Something is being whispered about in daring conversations around the country. You may have heard it mentioned in editorials, on the covers of magazines, and in blogs. It seems that the evidence is there, although it hasn’t necessarily been aggregated and analyzed. If it wasn’t for my own personal experiences, I might have tried to deny it too, but there’s something about it that resonates strangely, like a poorly-articulated pop song to which you finally were able to decipher all the words.
The church is losing its influence in society.
But is it really a bad thing? Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas and co-author of the bestselling UnChristian, speaks explicitly to this reality in his new book Next Christians. I’m going to use this text, as I have with other books in the past, to guide a discussion over the next several weeks.
Lyons paints a symbolically rich picture in his opening chapter of a visit he paid to the legendary evangelist Billy Graham at Graham’s home in the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the two chatted while reclining in rocking chairs on the back porch and enjoyed warm cookies from the oven, Lyons finds Graham in a place of rest, comfort, and solitude – Graham’s work, though both tremendous and inspiring, is over.
A fitting scene to set the stage for a book subtitled: The Good News about the End of Christian America.
Lyons is on to something. If you read back through our archive of posts on Faith Line Protestants, you’ll be able to infer that Cameron and I sense that the “Billy Graham” method of evangelism is becoming, to some extent, culturally obsolete.
Let me clarify: I affirm the ministry of Billy Graham. I believe that Reverend Graham, like few people in his generation, responded wholly and obediently to the mission to which God had called him, and did so with tremendous success. But Billy Graham witnessed to a generation of Americans in stark contrast to the present generation.
In general, it seems that Graham spoke to a nominally-churched generation. These were people who may or may not have called themselves Christians, but perhaps recognized the Church as an authority and the Bible as a source of insight, giving traction to Graham’s stadium-revival and radio-show approach to communicating the gospel. The truth about my generation, however, is that most are disenchanted with the Christian Church– a fact possibly most apparent on college campuses and in metropolitan areas.
Some may blame secularism, but it’s also largely because of pluralism. America is becoming increasingly diverse. Among my closest peers at the University of Illinois, the majority have been raised either in another faith tradition or in a non-religious household. The Church and its scriptures carry little or no influence, simply because of their upbringing.
So if we are called as Christians to communicate the message of the gospel, and we desire to be heard by the current generation of young adults (and perhaps their parents, but certainly their children), it will not suffice simply to hold stadium revivals, deliver inspiring sermons on the radio, and stage teary-eyed altar-calls.
To communicate the gospel, we have to live the gospel.
I’ll leave you with the words of Billy Graham as quoted by Gabe Lyons in Next Christians:
“Back when we did these big crusades in football stadiums and arenas, the Holy Spirit was really moving—and people were coming to Christ as we preached the Word of God. But today, I sense something different is happening. I see evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way. He’s moving through people where they work and through one-on-one relationships to accomplish great things. They are demonstrating God’s love to those around them, not just with words, but in deed.”
I have found that the interfaith movement cultivates these relationships. Don’t let the end of Christian America get you down; there are exciting times ahead.
During my next several entries, I’ll discuss Gabe Lyons’ analysis of Christian interaction with current culture, which provides insight on living Christian in a religiously diverse world and sets the stage for an understanding of what it means to live life seeking restoration through engaging those around us.