It continually amazes me how conservative Christians bury their heads in the sand about the gradual decline of Protestant Christianity. These folks refuse even to consider, let alone acknowledge, an obvious possibility: That the tenets of ‘orthodox’ Christianity are failing to persuade increasing numbers of people, at least in the so-called first world, because those tenets just don't fit with everything else humanity knows about the Creation.
(FOOTNOTE: I suspect that much of the growth that we see in the prosperity-gospel megachurches is due to entertainment value, and that the growth in some of the evangelical- and Pentecostal churches arises in part from crowd-pleasing factors such as fervor, certitude, and exclusivism.)
The topic came into focus this week with a recent survey indicating that "none" is the only religious category that appears to be growing in every state of the Union. The survey's press release quotes one observer as saying:
"It looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism—mainline versus evangelical—is collapsing," said Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program. "A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United States." [Emphasis added.]
So mainline Protestantism is dying (it's thought), and evangelical Michael Spencer predicts, in the Christian Science Monitor, that evangelicalism will soon follow:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Some of my traditionalist friends at TitusOneNine offer their usual rejoinder: This decline could be reversed if the church would just get back to right thinking and -preaching. In his CSM comment, Michael Spencer argues that:
2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. ... Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures. [¶]
4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself. [¶]
6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.
These folks are like the Indian, er, Native American, rain dancers who insisted that the relentless drought was due to their failure to perform their rain dances properly, and not to any inefficacy on the part of rain dancing itself.
Or in business terms: Consider what happens when a sales force consistently fails to make its numbers, quarter after quarter, even after the sales VP and many managers are replaced. Almost invariably, the product designers will still claim that the problem just has to be with the incompetence of the sales people. In the designers' minds, it simply isn’t possible that people are not buying their product because they can’t tell whether the product actually does anything for them.
It’s sad that Jesus’ example is in danger of being increasingly forgotten or ignored, thanks to his ancient- and modern successors who mulishly insist on preaching their dogmas, instead of his simple restatement of the Summary of the Law and his New Commandment.