I distinctly recall being so burdened by the state of the church and its growing irrelevance in American life and culture that I would find myself awakened in the middle of the night weeping! I must admit that I was perplexed, pleading, "Lord, what is happening to me?" I was simply grieved by the apparent powerlessness of the gospel to change the lives of so many professing Christians or the world in which we live. Churches appeared to be dominated by those who claimed one thing but lived comfortably apart from those claims—and I, of course, was once among them. I was quite comfortable with my life and the Lord's place in it; however, the Lord was drastically upsetting my comfort and complacency while radically rearranging my life and priorities.
Christianity clearly has become a marginalized way of thinking; increasingly steps are being taken to specifically exclude the Christian faith from any and all expressions in public life. Religiosity remains, but it is becoming more apparent that "Christless Christianity," as Bonhoeffer called it, is the emerging reality among large segments of the Christian church in America. Nebulous spirituality is quickly replacing orthodox Christianity as America's predominant religion.
A growing body of research has repeatedly confirmed this charge. Most recently, LifeWay Christian Resources surveyed twelve hundred 18- to 29-year-olds; 72 percent say they're "really more spiritual than religious." The survey, which was conducted in this past August and released last week, revealed that among the 65 percent who call themselves Christian, "many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," according to Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay. Rainer goes on to say, "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."
In 2005, sociologist Christian Smith of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published the results of his four-year study (the largest of its kind to date) in his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Despite high levels of youth involved in regular church attendance and assertive claims to Christian belief (80 and 82 percent respectively) most teens have little or no understanding of historic orthodox Christianity. In face-to-face interviews, researchers found that many teens' religious knowledge was "meager, nebulous and often fallacious" and engagement with the substance of their traditions remarkably shallow. Most seemed incapable of expressing their beliefs—and the difference those beliefs should make in their lives—regardless of their denominational affiliation.
Many are so detached from the traditions of their faith, says the report, that they are virtually following a different creed in which an undemanding God exists mostly to solve problems and make people feel good. Truth in any absolute, theological sense takes a back seat. This ambiguity and ignorance in terms of their actual beliefs was so overwhelming that the researchers were led to coin the phrase, "therapeutic, moralistic deism" to describe the actual belief and practices of most professing teens.
To be clear, it isn't that teens are becoming apostate in record numbers, allegedly swept away by the culture. No, too many teens today simply aren't being taught authentic Christian faith in our churches, nor do they see it among their parents!
Josh McDowell, having conducted his own research, warned that we may be witnesses to the last Christian generation in this country, if something significant does not change in the life of the American church.
Suffice it to say, the situation is dire and it does no good to pretend otherwise. We have watched as Christian Europe has nearly vanished; the same patterns have been present in our culture for some time. Research from the Barna Group reveals that most professing Christians, including many pastors, posses an incoherent theology and at times subscribe to outright heterodoxy. Their values are often inconsistent with biblical truth and the vast majority lacks a comprehensive biblical life and worldview. Again, to be clear: it isn't because we lack worldview training but rather because the proper theological foundation from which the Christian worldview derives isn't being established. In short, there is a desperate need for reformation and renewal within the church in America.
This is the mission of the Center for Christ & Culture. Thus I am, for all intents and purposes, a missionary to America. However, unlike the conventional foreign missionary whose work is largely evangelical mine is prophetic in the contemporary sense. In this role, I bear the unenviable task of critic, pointing out where the tension between Christ and culture has given way to capitulation and compromise. At times, this is an unpleasant task. With an audience of diverse theological and doctrinal perspectives, it isn't possible to please everyone and remain faithful to my mission and calling. It isn't pleasant (nor is it my desire) to be at odds with the mainstream, but I cannot lift this burden. It is from the Lord and I dare not try to escape its responsibilities.
© 2010 by S. Michael Craven Permission granted for non-commercial
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org