Christendom is dying.
By Christendom, I mean cultural Christianity, the public and nominally Christian civil religion that is in the air we breathe in the United States—and even more strongly in the American South. That beast that gets riled up about praying over the P.A. system before high school football games and Ten Commandment displays in courthouses.
My Irish Presbyterian friend Kevin Hargaden analyzes the same survey that I discussed last week, this time applying it to Christianity in Ireland. Far from the fearful hand-wringing that sometimes greets news of encroaching secularism here, Kevin is positively upbeat. I share his optimism for the most part. Christendom is a distraction, a way of evading the radical demands of the gospel.
This study reveals the vanishing point of the Christendom mentality. The age when you could rely on inertia and the force of grandparents nagging and the primary school education to knock a few people into church on a Sunday morning during which time they’d worry about their week’s to-do list, looking up only at communion, doodling through the sermon and emptying a few shekels into a plate is passing.
There is no other way for the church to go than pursuing radical discipleship, real conversion and lives lived in the power of transforming grace. Older leaders will feel hurt- “isn’t this what we’re about?”, they’ll say. Well for some, this has been the goal and to them we can say thank you for the real seam of health that does exist in Irish Christianity. But that seam is in the minority. And we might as well dedicate ourselves to unicorns if we think we can honestly claim that the last two generations of Irish Christianity have been about discipleship, conversion and grace. The current physical body of Christ is a hulking institution hollow on the inside. The next generations will see the churches humbled still further, pushed to the margins, emptied of social significance and this is a thing we should be excited about. Instead of policing the secret pleasures of others or exerting our influence around the rich and powerful we can get back to what we’re meant to be about.
James Davison Hunter has written a new book that apparently touches on these same things. He argues that the church should be about what he calls “faithful presence.” It’s on my to-read list. But here’s an interesting interview with him about it in the Other Journal.
Here’s a question I haven’t heard anyone address: To what extent will Christianity in the Western industrialized world be affected by the explosive growth of Christianity (often in a Pentecostal form) in the global south?