Some recent surveys have seemed to uncover a steep decline of Christianity in America. For example, from 2007 to 2019, the number of U.S. adults who identify as Christians has fallen from 77% to 65%. At the same time, those identifying with no religious affiliation has increased from 17% to 26%.
The recent surveys combined with a high level of political involvement among Christian leaders and a push from LGBT activists to change the church’s historical teaching on sexual morality have some announcing that the Christian West’s best days are behind her.
Now, The Daily Citizen has addressed this topic in the past in an article written by Glenn Stanton, the director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family.
But in a recent interview with Emma Green of The Atlantic, the Anglican priest and eminent theologian N.T. Wright also responded to these concerns.
Asked about the current cultural trends that can’t fit with traditional church teaching, Wright responded, “For 2,000 years, Christians have just said, that’s not what we think a human life is all about. Suddenly, we have a cultural imperative to embrace LGBT identity coming in the last 30 years or so. That’s quite an extraordinary thing.”
And for Wright, the stringent sexual ethic that Christianity propounds is a draw towards the faith, not a detraction. “In the early Church, one of the great attractions of Christianity was actually a sexual ethic. In the Greco-Roman world, if you’d already had one daughter, and then you had another, the regular thing was either to sell her into slavery or literally to leave her out for the wolves. So a lot of people, particularly the women, found the Christian ideal of chastity amazingly refreshing,” Wright noted.
In addition, even if faith in the West is in decline, there is still great reason for hope. Wright contended that just because the West has historically been the bastion for Christendom doesn’t mean the West’s decline in faith corresponds to a decrease in the faith as a whole. “Christianity is thriving in Africa and Asia—in China, for goodness’ sake. It’s amazing, actually.”
Another factor that some attribute with causing the so-called fall of Christianity is the supposed overlap between the label “evangelical” with “Republican.” Since most evangelicals are supportive of Republican policies, some assume that this connection is toxic to an authentic expression of the Christian faith.
Indeed, Wright seemed to agree that religious people influencing politics is a good thing.
“The New Testament is a wonderfully, gloriously rich political book. Read the book of Acts. Paul and the others are always telling the magistrates they are getting things wrong. Engaging in politics is a way of saying we serve a God who’s in charge here. And in his name, we are holding you to account for what you know perfectly well you ought to be doing,” said Wright.
As Stanton noted in his article, it isn’t born-again, evangelical denominations that are shrinking. Instead, “liberal denominations who’ve been compromising on the fundamentals of the faith are hemorrhaging members at a rate of 5 to 7.5 million members over the last decade or so. This is where the steep decline is. Evangelicals as a whole are seeing very little change.”
Glenn Stanton told The Daily Citizen that, “The most compelling and reliable research from the leading sociologists of religion tell us that robust Christianity – where the Word is faithfully taught, people are called to real repentance and genuine discipleship and worship is vibrant – is doing as well as it ever has in our nation’s history, and in some regards even better. The churches that are ‘getting with the times’ in terms of downplaying sin, and embracing abortion and homosexuality are hemorrhaging members by the millions.”
Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That seems to be the case with the so-called crisis of Christianity in America. While the cultural tide has certainly shifted in an anti-religious direction over the past several decades, there is great reason for hope.
In the interview, Wright recalled a quote from Lesslie Newbigin, a Presbyterian missionary to India. “I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist; Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.”
You can purchase Glenn Stanton’s book The Myth of the Dying Church here.
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