Thursday, April 16, 2009

Answering the President and Newsweek

The Reports of Christian America's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Here's a Great Response [click to read] from Glenn T. Stanton to the Newsweek piece on the declining percentage of people identifying themselves as Christian in the United States. If you look at the numbers though, the Church actually grew, though it did not keep pace with the growth of the population.

Consider the fact that in 1958, when most people would identify themselves as Christian, there was still prayer in school. Faith was not ghettoed from the public life and even the uninterested would still consider themselves part of something that was driven by Judeo-Christian worldview. Even the movie industry of that day produced films like "The Ten Commandments" and "The Longest Day." Popular culture at least acknowledged noble ideas if it didn't celebrate them outright. No one was 'offended' by prayer offered at everything from football games to public meetings.

In fact, the culture encouraged a presence in religious life. A scene in "The Right Stuff'" says it all. The newly introduced astronauts are at a press conference where a reporter asks: "Do you attend church regularly?" to which Alan Shepard replies: "Oh yes, I attend church regularly." In such a culture, one identifies himself as Christian almost by default. There is no need to 'get off the fence' to make a decision. In our day that is no longer the case.

Today's popular culture celebrates anything but Christianity. One more likely defaults to a more naturalistic or transcendent worldview because that is the one seen in the media output of the day. Self-actualization gets a whole lot more press than giving oneself to things eternal. In fact, the Twenty-first Century Church is on its own when it comes to getting the message out that there is more to this world than meets the eye.

In that light, the fact that the Church is growing is significant in its own right. There is still much spiritual hunger in the world and one popular culture genre, science fiction, gets it. Consider films like "Star Wars" and "Matrix," who's themes resonate with those of Christian redemtion. Timeless themes do not go away, but find expression in new ways. People still want redemption, but much of the culture dismisses the hope of it actually happening.

The film 'Slumdog Millionaire' presents an odd 'redemption.' The Mumbai slums, beggar gangs, mutilation and misuse of children are all too real. Most children in urban slums will not win a game show, but there is real redemption that sometimes reaches them. Christians like Wes Stafford of Compassion International team with the local Christians in hundreds of these cities to bring real ongoing aid to families in poverty. Mother Theresa spent her life in a uniquely Christian response to this need. History has always had a precious few who actually lived as Christ lived. Those are the lives that influenced others to turn to Christianity when it wasn't the 'default' faith.

People like John Newton and his friend William Wiberforce ended British slavery. Dorethea Dix pioneered compassionate treatment of the mentally ill. There are still people living in that light today. Their activism springs from their faith in Jesus Christ. It cannot be explained apart from it.

Certainly the diminished influence of faith is cause for concern, but to assert that it is no longer significant misses the story as well.

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