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Three Reasons Why Christianity Might Be in Decline

Tue, May. 19, 2015 Posted: 09:17 PM

It’s hard to miss all the latest news articles and blog posts detailing how Christianity is on the downturn in the United States. The Pew Forum’s latest research points toward that conclusion, saying simply: “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining”.

Responses to Pew’s opinion range from heartfelt admissions of Christianity being in trouble by journalists like Michael Brendan Dougherty to very analytical replies like the one penned for CNN by Ed Stetzer. Other research by Pew says that Islam will likely overtake Christianity as the #1 world religion by 2100.

If Pew’s data is correct - and it appears that it is - I’d like to offer three possible reasons that may be contributing to the problem. My apologies ahead of time if some of you find that a bit of the language I use is, well, blunt.

Dumb Christians

Former atheist Lee Strobel recounts how his early road of unbelief was paved by his pastor’s inability to answer the questions Strobel put to him about Christianity. Sadly, his experience is a common one as few Christians have taken seriously the New Testament charge to: “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

As I wrote in my post, The Tragedy of the Dumb Church, a lot of church leaders seem indifferent to the need to train their flock on why Christianity is true and how to intellectually engage unbelievers. But that said, we all have an individual responsibility to educate ourselves in the area of Christian apologetics so that we can be effective where evangelism is concerned.

Of course, there will always be disingenuous people who will use intellectual smokescreens to stave off personally confronting the truths of Christianity and no answer, however spot on, may sway them. But there are also plenty of others who have real questions about God, the Bible, and Jesus, and they deserve real answers that don’t end with, “you just have to believe…”

Even atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse admit Christianity provides solid answers on why belief in God is rational and worthy to consider (even if he hasn't been persuaded by them yet), and chids the new atheist crowd like Dawkins and Harris who are willingly ignorant of the evidence. If unbelievers like Ruse know our arguments, shouldn’t we?

Mean Christians

It’s likely that few today recognize the name Horatio Spafford, although his great hymn, It is Well With My Soul, might still be sung in some churches. Spafford went through terrible trials, including experiencing great financial loss in business, losing four daughters to a tragedy at sea, and then a young son to scarlet fever at age four. Knowing that Spafford and his wife had undergone such severe pain, their church did what a lot of churches do.

They made things worse.

Oblivious to the fact that the Old Testament contains a 42-chapter book entitled Job that demonstrates how righteous people can suffer, Spafford’s church accused him of sin and declared that he was the target of God’s divine judgment. Not surprisingly, Spafford and his family left the church and became missionaries overseas.

As I wrote in my post,The Best Argument Against Christianity, professing Christians are oftentimes the best anti-apologetic for the faith. It’s a fair bet that, like me, you have been on the receiving end of treatment at the hands of supposed Christian people that didn’t seem very Christ like.

When I get the opportunity to drill down with people who want nothing to do with Christianity, their beef rarely has anything to do with alleged intellectual arguments against God, but instead it almost always boils down to one of two things. Either they’ve been poorly treated in memorable ways by people claiming to be Christians or they have no intention of yielding their moral life over to Christ’s Lordship.

Which brings us to the third reason why Christianity may be waning in the United States.

Real Christians

Remarking to his half brothers as to why He had enemies that hated Him so much they wanted Him dead, Jesus said: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).

You want to turn someone off today in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Tell them that an action, activity, or lifestyle they’re participating in is morally wrong. Maybe even use the word ‘sin’. The response will be about the same as Herod’s when John the Baptist told him his marriage wasn’t legit.

Actually, you don’t even have to get that personal with someone. Whether you simply state the matter in general within a small group of people or say it publicly in some fashion for all to see, you will most likely learn very quickly how America defines ‘tolerance’.

This is exactly the treatment Jesus experienced and, interestingly, was something hypothetically predicted hundreds of years before Christ by Aristotle. The philosopher wrote in his book Politics that if a perfectly moral man ever entered into an imperfect society, the end result would be that society removing the man because his mere presence would shine an uncomfortable light on their moral imperfections.

Or as the Bible puts it, "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20). As the United States sadly goes the way of other nations that have rejected God, you can expect more people to move away from God’s Light and the Light’s real followers.

Why People Really Believe

So Christianity may indeed be declining in the United States, and dumb, mean, and real Christians may be contributing to that downtrend. But let’s stop worrying and remember a few things.

First, surveys about people’s beliefs have no bearing on truth. Either Christianity is true or it isn’t, and just like a situation where 99 people get a math problem wrong and only one gets it right, a true answer doesn’t change because more people are arriving at the wrong conclusion.

Next, let’s be mindful of how Scripture makes it plain that God is the efficient cause behind the numbers in His Church rising or falling. While some of the things we’ve discussed may be instrumental causes used by Him, God is ultimately in charge of who believes and receives Christ.

The sovereignty of God over salvation provides great comfort on the one hand, but it does not remove our responsibility of being faithful and prepared evangelists who imitate the character of Jesus and are ready to be hated by the world just like He was.

The question each believer needs to consider is: Does that describe me?

Robin Schumacher