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More Good News: Only WHITE American Christianity Is Dying!
Hello CVM Bloggers,
I received quite a lot of interesting feedback on my last post addressing the demise of Christianity in America and claiming that this is not something Jesus-followers should weep over. One particularly interesting piece of information was given to me by T.C. Moore in Boston (thank you T.C!). In a new book entitled The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (IVP, 2009), Soong-Chan Rah presents research that suggests the rapid demise of mainline and evangelical Christianity in America is a mostly white phenomenon. Among immigrants and ethnic minorities, Rah argues, Christianity is not only not declining: it’s actually exploding! T.C. Moore is himself part of a widespread ministry in Boston that is witnessing this in a particularly powerful way. It’s been referred to as Boston’s “Quiet Revival”. You can read about it here.
If this research is solid (I haven’t read the book yet) it would seem to demonstrate several things.
First, it confirms a point driven home by Alan Hirsch in his great book Forgotten Ways: namely, that the Jesus-movement always tends to thrive in “luminous” situations (that is, in marginal social contexts). Conversely, it tends to grow stagnate once it gets embraced by those within the dominant culture.
As the history of the Church repeatedly shows, as soon as Christianity comes into power and respectability, it starts to decay. The church invariably stops contrasting with the dominant culture — manifesting a radically different, Jesus-looking, way of life. Rather, as it gains acceptance, respectability and power within the dominant culture, the church invariably starts to blend in with the culture. Indeed, it is eventually reduced to the role of providing religious legitimization of the culture. For example, rather than showing a different way of life by opposing all violence, the Church that has been acclimated to the dominant culture has more often than not served to assure people that their nation’s use of violence is divinely sanctioned.
White American Christianity has tended to exemplify this trend throughout its history. It’s why, in the minds of many, faith in Christ has been, and continues to be, inseparable from faith in the goodness of our nation, the righteousness of our military, the sanctity of our political freedom and the wisdom of capitalism. It’s also why so much of conservative American Christianity in particular is focused on preserving certain religious symbols in the culture and gaining as much political power within the culture as possible.
This culturally acclimated version of American Christianity is declining, and for this we can be thankful. But it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Rah’s thesis proves true, demonstrating that Christianity among those who are outside the dominant white culture is exploding. The Jesus-looking Kingdom has always thrived best among those marginalized by the dominant culture.
Closely related to this, if Rah’s analysis of American Christianity is correct, it means that American Christianity is in the process of freeing itself from its long captivity to American culture, as the title of Rah’s book suggests. This is very good news! Christianity and American culture have been fused for so long that for many white Christians the two are virtually indistinguishable. As I argue in my new book The Myth of a Christian Religion, this fusion tends to blind Christians in America to the many anti-Christ aspects of their culture. We end up embracing, and even Christianizing, things we ought to be revolting against. It also undermines missions in other cultures, for many reject the Gospel because they identify it with American culture and politics which they find (rightly or wrongly) abhorrent.
The sooner the Kingdom gets disassociated from American culture and politics, the better. If Rah is correct, we are definitely headed in the right direction.
So, it seems Kingdom people have yet one more reason to celebrate the demise of [white] American Christianity. The future is looking bright!
Have a great day!