Evangelical Collapse Revealed by Studies of Parenting

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I'm sure many of our readers have seen or heard about Michael Spenser's article, picked up in the Christian Science Monitor, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse."  I strongly agree with his overall perspective, while perhaps quibbling on some details.  Michael Bell has followed up with some useful statistical analysis here, largely confirming the thesis.  If we ask, why is evangelical America collapsing, there are a number of reasons which all amount to its abandonment of biblical Christianity in any meaningful form.  But the most revealing statistics may be those that pertain to parenting.  Not long ago I saw a study stating that 88% of evangelical youths abandon the faith by the time they leave college.  Whatever evangelical faith is, it must not be very impressive if we can only pass it on to 12% of our own children. More recently, I saw this study, that shows that only 14% of evangelical parents consider faith in Christ to be a significant success indicator for their children.  Well, there it is folks!  Evangelical churches are not distinctively Christian and evangelical parents are not evidently Christian, so what a surprise that "a generation arose in Israel that did not know the Lord" (Jud. 2:10).

 

I take two lessons from this.  First, what many have been saying for years is true: American evangelicalism is for the most part non-Christian, if biblical definitions are used.  Bible doctrine has not been taught for years, and there are largely-populated areas with scores of evangelical churches where one cannot find any serious Bible teaching.  Youth ministry has been the pinnacle of this phenomenon, as evangelical youth ministries have tended to be virtually devoid of truth or godliness.  So the situation is as bad as we have feared, and I agree with Michael Spenser that in the coming years (really, starting now) this is going to be revealed dramatically.  We are living in times like those when Israel languished under Philistine domination.  (I happen to be preaching 1 Samuel in the evenings right now -- here is a sermon in which I make the comparison.)  Evangelical parents have raised their children to carry on their own faith, and that faith has been a religiously sentimental form of materialism and hedonism.  So evangelicals have passed on their own faith: it just has not been a biblical Christian faith.

Second, Christians committed to God's Word should not be intimidated by this trend.  It is not as if the gospel has failed.  The gospel has been abandoned.  This was God's message to Israel after their defeat to the Philistines in 1 Sam. 4.  Immediately afterward, God made the idol of Dagon fall prostrate before His ark -- the point being that Israel did not fail because God was unable to defeat her enemies but because Israel had abandoned the Lord.  Likewise,  if we hold fast to the gospel and to biblical religion, then we have nothing to fear, since we face no enemies which God cannot cast down at His feet..  You see this happening today in that healthy, Bible preaching Reformed/Reformation churches are growing like crazy.  If your church a) seriously preaches the Bible (hopefully an expository pulpit); b) is spiritually and socially healthy so that people are generally treated well; c) has mature, faithful, and trustworthy leadership; d) is even moderately focused on reaching the lost, then it is going to grow rapidly (barring some unusual situation like the collapse of your town).

So all this data -- and it is about to get much worse soon -- is merely yet another trumpet call for reformation in our churches and of our homes.  Like Michael Spenser, I do not think that modern reformation folks like us at ACE and our many friends in other ministries and churches are going to be able to save evangelicalism.  Christianity is about to become demographically smaller in America, and a lot smaller.  But our pockets of biblical, gospel Christianity can be strong and growing.  How essential is it that we renew our commitment to biblical ministries and to the preaching of God's Word.  If we do, then there will be Christians who think that faith in Jesus is vitally important to their children and whose lives will have a compelling effect on the faith of their offspring.

Posted March 20, 2009 @ 2:22 PM by Rick Phillips
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