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The Demise of Religion in America?

Just in the last few weeks a couple of news outlets have published material on the demise of Religious Christianity in America. One was Michael Spencer’s “The coming evangelical collapse” published in the Christian Science Monitor, and the second was Jon Meacham’s “The End of Christian America” published in Newsweek. Meacham discusses the decline of Christianity in America in general while Spencer discusses what he believes is the soon and inevitable demise of Evangelicalism in particular.

I think it important to make some distinctions in what each are saying, and to perhaps even "feel good" about the conclusions they are making. What each is saying is that American faith life-styles is going through serious revisions from the past. In the past, a vast majority of Americans identified as being "Christian" -- but we know from some fairly strong research/data that many people in our country identified with Christianity only from a cultural position; in other words, they didn't necessarily hold on to Christianity as a faith that directed their lives on a daily basis. The eventual result is that the children of a cultural faith distanced themselves from cultural norms that were inconsistently shown by the generation before them...translated, they didn't see "going to church" as an essential part of their lives if it wasn't really representing a change. An example of that is in a statistic like this: the number of younger adults that identify with the Southern Baptist Church has declined from 100,000 to 35,000 in the last decade.

There are many "causes" for this shift occurring, and yet I think it's mostly the inevitability of a "cultural" identification with the Christian faith disintegrating because what has been lost in the church is the "Kingdom" identification with faith that Jesus came to proclaim.

I don't think this is necessarily bad news. If you get the chance, head over to Greg Boyd's web site and blog at http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/ and read a longer article on this. Greg has been speaking out for over a decade on the need for the church to align itself with the Kingdom of God over against an American cultural form...And, I have been in hearty agreement with him. I first began to see the affects of cultural Christianity in 1979 when the national election between Jimmy Carter (Democrat) and Ronald Reagan (Republican) became a battle around "moral conservatism" wrapped up in Christianeze that dismissed Jimmy Carter's faith as irrelevant. I thought this was a dangerous co-opting of Kingdom principles back then and yet saw this continue through the 80's, 90's and into this decade until one can see the decline of influence in the last few years. The danger for me was biblically based -- the church is not called to make a society conform to the Kingdom of God, but rather to live out Christ in such a way that people choose to enter into the Kingdom as a choice of faith.
In politics, we have "fallen" people making political decisions based on their own self-idealized positions...which may or may not reflect principles of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God stands as a contrast to all political systems of government -- whether we agree with their politics or not. I consider myself fairly conservative on lots of political decisions, but I would not want to equate conservative politics with biblical revelation! As a church historian there is two millennium of bad lessons to learn from this.

In the end, what I propose is that we in the church return to a pre-Constantinian place and seriously dialog about being "Kingdom citizens". We may find that some of the religious baggage of the American church is well worth jettisoning.

Comments

♥briANNA said…
Hear hear!

I also suspect that we're going to see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our country in the near future as well. That's change people. :-)

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