Studies indicate that Christianity in the U.S. is in decline.
A steady number of those reports tell us that the number of nones (those who are not adherent to any religion) and the dones (those who are done with religion) are on the rise while church attendance steadily decreases.
A Pew study demonstrated an 8-percentage point drop in those calling themselves Christian: from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. The same study showcases “the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’—has jumped more than six points, from 16.1 to 22.8 percent.”
Times are changing in America.
Christians As a Minority
The decline of Christianity is experienced as a problem by many within the faith. A good number of Christians are not used to feeling like a minority.
As Christians, we have been told that we possess ultimate and absolute truth. We are used to governments that, at least to a large extent, subscribe to an ethical code that can generally be called Christian.
We are used to living in a Christianized culture, even when not everybody is Christian.
It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to learn to deal with a world that does not agree with the Christian point of view, or any one particular view for that matter.
Our world is one of cultural and religious plurality.
There is a plurality of religions and ideologies—there are a lot of them competing for attention and vying for the claim of ultimate truth. There is no longer just one story that people subscribe to.
A Blast From the Past
Interestingly, Christianity once started as a small sect with only a few members.
The early Christians lived as a small group in a volatile pluralistic world. As these Christians spread across the Mediterranean world they were not belligerent, did not even think of culture wars, did not demand their rights and had no opportunity to live in a protected Christian sub-culture.
Though they did claim absolute truth they did so only as one voice among many and they joyfully shared their faith instead of starting nasty arguments. They were not intimidated by the pluralism of the Roman culture, nor were they taken aback by the many gods that were worshiped in the Empire.
Yet a mere 300 years later, their message had subverted the power of the mighty and Rome eventually became a Christianized empire.
While we cannot copy the first Christians (their context is not ours), their example inspires.
We wonder whether we might be able to embrace our pluralistic world the way the early Christians did theirs. The big difference between now and then, however, is that in those days Christianity was not a word tainted by a bad history of oppression, hypocrisy and irrelevance.
Finding Our Way Back
As we are surrounded by Muslims, atheists, agnostics, and adherents of many other religions and worldviews, the only advice many in Christian media seem to give Christians is about their spiritual life: about how they should walk with Jesus, or how they should have quiet time and read their Bibles, how they can better manage their churches or improve their marriages.
We prefer our Christian bubble—our little subculture where we all speak each other’s spiritual language.
Let’s examine the wrong ways to engage the post-Christian culture, by looking at what not to do.
So, how do we find our way back to our culture?
Not in the Christian bubble.
For starters, this is not to be found in a return to a Christian bubble where we all tell each other how right we are.
It is easy to agree with those in your own group especially when it is done by telling everybody how bad those on the outside are and how necessary it is to stand together in a world that is increasingly losing its bearings.
We may feel happy to be among each other, but the world is lost to us so we are lost to the world.
Before we know it, we’ve become an obscure subculture that has lost its bearing with society. Soon we are left without impact or relevance.
Not by intellectual supremacy.
It also won’t do to enter the public arena ready to slash the perceived enemy with arguments that offer superior support for the sole correct worldview, namely Christianity. Some think that pure force of logic is going to convince the world that Christianity is the only option.
This doesn’t work because there are different rationalities at work in other religions and worldviews that are within themselves entirely coherent and plausible.
Even when an argument is won on pure logical grounds others are not necessarily going to be convinced, for logic does not equal plausibility and because pure logic always has its own inherent bias that makes people suspicious.
Not by means of culture wars.
Another disastrous way to engage a pluralistic world is to strive for power.
If you have power you can legislate and enforce upon others the laws that you deem to be Christian. When you are the boss you can make others bow for Christ and force them to confess that he is Lord, but you’re really only making them bow for you.
This, however, merely results in Christianity becoming odious. People start hating its hateful and deceitful rhetoric. This approach betrays the Christ who taught his followers to go into the world as sheep among wolves to bless rather than to dominate.
We need to get back to the world. Did not Christ send His followers into all the world? And is a pluralistic society in a way not the ultimate blessing since fulfilling Christ’s command is done simply by stepping out of the door of your home and out of your comfort zone?
A Better Way Forward
The worst thing we can do is telling the world that we are better: We are better, so we withdraw into our subculture, we are better intellectually, we are better so we grab power.
What Christians need today more than ever, in a time that the Christian sub-culture is shrinking in size and Christian witness is losing influence, is help to figure out how to live in this pluralistic non-Christian world in a way that does justice to Jesus’ call to be his disciples in the world.
This entails not seeing the other as a project to be mastered or conquered but a person to start a conversation with.