Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Decline of the Church?

Michael Spencer wrote a provocative essay, "The Coming Evangelical Collapse," which was published in the Christian Science Monitor on March 9, 2009. Mr Spencer predicts that the number of evangelical Christians in the United States will decline by 50% in the coming years. I profoundly hope that he is wrong just for the sake of the damage that will ensue for our culture. The New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins may want a world free of religion, but they have never lived in one. The only recent examples we have of "religion free" societies are Stalin's Russian, or Mao's China, or worse yet, Pol Pot's Cambodia. They were not places of live and let live freedom or tolerance, they were cultural gulags. The less Christianity is allowed a place of influence in society, the less moral and the more brutal it becomes.

I understand why Mr. Spencer made this prediction. He correctly sees the rising opposition to Christianity in Western societies. Atheism is on the march, and secular humanist organizations are becoming much more aggressive in their opposition to all things religious. Secularists are putting signs on buses and in subway stations promoting atheism and opposing religion. Several books defending atheism have been best sellers in the past year, and of course, Bill Maher did an anti-religious movie entitled, Religulous.

Opposition to Christianity has existed since at least the time of the Apostles, and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is that today, the evangelical church is ill prepared for it. As Mr. Spencer writes, "We evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught." I am afraid that statistics support his statement. Ministries that prepare young Christians for college regularly point to studies that show that at least 50% of students who say they are Christians as freshmen lose their faith by their senior year. The growing unpopularity of Christianity in the larger society will only increase this terrible problem.

It is this very problem that contributed to the writing of my book. What is so sad to me is that the evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel is so strong. Yet we seem to be losing the battle, primarily because we don't know how strong the historical, philosophical, experiential, and even the scientific evidence is for the validity of Christianity. I would hope that every Sunday school program and youth group in every church in this country would incorporate a basic apologetics course. We must prepare our children for the attacks upon their faith that they will surely face.

It is, of course, not just an intellectual or educational issue. The strength of our faith is based on our real experiential knowledge of the living God. We must also teach our children to love Jesus and to know Jesus, to have a living faith born of the Holy Spirit's presence in their lives. We and they must be people who know the reality of prayer, of worship, and of the real presence of the Lord in our lives. My prayer is that God will move on our society in this generation and upset these trend lines toward secularism. In the end this is the only real solution to this problem.

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