The Welcome Demise of “Cultural” Christianity

This point has made by others in other ways, but I don’t think anyone has put it as clearly and compellingly as Ed Stetzer:

Christianity in America isn’t dying, cultural Christianity is. I am glad to see it go.

In other words, while devout and practicing Christians of all stripes are largely remaining devout and practicing Christians, those who partook in cultural Christianity (and may have done so for its social benefits) are no longer finding it necessary or desirable to do so.  We have all seen the blazing headlines about the increasing numbers of “nones” — people who have no affiliation with an official religion or religious organization.  Yet this does not mean that the faithful are becoming the nones.  As Ed puts it, “The nominals are becoming the nones.”

He offers three helpful observations near the end:

First, Christians continue to lose what some have called a home-field advantage. Christianity is no longer the first choice of many seeking spiritual meaning, and identifying as Christian is not necessary to be an accepted part of society.

Second, the squishy middle is collapsing. It makes less sense to be a cultural Christian today. Better to be spiritual than religious, unless your religion matters to you, as it does to devout Roman Catholics, Protestants and many others.

Third, Christianity is not collapsing, but it is being clarified. If you cut through the recent hype, and look to studies such as the General Social Survey, you’ll find the United States is filled with vibrant Believers.

Read the rest.

Raised on the writings of Kierkegaard, I cannot really mourn the loss of cultural Christianity either.  There are some advantages to living within a predominantly Christian culture, to be sure.  But the disadvantages from a kingdom perspective are profound.  When cultural Christianity abounds, then Christianity can come to be associated merely with certain cultural markers.  Cultural Christians — by which we mean those who claim Christianity merely as a culture they inhabit, not as a life they lead or even a set of faith commitments — may speak differently and consume culture differently, but they do not live lives of radical discipleship.  They do not witness Christ.  What they present is a watered-down, compromised, milquetoast Christianity.  In other words, what they offer is NOT Christianity, and it tarnishes the name of the church and misleads many.

I’m with Ed.  And, not to confuse the two, but I’m with Christ.  Didn’t he say something about preferring that we be cold or hot, rather than lukewarm?

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Frank Viola

    I agree that cultural Christianity is dying. And Christendom is virtually dead. However, I regret to say that I think genuine Christianity is also on the decline. Christianity is in crisis on all fronts. Outside of a heaven-sent revival (like the one that swept the country between 1968 – 1972), it will probably continue to be an uphill battle to make authentic disciples in our time. At least in large numbers.

  • jerry lynch

    That insightful analysis seems correct and fits my experience…up to a point. Although I may be speaking as a minority with my objection, I find the present absorption with politics by those who appear devout and faithful Christians to be a cutural engagement that is diluting, even making unpotable, the living waters of Christ, sort of reversing the flow of the Nones. As this nation becomes more pluralistic and the preferred status for Christians appears to be fading, even falling under greater attack by an upsurge of atheists and the perceived threat of Islam, “the devout and practicing Christians of all stripes” seem to be digging into the culture, entrenching themselves to fight for a Christian Nation. There any number of Christian groups, apparently stocked with the truly faithful (if that can be said given their ambition), looking to “re-take America” for Christ.

    I see the “conversation” asked for by the Emergent Church as vital, yet it seems more a movement to justify spirituality over religion, for many a pious “do your own thing” approach to the demands of being a follower of Christ. Disposable lighters, disposable cameras, disposable whatever, disposable church. Plus fully enmeshed in the social network, with the ever-advancing programs and apps, ever-broadening techna-ease of communicating, the church with its snail-mail message and slow-speed traditions, seems passe or just a cute or curious artifact of retro.

  • MatthewS

    Good thoughts.

    Hot, cold, lukewarm: fwiw, that passage is commonly misunderstood (though this is probably old news to most readers of this blog, but I thought I’d throw this out there just in case). I heard over and over growing up that it would be better the be spiritually cold than lukewarm based on Rev 3:16. But Hierapolis had a hot spring that was seen as medicinal, Colosse had cold water for drinking, and Laodicea had a brackish, useless mix of the two, good for neither refreshment nor medicine. It wasn’t that they should rather have been spiritually cold rather than lukewarm, but that they should have been useful rather than useless.

    A couple links for reference: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf (page 44), https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Revelation+3 (note 54), and http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/44-hot-cold-or-lukewarm-revelation-315-16/ .

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive interpretations. I think the dangerousness of being lukewarm is that you can convince yourself that you’re hot, convince yourself that you’re living out your faith, and all the while be living a “best of both worlds” compromise that leads you and leads others astray. When that’s the case, you’re not only useless, but you are causing the name of Christ to fall into dishonor.

  • Bobby B.

    If one can be a faithful Christian in the world of entertainment, then one can be a a faithful Christian engaged in politics.


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