Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Biggest changes in Christianity in the last decade...

Christianity Today Online recently compiled a bunch of answers to the question, "what was the most significant change to Christianity in the last decade?"

There are some great take-aways from this collection. A few of my favorites are:"Evangelical angst about its current state and future prospects. Evangelicals are trying to figure out who they are and who they should be. We see that in the 'Evangelical Manifesto,' the Gospel Coalition, in This We Believe. There are all these movements trying to define who evangelicals are and what evangelicals should be. Since evangelicalism is the only growing segment of American Christianity, its angst and future will matter deeply to the church in North America."
Ed Stetzer, editor, president, LifeWay Research

"A widespread abandonment of Christian doctrinal commitment — even doctrinal knowledge. Forget the rising number of people with no religious identity; the news to me is the vast number of self-identified Christians who have no real knowledge of, or deep commitment to, a specific Christian faith. You could say they were watering down Christianity's teachings, but I question if they even know those core teachings."
Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion reporter, USA TODAY

As for MY answer (CT didn't ask me-- oh well...)-- when I heard about the thesis of the article, I put my thoughts down on paper before I read the rest (I didn't want my take to be influenced by the others). My answer is...

The shift of center in Christianity. Until the late 90s, the United States was the current seat of Christianity world-wide, with that seat having shifted to the U.S. from Europe following the Renaissance/Reformation/Enlightenment era (it shifted to Europe from the Middle East during the medieval period/middle ages). In the last 10 or so years, however, the center has shifted away from the U.S. to Asia and parts of Africa. In the last 10 years, the number of Christians in China has grown from approximately 15 million to about 54 million. The Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea has more than 837,000 members-- yes, that's in one congregation (by way of comparison, that is more than double the membership of the entire denomination that I minister in, the PCA, with almost 341,000 members). Christians in Africa represent almost a quarter of all Christians, and they have been sending missionaries to the U.S. in earnest over the last 10 years. Americans tend to still think of ourselves as the center of Christianity, and we therefore conclude that our faith is under threat because the church in the U.S. is losing steam; this shift clearly demonstrates that that isn't so, and that the correlation between U.S. Christianity and world Christianity is not so strong. (Note: J. Lee Grady, of Charisma magazine, noted this change in a similar way in the CT piece.)

A close second would be the growing individualism of American Christianity. In fact, if the first were not true then I would quickly conclude that this were the most significant change. The United States is built and founded upon principles of rugged individualism, and that inevitably shapes everything that we think and do. Nevertheless, the growing trend in the church for "consumerism" in the practice of faith is striking; almost every decision that the average Christian makes about the practice of his/her faith is now based on some metric of "what do I get out of it?" This change, so contrary to biblical Christianity, is a serious threat to orthodoxy and to the long-term viability of the church in the U.S. History looks back on the decline of Christianity in Europe and attributes it to the philosophies of Descartes, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche; these were those who set up what became the atheistic, modern/post-modern culture that is common in Europe today. If the trend toward individualism within the American church continues, I predict that history will look back on the decline of Christianity in the U.S. and attribute it to the philosophies of Jefferson, Jay, Adams, Locke-- the men who set forth the foundations of our nation and culture on a bed of personal liberty and autonomy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Very interesting!