I just read the cover story article of Newsweek The Decline and Fall of Christian America by Jon Meacham. The article is filled with more sobering statistics on the meteoric descent of the church and its influence in America. For those of us who have been following the research from Barna, Lifeway, and the Pew Forum for the past few years, the term “post-Christian” is not a new one. Our society has changed and clearly no longer a hospitable environment for Christianity – if it ever was.
But before we shake our heads in disgust or worse yet, redouble our efforts to take America back by force, we should step back for a moment to consider the silver lining in this cloud.
The truth is that while the church sat comfortably in its perceived position of cultural authority for most of the twentieth century we have, as a community of believers and as individuals, been thoroughly sucked in to our secular culture. Our consciousness, our imagination, our vision has been captured by consumerist perceptions and ways of life. While we were fighting with each other about evolution, the infallibility of the Bible, spiritual gifts, and various other issues, we were falling into a deeper and deeper sleep in relation to the materialistic cultural. We were asleep to the secularization of our lives and some of our most fundamental values. We simply bought into the materialistic, prestige oriented, secular values of our culture without ever noticing that that is what was going on.
It is my belief that despite, and maybe even because, of the recent “post-Christian” cultural shifts in North America the church is finally beginning to awaken to the reality that we embody a clear social alternative that the world cannot on its own terms know. In our increasingly minority position the church may finally begin to recognize its own distinctive calling and live out its convictions with the humility of a slave rather than the arrogance of a master.
I was so inspired by Dan Kimball’s response to Newsweek this morning. Acknowledging along with the article that there is a decline within the church at large, he pointed out that there is, at the same time, a “rising and surging of missional church leaders, church planters, and Christians who have already recognized that we are in a "post-Christian" America. But that recognition has simply fueled creativity, prayer and passion for mission and because God is God, people are coming to a saving faith in Jesus. So it is ironically quite an exciting time period in the midst of this gloomy title and cover. It feels as though some expressions of church and Christianity maybe is fading out. But at the same time there is excitement and energy and hope as churches who have already recognized what this article says about being in a "post-Christian" country - and have made changes to become churches on mission.”
What do you think? How should the church respond to its new surroundings?