“… and the gates of hell …”

“… and the gates of hell …” January 28, 2011

I hope you had time to read Jennifer Powell McNutt’s exceptional piece in CT about the enduring church. This clip sets the stage.

With magazines like Newsweek announcing “The End of Christian America,” it is easy to give in to fear and the perception of decline. Not only can worries like that become self-fulfilling, more often than not, they also blind one to the enduring nature of the visible church in our world.

It would be hard to find a century when the church and clergy have not faced challenges in ministry and concerns about decline. Just counting the number of historical studies detailing the “crisis” and “anxiety” of ages past suggests these labels are too worn-out to be descriptive anymore….

There is no simple picture of steady and inevitable decline. Rather than allowing only negative examples to paint a monochromatic picture of Christianity, we should equally consider evidence of positive service and growth. Milestone years like 2009—the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth—seem to bring a sense of vitality even beyond the walls of the church. That year, Time magazine listed “New Calvinism” as third in its list of the ten most influential ideas changing the world. In the author’s words, “Calvinism is back.”…

Conflicting messages in the media as well as in academic scholarship reveal an ongoing discussion in the West about the true state of religion. While living in Britain, I came across a report on Yahoo! UK & Ireland News: “Secularists meet in London to defy rise in religion.” Organizers had established an award for the purpose of preventing what was described as “an alarming rise in religious meddling in public life.”

Apparently, while Christians have concerned themselves with the decline of the church, secularists have been busy worrying about the growth of religion….

Memories of Christianity over the ages are valuable assets in a culture prone to expecting the worst about the future. Christianity has undergone periods of rise and fall in every century, with documented success and concerns of decline. The noteworthy story of the Christian church is that despite all challenges and shortcomings, the church has survived, blossomed, and been transformed, sometimes against all odds. It has been restored and revived, it has changed, and it has overcome. In short, the church has endured.

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  • Jason Lee

    if there’s a decline, its not sharp and its not among conservative Christians. the mainline prot denominations (eg, UMC, EC, PC-USA) are in fairly significant decline which when lumped in with all Christians makes it look like a decline. when we separate things out though we see that there’s a trend from mainline prots to the religiously unaffiliated category…. which accounts for both the rise in the religiously unaffiliated and the decline in self-identified christians. immigration and higher fertility among conservative christians should preclude the “end of christianity” for the forseeable future.

  • Rachel

    Scot, thanks for highlighting this. As a Brit, and with your comment about concern about “religious meddling in public life” in mind, I wondered if you’d come across this response to Stanley Fish in the NYT: http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/stanley-fish-and-the-socio-political-avatar? You might be interested, both from a public/private point of view, and also because of the author’s use of anabaptism to counter Fish’s argument.