Christianity is dying in the United States, or so they say. If that’s true, how did this happen? I’m Joel Fieri, and that’s what we’ll be discussing on this episode of What You’ve Been Searching For. Stay tuned.
Welcome to part two of our three-part series on the questions that you, the Christian podcast listener, want to hear discussed. If you caught part one, you know that we discussed the first question that came to us from our research, which is, is Christianity dying in the United States? If you caught that podcast, you know that we, first of all, had to define our terms. What do we mean by Christianity in the United States, and what do we mean by dying? And then we had to make a couple of distinctions between the leadership in Christianity and the laity in Christianity.
So if you didn’t catch that podcast, we’ll put a link below. Please check it out. For today, I wanted to tackle the followup question to that, which is how did this happen? If Christianity is truly dying in the United States, how did that happen? How did we get to the point in our famously Christian nation to where we can actually reasonably ask the question, is Christianity dying? Well, as you might guess, I have some thoughts on that.
First off, I want to tell you a story. We talked about the mainline denominations. Now, years ago, my wife and I were part of one of those denominations, and at the time, this particular denomination was going through a very public and very difficult split. The split was between those in the denomination that wanted to maintain fidelity to the Bible, to the word of God, when it came to definitions and moral stances on the moral and societal questions that we were facing back then, and are still facing even more so now.
As you might have guessed, the other side wanted to be less stressful of biblical stances and definitions of these same cultural issues. The church that my wife and I were part of was on the more conservative side, the side that wanted to maintain the word of God as the basis for our morality. Well, as you might have guessed, there was a lot of discussion and back and forth within this debate. I found myself one night at a meeting of the regional denomination, and we were discussing this split and the issues involved, and this same question came up, the question of how did this happen? How did we get to the point where our denomination was actually considering and splitting over whether we should remain faithful to the word of God in our public stances?
I remember the head of the denomination in our area, a very well-respected pastor, was leading the discussion and he dealt with this question. This is the answer he gave. He says, “It’s quite simple. Back in the ’50s and the ’60s, we tenured the wrong seminary professors, and then we ordained the wrong ministers coming out of those seminaries.” And I thought, “Well, there’s a straightforward explanation,” and it made sense to me.
But then he went on, when someone said, “Well, what do we do now? How do we get out of this?” This is something I’ve never heard a Christian leader say before or since, and it was quite shocking to me. He said, “Really, honestly, unfortunately people die.” We all kind of sat in the same silence you’re probably sitting in right now. He went on. What he meant was that these seminary professors, most of whom would probably die, but some are probably still around, and the pastors that they produced and that the denomination ordained, will eventually die.
He said, “That’s our only way out of this.” And I just thought to myself then, and I still put it to you now, there is not a better story that illustrates how a denomination or a faith group or a religion loses its fidelity to its calling in a culture and its mission in a culture, how it loses influence and relevance in that culture, how it dies. And this is not just this one denomination. This is pretty much the story of most, if not all, of the Protestant denominations.
The leadership compromises at a higher level, and that filters down to the individual churches and the individuals within that denomination. So how does that apply to Christianity in the United States, into our larger question of Christianity in the United States as a whole dying? Well, I think, in this sense, this is the key. Those seminaries, when they ordained those pastors, when they hired and tenured those seminary professors, it was with the best of intentions. They just wanted to modernize. They wanted to bring their denominations to the modern world.
They wanted to show how reasonable they were, how open-minded they were, how possibly they could fit Christianity into some of the other worldviews that were gaining prominence at the time, these philosophies. They wanted to stress not so much the wrath of God, or sin, or our accountability to Holy God, but more the loving aspects of God, the accepting characteristics of God that these new philosophies could fit in Christianity.
Like I say, it was with the best of intentions, because as we’re Christians, we want to appeal to the world. We want the world to hear us because we want to save the world. We want to bring them to our faith. What I see going on today is the exact same thing within evangelicalism. Again, if you remember, evangelicalism is the one I feel like I have the most to say about, because I am an evangelical. The Catholic Church has dealt with this. As I just described, the mainline denominations have dealt with this in a big way.
And now those same philosophies and those same worldviews that infiltrated those other faith groups are starting to make their way into evangelical leadership. As I said in my first podcast, the advantage evangelicalism has is that we’re decentralized. Local pastors and local denominations have much more say in how their churches deal with these questions and with these problems. But we do have faith leaders. We do have seminaries that produce pastors that lead our churches, and in these seminaries, and a lot of these thought leaders, these celebrity pastors that we have, these authors, these influencers, are starting to compromise in the same manner that the other faith groups did years ago.
Now the laity in evangelicalism, the individual believers and local pastors aren’t there yet, at least in my view, from what I can see, but the leadership is. The leadership is going down the same road that the other faith groups have gone down. Now, one of the definitions of insanity that is popular now is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Well, a corollary to that might be making the same mistakes other groups did and thinking the consequences aren’t going to be the same for you, but they will be.
Evangelical leadership is going down the same roads, and if they think it’s going to end up in a different place, if they think it’s going to make us more relevant or make us more faithful to our calling in the culture and our mission in the culture, I’m afraid they’re wrong. We’ll end up in the same place, with the same problems and the same tensions and the same issues that the other faith groups have. As I said, I don’t think the laity and local pastors are there yet, but I think we’re being led that way.
As I said in our previous podcast, the jury is still out on evangelicalism. We have a lot of difficult conversations in the years ahead, and a lot of difficult decisions to make. We’ll see where we go with it. Next week, I’m going to deal with the third question that came in our research, follow up to, is Christianity dying in the United States, if so, how did this happen? The next question is, logically, what can we do about it? Can we save the church in the United States?
Don’t miss that one, because I do have some thoughts on that, as you might imagine. As always on YouTube, like, subscribe, for sure comment. We want to keep this conversation going. If you think I’m wrong, please tell me why. Look us up on Spotify and Apple and all the other podcast platforms. But most of all, as I always say, check out our website, christianpodcastcentral.com, for more good content like this. See you next time.