Christians in a negative world

Discussion in 'The Commons' started by Ananias, Jul 17, 2022.

  1. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I found this article by Aaron Renn in First Things very interesting -- the author posits that Christianity (particularly evangelical Christianity) has transitioned from the "postive" world (a world that generally advocates and rewards Christian profession), through a "neutral" world, and now into a "negative" world where professing a Christian faith is a detriment.

    It's an interesting piece, but I'm not sure I buy it.

    For one thing, Renn focuses too much on religion in the context of America (or the western world more generally). It's become something of a cliche amongst the intelligentsia that Christianity in the west is dying out; Matthew Arnold wrote "Dover Beach" in 1867, and Nietszche declared God dead not long afterward. According to the smarties, Christianity has been languishing for a good long while now. And yet here we are still. Bibles still continue to top the best-seller charts; Christian-themed media still does very well ("The Chosen" is huge right now). The megachurch model may pass away (and good riddance to it), but the Christian faith will march on in the faithful.

    For another, the influence of Christianity in America waxes and wanes. It's like a pendulum; every twenty years or so, the bob swings back and forth. The late 70's and 80's were the height of the leftist boogeyman "religious right"; now the Evangelical churches are in eclipse. The worm will turn. It always does. The American south and midwest will remain heavily Christian, and I think even the southwestern US will surprise some people as Hispanics continue their exodus from the RC church and adopt Protestantism.

    And finally, Renn's thesis suffers from the same myopia as other western religious writers. Christianity is doing just fine in much of the Global South and Asia, thank you very much. The faith has never been a numbers game, but even if it was, we gain more than we lose every year. For every American Millennial or Zoomer who falls away, we gain ten African or Asian converts. Who knows? Perhaps some day in ten or twenty years, African missionaries may bring these wayward Americans back into the fold.
     
  2. Clayton

    Clayton Active Member

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    On the one hand, I am glad to hear Christianity is doing well in the global south and in Asia.

    On the other hand, I don’t live in either of those places, and while I can cheer them on, my more immediate concern is for the west in which my children will grow up. And frankly it don’t look so good for them.
     
  3. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I'm actually optimistic about the future of Christianity in America (Europe not so much). The churches are going through a crazy period right now, but it's having a salutary effect: it's separating the orthodox from the liberals. The orthodox churches will survive. The liberal churches will fade away, hopefully taking their theological madness with them.

    Evangelicalism in America grew into a demented monster in the 1990's and 2000's (we call it "Big Eva"), and it was destined for a crash. But now that the crash is underway, I can see the outlines of a new orthodoxy emerging. I think we're in for a rough decade or two (in baseball, we'd call this a "rebuilding season") but then we'll be okay again. The church that emerges may be somewhat smaller in number than during the height of "Big Eva", but it'll be a better and more doctrinal church. It's a world where Anglican theology and practice will thrive once the ground has lain fallow for a time.

    Will "denominations" survive the switch? I don't know. Anglicanism surely will. Baptists will. Lutherans. But the other "mainline" denominations will fade slowly away as their older congregations die off. In America as in the developing world, charismatic practice (Pentecostalism) will probably become the dominant form of Christian worship.

    America has too many Protestant sects; it always has. "Evangelicalism" used to be the big tent everyone gathered under, but it collapsed not due to outside pressure but due to fractures within. It's the Protestant disease. But I think it's true that conservative Protestants have more in common with each other than they do with the liberal elements of their own denominations, so I think the Protestant churches that eventually survive this winnowing will tend to look more alike than different. Will the theological distinctives between the sects carry much weight? Again, I don't know -- my feeling is that ultimately it will come down to preference for church practice rather than the fine points of Protestant theology (Calvinism vs Arminianism, dispensationalism vs covenant, pneumatcology vs cessationism, etc.). The American church of the future will be Protestant and Evangelical, and have a strong charismatic flavor to it -- in that way, it will reflect the evolution of Christianity globally.

    But the Church will survive in America, and I firmly believe it will eventually have a big resurgence. Your children will probably experience -- or even lead! -- one of the great revivals that America goes through from time to time. I just hope I live long enough to see it happen.

    EDIT: The Roman Catholic church will also survive, but I also think it is due for the same liberal/orthodox fracture that every other Christian church is going through right now. The "Roman Catholic" church we see now will not survive the next decade. I'm not sure what will come after that. The trads will want to go back to the pre-Vatican II world, but I 'm not sure that's possible.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2022
  4. Invictus

    Invictus Well-Known Member

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    ‘Liberal’ is not the opposite of ‘orthodox’; ‘heterodox’ is. One can be both liberal and orthodox.
     
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