalms and extensive passages from the Prophets and Epistles committed to memory. They’re still with me in bits and pieces. But dang it, make those kids memorize a whole chapter to get their 3 Musketeers.

  26. I hear where you’re coming from, but if you’re a believer in Christ, you can’t call evangelicalism dead. He said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the building of His church. No doubt a lot of this marriage to contemporary culture and the mixture of entertainment with the gospel could be considered “the gates of Hades.” But they won’t prevail.
    Christ is still the Lord. Put your hope in Him. He can bring life out of death, because He Himself is the resurrection.
    Of course, that invites the question, what exactly is the church? Is it only what we call evangelicalism? Is it possible He is moving on and leaving evangelicalism as we define it behind, because He has other things in mind? I don’t know, but it’s possible.

  27. a) Gates are not weapons of attack. They are barriers of defense.

    b) Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church. He did not, however, promise that a segment of the Church in the United States would cease going on the offensive and dig its own grave.

  28. You can have your liturgy and sacrament without your medieval accretions and dictatorial church government.

    Well, not in the Episcopal Church on the latter point, at least…

  29. Interesting book I just started reading that, I think, as some relevance to this. unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons covers what young Americans (late teens to early 30s) think of Christianity. I’ve only skimmed the first couple of chapters, but the research shows that young Americans views of Christianity are quite negative overall. I find this amazing in light of all that these “entertainment driven” churches do to entice people. It’s becoming obvious, they ain’t buying what the pitchmen are hawking.

  30. Darryl Hart’s book on evangelicalism was a worthwhile read. Most of what he is talking about would more accurately be called the neo-evangelical movement, as he notes. But when he makes the case that this was a short-lived coalition, I’m not certain. Shortly after reading his book, I was reading something by H.L. Mencken written a decade or two before the beginning of neo-evangelicalism, and saw the term “evangelical” used in the current sense.

    When I taught a course on American Christianity at Colorado Christian University, I presented Hart’s thesis in one lecture. I asked how many students considered themselves evangelicals. Perhaps 3 hands out of 37 went up. I felt like I had made very wrong assumptions of the makeup of the student body. Then one student offered that the definition probably applied to him, but he didn’t wear the label because it made people think of Pat Robertson and others of that ilk. I asked students if that was what was going on. They mostly agreed. So the young are very savvy about how a label alters perception. They don’t feel tied into the evangelical label the way their parents did.

  31. Just for the record, I’m not publishing the comment of a good brother who chided me for this post, and then broke the first commandment of this blog: Don’t condemn me for venting on a blog by venting on my blog.

    >…something more impactful than venting on a blog..

    ***actual quote from unpublished comment****

    And while I’m venting 🙂 let’s cover some others:

    -I’ve served the church for 30+ years and continue to do so at a salary that is about what most Americans spend on burgers each year. Don’t tell me to do something “impactful” if you haven’t read the author’s page and have some idea what I am doing with my life.

    -Don’t assume that one post represents all I or others have to say on the topic.

    -Don’t ignore comments where I’ve said what I mean by “evangelicalism is dead.”

    -In fact, consider this: I’ve never, in 7 years of blogging, left a “cold comment” on a blog that I was reading. I just don’t know enough to insert myself as authoritative based on what someone took 5 minutes to write in his pajamas. I really love my commenters, but people who go from blog to blog leaving comments that sound like the last word need to consider giving it up for Lent.

  32. I admit that I jumped to the conclusion that by ‘dead’ we were talking about the modern evangelical form of church eventually ceasing to be due to its inability to communicate the Gospel to the emerging culture. But,if by ‘dead’ we are talking about evangelicalism continuing to exist but having little to no impact on the culture, then couldn’t the same be said of almost all of the various forms of the church in the West?

    (BTW,if I’m still not getting what is meant by ‘evangelicalism is dead’ please feel free to set me straight. There are always those in the class that need things repeated.:-))

  33. I think you’re right, Michael. Disclosure: I’m a skeptic, having undergone massive disillusionment with all things supernatural. But here I am reading your blog, so maybe there’s hope for me yet, eh? Anyway back to my point, you’re right in that American Christianity is on the brink. Evangelicalism is going to evolve into… something else. It has to. What will that something else be? I don’t know. Maybe people will follow your lead and become more thoughtful; integrating their doubt into their faith without losing it. Maybe intellectualism will prevail. Because the questions *will* come. The next generation won’t be fooled by this charade. Probably, however, things will play out in a much more predictable way. Doubt will be squelched by a fresh wave of fundamentalism. When they finally ask those questions and feel that soul-sucking fear that accompanies doubt, (you know that fear don’t you? I do) a new wave of back-to-the-basics hellfire and brimstone theology will give them a place to recoil to; away from that fear and into the warm fuzzy world of absolute certainty. That is why I hope for hope’s sake that you and those like you manage to gather a core and make something of your movement, because if you don’t, it’ll be another century or two of Bible-thumping, small-minded fundamentalism. /Rant off, have a nice day.

  34. Some years ago I was in a chuirchj that called in an evangelical group to help run a Vacation Bible School. We regretted it.

    Their method was to tire the kids out with competitive games, with prizes for the winners (or best cheaters). Then at the end of it, having (they hoped) tired them out so they would sit still and not fidget they had a “45 minute special” which ended with a sermon on salvation by grace.

    They had obviously never read Marshall McLuhan, knew nothing about the medium being the message, and failed to see that two hours of experiential education in the values of competition and cheaters are winners and sucks to the losers, you could not reverse that indoctrination by a purely verbal 45-minute message on salvation by grace.

    The trouble is that for the last 40 years most evangelicals have completely failed to see that the values of entrepreneurial capitalism and the teaching of salvation by grace are diametrically opposite, and no man can serve two masters.

  35. Random Mormon passing through…

    Now we’ve got Joel Osteen’s books on prominent display in the Deseret Bookstore in Salt Lake City. Right next to the infestation of Stephen Covey books.

    Thanks a lot guys.

    Next time evangelicaldom decides to have a midlife crisis, you think you could keep it in Texas maybe?

  36. I’m interested as to your answer which other “religion” is closer to Christianity. Personally, I’d pick either the gnostic cult or Buddhism.

    My feelings about much of the evangelical church are similar to yours as much as I love many people who are in it. It’s partly why I became Orthodox: so I could be spared Joel Osteen and Joyce Myers. And kickin’ worship bands. And amusement park Sunday school. *shudder* And you’re right; those are the symptoms of the disease. I believe that God will preserve His church, but the Bible warns of false prophets. Lord, have mercy on us and save our souls.

  37. Seems that a much larger bus to Atheism is pulling into the lot, and there are plenty of seats available.

    And don’t forget that camel caravan pulling in on the Hadj to Mecca.

  38. Steve Hayes made a comment I wanted to hear more about. I am a fan of this kind of medium/message insight whether it is from McLuhan, Ellul, Postman, Gatto, etc. But how visible was this problem during the retreat? Was this more something you suspected was happening from subtle cues, or something that was even expressed by some of the kids?

    I think that some, even in youth, are very able to make the separation between medium and message. But I wonder whether this ability doesn’t come at a price. The divide may make for other difficulties later, even if such youth are easier to reach even with a bad program. There is a spectrum here as to how people are wired. And people on either end can miss opportunities if they imagine all are like themselves. This is true of leaders who would imagine that they should always be able to reach people through the mind no matter what else goes on during the retreat in other areas. And it is true of those who would imagine that they should not present any intellectual content that cannot be grasped by the most practical, now-oriented youth who is lost in the first moment of abstraction. (This is in part an argument for a variety of youth leaders when that is possible.)

  39. And it is true of those who would imagine that they should not present any intellectual content that cannot be grasped by the most practical, now-oriented youth who is lost in the first moment of abstraction.

    Completely “now-oriented” and unable to think abstractly — that’s not human, that’s an ANIMAL.

  40. IMonk: I’d like to see the retention rate in the First Baptist Church of Disneyworld when its kids reach the age where they try to get as far away as possible from “little kiddy stuff”.

    I suspect it’s somewhere around 0%.