This post last updated on November 8th, 2021
Is American Christianity declining?
Recently, the New York Times has suggested that Christianity in America is dying. Let’s take a closer look at that.
The Times editorial referenced this in-depth study by the Pew Research Center, which states that the religious landscape in the United States is changing as “the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining,” suggesting that we conclude this is at least the beginning of the death of American Christianity.
What the survey and the New York Times editorial implied from that research is that the number of atheists in America is growing. However, as Russell Moore surmised in his article, “We do not have more atheists in America, we have more honest atheists in America.” That’s a pretty substantial observation.
But is it true?
More than once, the Times points things out like “the decline of the Christian population” or the “low levels of Christian affiliation.” Both the editorial and the Pew study begin to paint a bleak picture of the traditional American church approaching it’s death bed.
In my experience, what I’ve observed is a mass exodus from mainline denominations for starters. People are growing tired of doctrine and are asking, “What does the Bible say?“
I also see the younger generations, Millennial and Gen-Z as having made a hard shift from “religion” but are still searching for spiritual expression.
And finally, my interactions with self-proclaimed atheists has proven to me that there are actually not as many atheists in America as there are anti-theists. In other words, many American atheists don’t understand the difference between not believing in any deity and just being anti-God.
While Moore’s statement of “more honest atheists in America” is stunning, I don’t think it’s quite an accurate conclusion.
Despite what revisionist historians would like us to believe, America has historically identified herself as a Christian nation, which we have much reliable evidence to support. Even though we know that not all of the founders were Christian, their laying down of a nation of laws were undoubtedly done with the influence of Judaeo-Christian values.
The framers of the Constitution, whether Christian, Deist, or other, at least understood the value of a society that functions under certain guidelines, like not stealing or murdering others (Mark 12:31) and that these ideal guidelines for a civilized society were found in the Bible.
Today, much like Europe, our modern society is a stark contrast to our foundational values.
Europe as a measuring rod
After having spent the last three years in Europe, observing and engaging various European cultures and taking notice of the “Christian” landscape, it’s clear that Europe is without doubt a post-Christian continent.
It should also be noted that trends in America typically have their start in Europe. That’s historically been true of fashion, music, literature, social issues, and secular, humanist thinking.
The Swedish church has exchanged their Biblical convictions for liberal theology in order to remain socially relevant.A leading Swedish Apologist and Theologian
What I observed first hand in Europe were various cities and countries, each with more than a 1,000 year history of Christianity. Cities where the landscape is now as opposite to that as day is to night. In many European countries, we find marginalized Christianity where people baptize their babies and perform marriage and funeral services within the church while keeping that church, and especially Scripture, at arms length.
What one European Evangelical Christian leader told me was, “The church in our country has exchanged their Biblical convictions for a liberal theology in order to remain socially acceptable. The church has collapsed.” Does that sound familiar at all?
Europe, once the world’s leading Christian continent is now known as “the world’s most secular and irreligious nations.”
In highly influential European cities like London, Paris, Geneva and Frankfurt, cathedrals are being turned into apartment buildings, markets and in some cases even mosques. Some time ago, I saw a cathedral in Basel, Switzerland that had become a Gothic night club.
If Europe is to be our measuring rod for coming American trends, as it has historically proven to be, then there are indeed dark days ahead for the church in America.
Let’s be honest
As mentioned, Russell Moore suggests that atheism in America may not be actually growing, but becoming more open and honest. I believe there is at least a sliver of hopeful truth to this, but there is more to expose in this idea of honesty in the American Christian scene.
Like my friend in Sweden explained of their church, the American church has been flocking in droves to a “socially acceptable” model of existence. Never before have we seen such large and influential denominations in our country move to embrace the socially acceptable doctrine that could lead a believer to think they very well may witness the death of American Christianity.
If we’re going to speak with honesty, we have to admit that the truths once believed in and adhered to are being exchanged for a “socially acceptable” doctrine (Romans 1:25), especially in our mainstream denominations, who clearly take their cues for social acceptance from their colleagues in Europe.
This, along with “honest atheism,” is contributing not only to what Pew shows as the decline of American Christianity, but to the beginning of the end of a socially responsible main stream church, who, are ironically seeing the largest declines according to the Pew study, while the often socially and politically ostracized Evangelicals are steady or growing.
Death of American Christianity: C.P.R. For the Church
I’m not ready to admit the traditional American Church is approaching it’s deathbed. The coming trends are visible and real, to be sure, but let’s admit also that, according to the Pew Research, seven in ten Americans identify as Christians.
And as I stated, Millennial and Gen-Z Americans are open and searching for spiritual truth.
Even when we subtract a number of those who are nominal, cultural Christians, much like myself who, before I encountered Christ and knew my own faith, claimed I was Christian because I was towed along to Sunday School as a child. Even minus these cultural Christians, America still has a Christian majority unseen in many countries around the world.
I’ll admit that the American Christian has been silenced in many social arenas by intolerance from the political and social left. We’ve also failed at times while attempting to hold to Biblical truth while opposing destructive social agendas with the love of Christ. And we’ve allowed compromised doctrine into our lives and into our teaching.
But we can still impact the world around us when we do lovingly respond in truth. Just remember….
Theology that’s socially acceptable is Biblically repulsive.
The American Christian could begin to halt the “socially acceptable” yet Biblically repulsive doctrine when we identify the illness (Romans 1:22-23; 1:28-32), apply the life-giving truth of the Gospel (Romans 3:23-25), and resuscitate each believer to a life of spiritual health (Galatians 5:22-23).