Earlier this week, the Christian Science Monitor carried a disturbing piece called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” written by Michael Spencer. It said, in part:
“We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century. This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good. Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.”
This is certainly a possibility; but it excludes the prospects for revival. It’s always a mistake to assume Christianity is dead and buried. As we saw on Easter Sunday, the “corpse” has a way of resurrecting and outliving its critics. Elijah thought he was the only one left, but his calculations were off by 7000 percent.
It’s helpful to remember that when George Washington assumed the presidency in 1789, the spiritual life of America was at low ebb. The writings of the French skeptics had swept the land, and the United States was on the verge of being totally secular and irreligious. The influence of the Great Awakening had waned, and the presence of Christians on college campuses was virtually non-existent.
At Hampden-Sydney College, however, there was one student who made a decision to follow Christ. His name was Cary Allen.
Shortly afterward, another student, William Hill, acquired an evangelistic book that he hid in his trunk and read secretly. One Saturday Hill locked himself in his room to read the book when someone knocked on the door. Putting the book on his bed, he opened the door. It was another student, James Blythe, who walked over to the bed, picked up the book, and instantly started sobbing, saying he had locked his Bible in the bottom of his truck and had turned his back on God.
Hill and Blythe gave their lives to Christ, and, together with Cary Allen, began holding secret prayer meetings. When word leaked out, a mob of students ridiculed, threatened, and harassed them. But a revival broke out on that campus, resulting in half the students at Hampden-Sydney coming to Christ. Spreading to other schools and churches, it paved the way for the Great Revival of 1800 that, in many ways, laid the spiritual foundation for America.
There’s no telling what will happen when a small band of committed souls enter a covenant to seek the Lord with all their heart.
Most revivals start on college campuses. Yesterday morning, I had breakfast at a popular eatery near Vanderbilt University. As I waited in line to pay my bill, I noticed the young man in front of me. He was a university student with athletic features and a warm smile. In his hand was a large leather Bible that he laid openly on the counter as he handed his credit card to the cashier. I didn’t have time to talk with him, but I took it as a sign…
…of the coming evangelical revival.