Evangelicalism Is Hollowing Out

Here is an interesting link, sent to me by a close friend. It is a recent essay from Frank Schaeffer.  


After you have read this, and before we go any farther, permit me to observe that I, too, see that Mr. Schaeffer is over the top:  he uses sensational words like “stunning,”  implies that he just “discovered” something that is happening to “millions” of “us” right now (that others of “us” have been observing and commenting on — and even doing something constructive about — for some years now) — brags about his “loss of faith” and self-identifies as an “atheist” (but a special one, of course).

I know that Frank Schaeffer is trying to sell his book: he has done this sort of thing several times over the last thirty-some years.  He likes to be the critic: long ago of the “secular left,” and now of the”religious right.”    He likes attention. Edgy — always!  (But sometimes it looks like he is just doing verbal “selfies.”)

However, “having said that,” (as his late father, Francis Schaeffer, used to like to say), I must also say that Frank Schaeffer is pointing out an important set of facts:  many Christians are walking away from the modern American evangelical church, and many are challenging its distortions, whether theological or practical.  And I personally think that they are well-advised to do so, given the seriousness of those distortions.

So, I am not discounting the importance of the subject that Frank Schaeffer is willing to bring up, even though I think his approach is a little bit sensational, and perhaps a little bit misguided.

Have you noticed any problems like this in the churches where you live?


6 comments on “Evangelicalism Is Hollowing Out

  1. Great question, but how does one measure such things: Church attendance? Money donated? Number of missionaries? The divorce rate of self-styled Christians or “serious” Christians? Despite the high church membership percentages, I’ve always suspected that America in the 1950s was no high-water mark for biblical Christianity. For one thing, the parents of the 1950s gave us the children of the 1960s. But who knows…

    Here’s an odd data point: I attend a huge “seeker-sensitive” evangelical church where I’ve co-written a 21-month curriculum that requires five hours per week of study and a weekly small group meeting. A decade later, we have 1700 “graduates” at dozens of churches. So, is my church part of a hollowing-out movement– or part of an energetic movement to make disciple-makers, “thoroughly equipped” Kingdom workers and competent lay-leaders for the local church?

    • mustardnine says:

      Sounds to me like the folks at your church are doing something right.

      As for those churches where people are exiting, I think follow-up conversations would be the best way to find out — did they have personal issues that they weren’t dealing with, were they looking for something that they weren’t finding, are they unhappy with God, were they simply bored with the entertainment-orientation of the church, and so forth.

      For me, personally, I am completely disgusted with the church’s justification (then and now) of Bush’s wars, the love of all things flashy and military, and its preference for Disney fantasy over truth, whether personal, poltical, or spiritual.

      There are a couple of other things, but that’s a start.

      How about you — further thoughts?

  2. I’m an economist with a tremendous interest in political economy. So, I’m frustrated by a lot of stuff in the political realm– both inside and outside the church! I’ve written extensively on Christianity and public policy– most notably, a book, some journal articles, and a handful of essays. Although those in the Church should do better, I guess. It’s really just par for the proverbial course: few people take the time to form a coherent political philosophy with consistent political policy prescriptions. For better and for worse, we live in a country where politics doesn’t do enough to mess with people– at least those with a relatively comfortable life.

    • mustardnine says:

      Not that we want more “messing with people” — there’s a helluva lot of people who are already very uncomfortable (ie, miserable; ie “lives of quiet desperation”); thanks to an activist-oppressive government, a largely irrelevant go-along church, and their own personal weaknesses.

      In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot by reading Wendell Berry, particularly his realistic (reflective and semi-autobiographical) fiction. (And it is certainly not a Little House On The Prairie experience.)

      Incidentally, I wrote this essay a while back. Got a little bit of churchy crap for it, as you can see in the comment:


      Btw, I self-identify as a Christian libertarian, certainly not of the Ayn-Rand-Go-Galt variety, though.

      I’d be interested in your take on what I wrote.

      • I’m also a Christian Libertarian, especially in the negative sense of seeing relatively little (from the Scriptures) where I should pursue government as godly means to godly ends.

        I enjoyed your essay. But a caveat: As someone into policy and politics, the word “owe” tends to take me toward “rights”. As an economist, the word “rights” leads me to a distinction between what might be called “political rights” (e.g., free speech, which costs others relatively little) and “economic rights” (e.g., heath care, which someone else might be required to pay for). The latter is troubling– ethically and practically– if my “right” becomes your responsibility to pay for me.

        I don’t think that’s what you mean, but it’s difficult to be understood as one wishes when using terms like “owe” and “rights”.

      • mustardnine says:

        Eric — yes, one can move from “owe” to “rights” pretty easily, and I tried to avoid that, mostly. While I strongly believe in the validity of “natural law,” and its corollary “natural rights,” as generally understood in libertarian and natural-law circles, that can swing the thinking into arguing the merits of various “political structures,” and so forth, so I tried to keep the terminology congruent with the Lord’s revealed moral obligations generally placed upon mankind.

        I would also comment, as an aside, that The Lord appears to have a strong libertarian streak himself — He says what He says and does what He does, but He is quite forbearing when in comes to exercising “coercive force” — to the point that His forbearance is taken as “license” by some.

        So when I used the phrase above, “the Lord’s revealed moral obligations,” I am not suggesting that anyone, other than He Himself, has a right to coercively enforce those obligations, let alone set up state-based legal structures to compel them.

        Thanks for your thoughts. Any other posts here you’d like to comment on? Or general comments on any subject are welcome at the “New Page: Quick Comments” button below the header.

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