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.
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?