A reader who works at a non-denominational church writes in response to the earlier post about Evangelicalism and its decline:
“It would be a fine thing, in my opinion, if people were seeking out a Christianity more theologically detailed and grounded in history and liturgy (hey, come be Orthodox!). But I don’t think that’s what’s happening in Moralistic Therapeutic Deist America. I could be wrong.”
I don’t know that I would put it quite that way, but I actually do think there is some truth to that. I do think that young people are tired of evangelicalism because, in large part, there’s no “there” there. They climb evangelicalism’s highest philosophical mountains (well, hills) and find… themselves. For the most part, evangelicalism is not a call to die to yourself, it is a call to feel kinda-ok about yourself. So what’s the future? What are young people looking for? They are looking for someone to tell them that they are not as great and special as they have been told all their lives. Millennials (with whom I identify) have been told to love themselves and that they are wonderful but there is a nagging sense that isn’t right. So when they realize that evangelicalism offers a Jesus that just loves them and tells them they are wonderful and special… why stay? One, they’ve heard it before. Two, they don’t believe it anymore.
Apart from exhaustion with self-love, Millennials are ill-equipped to deal with real life. Making everyone feel good all the time means that no one knows how to feel bad. So when Millennials encounter the suffering and hardship of real life, they have a hard time handling it. Does evangelicalism offer an understanding of suffering? Of the meaning of human sexuality? How many evangelicals could explain the purpose behind marriage? What about the virtue of work? Where can Millennials go to understand the incomparable joy and hope that children bring? Who is telling them hard things? Who is telling them that there is a divine reality that meets them in their grief and confronts them in their comfort?
I believe that Millennials are looking for someone to tell them the hard truths that they have long suspected were there. So if it looks like young people are flocking to ancient faith, it’s probably because they are searching for a faith that has foundation. I believe that nondenominational churches tend to disappear because they are just islands in history. When you are disconnected from the historical Church, you are pretty much guaranteeing your own demise. Churches with no past are churches with no future and if evangelicalism is going to survive, it desperately needs to learn the story of the Church. It needs to reconnect itself to history, to the traditions of thousands of years of prayer and worship and teaching and music.
I love my church and honestly, I believe that we are better poised than most to survive. But we still face challenges. If evangelicalism will survive, it must begin to say hard things, first of all to itself.
Looking at the future, sometimes I get frustrated, sometimes I get excited. But I’m learning hope too, remembering the God who preserves his people and forgets none of them.
Great letter. What do my Evangelical (and former Evangelical) readers think?