5 Causes of the Decline of the American Church

April 18, 2012

Previewing Ross Douthat’s new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,  which hit bookstore shelves yesterday, Tim Keller draws five observations about the causes of decline in the American Church.

As Keller notes:

In his second chapter, Douthat attributes the change to five major social catalysts that have gained steam since the 1960s…

Here are the five factors:

  1. First, the political polarization that has occurred between the Left and Right drew many churches into it (mainline Protestants toward the Left, evangelicals toward the Right). This has greatly weakened the church’s credibility in the broader culture, with many viewing churches as mere appendages and pawns of political parties.
  2. Second, the sexual revolution means that the Biblical sex ethic now looks unreasonable and perverse to millions of people, making Christianity appear implausible, unhealthy, and regressive.
  3. Third, the era of decolonization and Third World empowerment, together with the dawn of globalization, has given the impression that Christianity was imperialistically “western” and supportive of European civilization’s record of racism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism.
  4. The fourth factor has been the enormous growth in the kind of material prosperity and consumerism that always works against faith and undermines Christian community.
  5. The fifth factor is  that all the other four factors had their greatest initial impact on the more educated and affluent classes – the gatekeepers of the main culture-shaping institutions such as the media, the academy, the arts, the main foundations, and much of the government and business world.

I find these observations significant. As God’s missional people, it is important that Christians recognize not only the reality of the decline of our influence within our culture, but the specific contributing factors.  Simply wishing things were the way they used to be won’t accomplish anything.  It is akin to sticking our heads in the sand.  But when we discern what is going on in the world around us, a number of signs direct us toward ways we may address the causes,  both directly and indirectly.

Read Keller’s entire article: Redeemer City to City

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