Monday, April 6, 2009

The End of Christian America, or Truth in Advertising?

Newsweek is running an article by Jon Meacham titled "The End of Christian America." The article is well worth reading, looking at the recent study that shows a decline in Americans who self-identify as Christians and examines what that means for our country. It features reactions from across the religious spectrum, from Al Mohler to Christopher Hitchens.

For me, it's been a cause for reflection. I hear and see many Christians reacting to studies like this one by lamenting the loss of our Christian nation. I don't feel the sting of any such loss. Perhaps it's a sign of poor spiritual discernment and a too-cold heart on my part, I don't know, but my sense is that my lack of a feeling of loss is due to my perception that what we have is not a large block of people fleeing Christianity, but an increasing honestly among people who never cared much for Christ to begin with. I'm 25, and all my life, despite all the surveys that say a vast majority of Americans identify as Christians (and even this latest one puts that number at around 75%), I've never really seen much in the way of authentic Christianity. Think about your workplace or your school. If you were to randomly take 10 people and put them in a room, how many of them would you expect to be true Christ-followers? It sure wouldn't be 7 or 8, and in many contexts I expect you'd be surprised to find 2 or 3.

From my perspective, that's the reality of America today, and it's the same reality that I saw 10 years ago when I was in high school. When I survey our country's religious landscape over my lifetime, I don't see a decline in Christianity as much as I see an increase in the amount of people willing to admit that they never really gave a rip about Jesus to begin with. Ten or twenty years ago (and especially 50 or 60 years ago), cultural propriety would compel people to go through the religious motions out of a sense of civic identity. Today, those same people don't feel any real cultural stigma about fleeing a shallow or nominal religion, so they're more apt to simply be honest and say that they don't associate with an organized expression of faith. What we have in our culture then is a change, sure - but a change in name more than a change in substance.

Here's the strange thing - I find this exciting. People are jettisoning their cultural religious baggage unlike never before. It used to be that nearly everyone was in church at least occasionally and nearly everyone could tell you the basic story of what Jesus is about. No longer. With this reality comes an incredible opportunity to speak the gospel with clarity, compassion, and freshness into the lives of people to whom salvation by grace through faith is a foreign concept. I see a greater openness in people to talk about spiritual things freely and a stronger reaction from people when they see an authentic faith in Jesus rather than the cold, cultural faith of their mind's eye. I see opportunity for the Gospel beyond our wildest imagination. So stop mourning "Christian America." If it ever really existed, it's been dead at least since I was born. However, Christ is alive, his word is truth, and his power and glory are on display in the hearts of many across the land. Are there millions in America who don't know him? Sure, but look at it this way - at least now they'll likely admit it.

1 comment:

Darius said...

"what we have is not a large block of people fleeing Christianity, but an increasing honestly among people who never cared much for Christ to begin with."

So true.