John Ortberg recently wrote this on the Out-of-Ur blog: "The recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that faith is going down across the board."
Ortberg is not the only one discussing this latest survey. A number of people are writing about it, and generally, the conclusion is that America is fast becoming a secular nation. Christianity is diminishing in influence and significance at an increasingly rapid pace.
This morning, I glanced at TIME magazine's list of the "most influential people in the world." It's instructive to look over the names and see how many of those listed are Christians, and more, how many are there because of their public life as a Christian. I saw only one of the latter: Rick Warren. It's a graphic illustration of the same picture painted by ARIS.
This is a disturbing and sad trend, but not surprising and not unprecedented. It has happened before, but most Americans neither know nor care. We Americans are uninterested in history and what we can learn from it. And so we repeat it.
Europe was once a stronghold of Christianity. Today? Almost entirely secular. North Africa and the Middle East once had large Christian communities with deep roots, going back to the earliest decades of the church. Today? Hardly a glimmer.
The idea of "Christian America" is an illusion. Such a place never was. Even so, there have been periods when Christianity - a vibrant, rich faith - was an important and positive factor in American culture. While it's a stretch to call ourselves a Christian nation with a Christian history, we do have a rich tradition and deep roots in Protestant Christianity. America of the past 200 years was largely shaped and formed by children of the Reformation. The freedoms, the form of government, the opportunities and the way of life we know all came out of that. Our nation is unique in history, because of that heritage.
But our heritage - which some argue became irrelevant long ago, if it ever existed - is fast losing influence in our communities and our national life. Though a majority of Americans self-identify as Christians, Christianity is less and less significant in our culture, and in fact has a rapidly declining credibility.
Why? What's going on?
It would be easy to point a finger at any one of a number of factors: education, wealth, and more. But I believe none of these are a true cause.
The core cause is a powerless church. The core cause is a "Christianity" that is little more in most cases than simply living a reasonably civil, usually Caucasian, fairly well-off life, and not drinking, smoking, using crude language, or being unfaithful to your spouse - too much.
The core is a church that doesn't even understand, much less preach the Good News of Jesus, and doesn't seem to care.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the kingdom of God is not just words, but power (I Cor. 4:20). The church in America today - with some notable exceptions - is about words. There is little to transform lives. There is little to set captives free, to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind. Words. Empty words.
The world has too many empty words. It wants demonstrations of power, something to give hope and transform lives. And the church in America is too busy on a feel-good gospel, "recovery" groups, self-centered "ministries," and other nonsense to hear what the world is crying for. In fact, if they hear, in most cases they turn away, because the things that transform lives are dangerous. They involve a radical commitment to follow Jesus, to represent him in our daily lives.
It's no surprise that America is becoming a secularized nation. It's no surprise that many of our fundamental rights as American citizens are being aggressively attacked. And it's little surprise that most "Christians" neither know or care. Most care little about the problems in our cities - high crime, poverty, hideous "education" - or about social justice. And it's no surprise that for a great many in America today, Christianity has no credibility.
An empty, powerless church.