Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2018

Secularism: Coming Soon to a Continent Near You

Tourists appreciate the stained glass in general, but often breeze by without looking at the details. “The Poor Man’s Bible” offered the Biblical narrative to those too illiterate to read the story for themselves, and too poor to ever afford a Bible. Cathedral in this picture was in Strasbourg, France.

If you Google the phrase, “The secularization of Europe;” you’ll get over 50,000 results. I am quite sure that many of those can say better what I’m about to say here.

As some of you know, we just returned from 14 days. Last year it was Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic. This year it was Holland, Germany, France (for 5 hours anyway), and Switzerland. During both trips, I interviewed tour guides, bookstore staff, hotel workers, and anyone else who didn’t sprint away when I brought the subjects of faith, church, religion or Christianity.

“We tried religion and it didn’t work;” one of the tour guides in Prague said to me last year. This time, when I asked about church attendance it was, “Why would they go?”

My usual question was, “Out of the people in your immediate social circle, how many would attend church?” One person made a point of telling me the answer was 2-3%, but that strangely the brother’s wife’s cousin of his husband was studying to be a priest (pausing to make sure the his husband part fully registered with me.)

The historic churches and cathedrals seem to survive on a blend of tourism and mid-week organ concerts. Because of the architecture, these buildings are museum-like in their connection to the past, but not the present. Their relevance or impact on day-to-day life for Europeans is minimal, except as a geographical point of reference, hence, “Meet me in front of the cathedral.” 

Most of the bookstores I visited either didn’t have a religion section at all, or if they did, the Christian section consisted of church history and related biographies. There were some stores which offered theology as a category, but it was mostly scholarly and academic texts; there was nothing that would attract a seeker investigating Christianity for the first time, and certainly nothing resembling apologetics. 

Holland does have a Christian bookstore chain, De Fakkel — I’m told it means ‘The Torch’ — but in a situation similar to Canada, it is the big cities which are taking the hit, and the Amsterdam store has closed. This led the sales associate in Scheltema, a five story bookstore, to point out that he really wouldn’t know where to begin picking up the slack. He was smart enough to recognize the various denominations each have their own particular interests, and that De Fakkel can do a better job of this as insiders, so he’s chosen not to expand the Christian books on offer.  

I can’t imagine living in a society where church is so strongly rooted in the past; not the present. As I reflect on this next week, I’ll share about our visits — 3 of them actually — to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and the whole idea of taking vacations like this versus doing the Christian retreat center thing. 

To conclude: I haven’t fleshed this out as fully as I wanted (tomorrow I’ll discuss the two nodes of secularization) but as I wrote the title what I was thinking was that the secularization we saw in Europe is coming rapidly to Canada. About the U.S., I’m not sure. America is rooted in a nominal Christianity and a political Christianity which appears pervasive. Church attendance is dropping off, and the U.S. pales in comparison to the church growth taking place in some South American countries, but the country of “In God We Trust” is presently an exception to what we see in Canada, the UK, Europe and Australia. It will be interesting to see the religious face of America ten years from now.

This cathedral in Cologne (aka Köln) Germany is so intricate, so massive; and yet so irrelevant to the daily life of anyone under a certain age.

Advertisements

January 29, 2018

What Does American Evangelicals Electing Trump Say About the Movement?

In Canada we have no fixed Evangelical voting block. Consensus from my church peers on any candidate — municipal, provincial or federal — might be hard to come by.

But if Evangelicals in the U.S. could elect one such as Donald Trump, what does that say about the movement as a whole? Could it happen with Canadian Evangelicals, or Australian Evangelicals?

Skye Jethani probes the fallout from the November, 2017 election in an article too long to print in full here. But I want to share some highlights while strongly encouraging you to click the title below.

Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? (Hint: it’s not the shepherds)

by Skye Jethani

Twenty years ago, when I was engaged to my future wife, a counselor told me, “The key to a successful marriage is not who you are on your wedding day, but who you are becoming. Healthy couples grow together over time, not apart.”

Based on that wisdom, the marriage between American evangelicals and their leaders is heading for divorce. What began following World War II as a marriage between evangelical leaders like Graham, Ockenga, and Henry seeking a biblical form of culturally-engaged Christianity and ordinary Christians tired of fundamentalism’s strident separatism, has now splintered into a house divided.

Since 81 percent of white evangelical voters lifted Donald Trump to the presidency, many of evangelicalism’s leaders are wondering what’s happened to the movement they are supposed to be guiding but hardly recognize anymore. For the last year they’ve been asking tough questions: Can evangelicals support immoral candidates and not lose their moral authority? How did “evangelical” go from a theological label to a political one? And, Who’s a real evangelical anyway? 

These questions have flooded blogs, editorials, and even the mainstream media via articles by luminaries like Tim KellerMark Galli, and Russell Moore

All of this soul searching and hand wringing, however, is unlikely to have much impact because, as Michael Lindsay has observed, “There is a growing divide between ordinary evangelicals and evangelical leaders.”…Those evangelicals who lead denominations, para-church organizations, relief and mission agencies, who write well researched books, and publish editorials in The New Yorker may walk the halls of power but they are not the voices actually shaping popular evangelicalism. In fact, there’s growing evidence that even local pastors are having less influence on the evangelicals filling their churches.

During the 2016 election, for example, polls found evangelical pastors ranked Mr. Trump last among Republican candidates while ordinary evangelicals consistently put the malcontent mogul at the top of their lists…

A 2016 survey by LifeWay Research found that despite claiming to be Christians, most Americans hold unorthodox and even heretical beliefs. That’s not very surprising. What is surprising, however, were the findings when LifeWay used strict criteria to isolate the responses of committed evangelicals. As reported by G. Shane Morris, “Everyone expected [evangelicals] to perform better than most Americans. No one expected them to perform worse.” LifeWay found that evangelicals were more likely than Americans in general to hold heretical beliefs about Jesus, the Trinity, and salvation. Based on the survey, if you’re curious about the Bible and Christian faith you’re better off asking a stranger on the street than the average churchgoing evangelical.

Despite an emphasis on the Bible and teaching in most evangelical churches, and despite the avalanche of resources offered via evangelical media and publishing, ordinary evangelicals are not being shaped by the orthodox views held by the elite evangelicals producing this content.

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest ordinary evangelicals are not adopting the views of their own pastors on key matters of doctrine either. Roughly half of evangelicals have dispensational beliefs about the end times. (Think Left Behind, the rapture, antichrist, etc.) While a much smaller percentage of evangelical pastors hold these views, and among pastors with seminary and theological training—the evangelical elites—the number drops even lower.

So, the data suggests there are dramatically different sets of theological, cultural, and political views held by those leading evangelical institutions and those populating them. Of course, one should expect some distance between the views of leaders and followers within any group. After all, without a gap there is no where for leaders to lead.

However, the dramatic disparities now evident between elite and average evangelicals on politics, social issues, public policies, and even doctrine is alarming. It signals something much more disturbing and, I fear, unsustainable. It verifies the divide Michael Lindsay identified a decade ago, now, however, the gap may be so wide that it may be incorrect to call elite evangelicals “leaders” at all, because if no one is following are they really leading?…

…I’ve also spoken to administrators at evangelical colleges navigating increasingly frequent conflicts between faculty (elite evangelical) and the parents of students (ordinary evangelicals) who are distrustful of campuses that affirm political, cultural, and intellectual diversity. The “big tent” evangelicalism championed by Billy Graham 70 years ago and embraced by institutions like Fuller, Wheaton, and Gordon is being challenged by siege-mentality evangelicals wanting a safe place for their kids to avoid liberals and their ideas. “We haven’t moved one inch from our evangelical convictions,” one exasperated university official told me. “It’s the people in the churches who’ve changed.”

I suspect in the coming years there will be a reckoning. Apart from a dramatic realignment or unforeseen intervention, the center will not hold and the divide between elite and ordinary evangelicals will become an irreparable breach. Evangelical’s elites will find themselves having to choose between finding new pastures or maintaining their institutions by falling in line with, rather than shepherding, the sheep.

As the divorce between elite and ordinary evangelicals becomes more likely, one question remains unanswered. Who will get the kids?


Again, that was highlights; you’re encouraged to scroll back up and click on the title to read it all. You might want to send the link to friends as well. I received a copy of this in email this morning because I’m subscribed to Skye’s newsletter.

 

January 4, 2016

Christianity’s Diminishing Influence: What if We Were the Refugees?

In eight years of blogging I’ve repeated many articles but this is the first time I’ve ever repeated a book review, especially one that appeared only 12 months prior. But as I was looking at these Pew Research stats, especially the one showing Christianity and Islam having relatively equal numbers in the year 2050 (based on current projections) I realized we are about to witness a massive paradigm shift.

This book is therefore very timely, but without the fear-inducing sensationalism of mass-appeal titles.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework? How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

May 14, 2015

Christianity Fares Poorly in Recent Polls, Surveys

Religion in AmericaNumerically, Christianity is in decline in North America. If the U.S. wants to see its religious future it needs only to look to Canada, which although it has its unique characteristics (different mix of ethnicities, historically stronger Roman Catholic population) is very much a “20 minutes into the future” window on what the U.S. is facing. And in some respects the UK provides Canada with a similar preview of increases in secularism.

We wrote about the implications for the church a few months ago in a review of the new book, The Church in Exile.

Dr. Russell D. Moore heads the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is always very clear and forthright in framing the Evangelical position on issues for wider culture to comprehend. In an article titled “Is Christianity Dying” he writes:

  • Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall
  • Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end… is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
  • The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction.
  • Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.
  • We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America.

To read the entire article — recommended — click this link.

Meanwhile, USA tapped another Baptist writer, Ed Stetzer for an article titled “Survey Fail: Christianity Isn’t Dying.” The articles subtitle confirms what Moore is saying, “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  •  Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified. Churches aren’t emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement.
  • If evangelical Christianity is growing, or at the very least remaining steady, why is Christianity as a whole shrinking and why are those who claim no religious affiliation increasing at such a rapid rate? In short, nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming nones — people who check “none of the above” box on a survey.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Of course, discussions like this tend to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. So we have, at Billboard of all places, this article: “Bill O’Reilly Blames Hip-Hop for Decline in U.S. Christianity.” Here’s a snippet:

  • Obviously, these statistics were gonna get an entrenched conservative like Bill O’Reilly upset. And when Bill sees a problem, Bill needs a scapegoat — and when you’re a conservative talking head, what better scapegoat is there than black people? … “There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment,” O’Reilly said. “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior. That sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.”

What’s deplorable about this is that O’Reilly is missing the point entirely as to what Christianity is and sees it as moralism instead belief in the deity and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

If you feel you must, you read the story at this link.

Yesterday, we also linked to a story at Huffington Post, “The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods” which you’ll find at this link.

Finally, CBC television in Canada jumped into the discussion last night, but as their charter mandates, were forced to look at all religions.  I’m not sure if their content is available in the U.S. but you can try to view the 12-minute piece at this link. (There was also coverage this week at ABC World News.)

with additional research from Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table blog and Flagrant Regard

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 22, 2015

As Christianity Loses Its Majority Status in the US

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework?  How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

December 28, 2013

Holiday Link List

edited Christmas cardr

With both Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday, we offer this mid-point link list today, with the regular schedule returning January 8th. (Actually, I think that’s supposed to say, “returning, Lord willing on January 8th…”)  If you’re new here, there was a corporate takeover of the link list in July, so all roads below lead to Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Today magazine.

 

September 26, 2011

Cartoon Snapshot of American Life?

Filed under: cartoons, Church — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

They go to church on Sunday.  Wait, delete that.  They dress up and go to church on Sunday.  Mom. Dad. Four kids. Including Chip whose gotta be in his teens and is wearing a tie.

And mom sings in the choir. And the choir sings “Hallelujah.” Wow! Thanks, Brian Walker, Greg Walker and Chance Browne for this panel from September 18th. (Not the first time either, check the bottom of this link list from last June.)

Blog at WordPress.com.