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Barna Reflects on 6 ‘Megathemes’ Killing the Church

HT Lenny Esposito

Not too long ago I created a website called The Death of Christianity.  Its intent was to distill into one place my thoughts regarding the crisis facing the church today.    These thoughts have developed after almost 20 years of Christian apologetics, but I bring to bear numerous studies to show that my perceptions have reflected a true reality.  This week, Barna published another article detailing 6 ‘megathemes’ they had detected through surveying in 2010.

I don’t think anyone who is paying attention will be surprised.  But who is paying attention?  And of those paying attention, what is going to be done about it?  There are a fair number of Christians ready to chalk this up to the ‘great apostasy.’  Others figure we can’t add anyone to the elect anyway, so why worry?  Others deem that the problem is that people have jettisoned tradition, and well, its the Holy Spirit’s job to convert, anyway.  What do all these things have in common?  They allow the speaker to continue on exactly the way they are.  So much for ‘becoming all things to all people.’  And in many cases, we’re not even talking about converting anyone.  We’re talking about the converted!  Ah, they probably were never saved anyway.  Right?

There are elements of truth to each of the above perspectives that I just slammed.  However, I would distrust any position that serves in the end to continue on doing just those very things we are comfortable doing.   The crisis is such that in under 20 years, America could go the way of Europe.    Maybe even the way of Europe in the 1930s.  There is much at stake.  Salvation of souls, certainly.  Tyranny?  It’s possible.  If Christianity ceases to be the defining worldview, and the inherited capital of past Christians in America has been spent, tyranny isn’t just possible- its probable.   Wake up!

Anyway.  A brief look at the 6 megathemes Barna mentioned would be a good idea.

1.   The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.

Shocker! It isn’t only that.  People are becoming less literate in general.  Sure, they can read, but can they read?  Anyone who can actually read, who has seen any of the collections by skeptics of ‘Biblical contradictions’ is astounded by the lunacy.  So it is that even when people read the Bible they don’t understand it.  I’m talking about Christians.  When people can’t understand the Bible, or regard it as a ‘holy book’ with its own rules of interpretation, they become timid, not wanting to be too adamant about any particular interpretation.  Everything becomes ‘just your opinion.’  A person who feels this way is not likely to evangelize, or even raise their own kids in the faith.  The solution isn’t only to actually study the Bible, but to become good readers in general.  But I suppose that isn’t the Church’s job…

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.

I think that this is because it has become increasingly difficult to interact in public society.  On any given day, you can run into a Mormon, an atheist, a Hindu, a Baptist, or even a Satanist.  How does one respond to all these different ways of thinking without doing loads of research?  You can’t, so its probably better if you don’t raise spiritual issues with them.   Well, you could also read them John 3:16 to them, thus discharging your Christian duty.  You can then go on your merry way.   Or, you can begin seeing how what we’ve come to call ‘apologetics’ is crucially intertwined with what we call evangelism.  We are missionaries in our own town, and this calls for us to be informed about those we interact with.  Ultimately, every Christian should be prepared to give the reason for the hope that they have in language that is intelligible to his listeners.  A good start would be for congregations to start hiring full time apologists to begin raising the bar and giving people a good foundation to build on.

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.

True, and yet if the Christian Church had been showing how their Christian faith impacted their daily lives for however many decades, then it would never have been relegated to ‘merely religious’ stuff.  “I believe in Jesus, but that has nothing to do with me having sex with five people this weekend.”   Barna’s observation here speaks to the fact that everything has become compartmentalized out there.  Religion in religious areas, science in scientific areas, politics in political areas, self-help principles for self-help concerns, etc.   There is no sense that Christianity is integrated into all we do and that our faith has a bearing on every aspect of our lives.

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.

Barna is right in their observations on this.  However, this is also a reaction to the failure in the Christian church to do ‘community action’ of substance.  People see need all around them and the Church, as it seems to them, is doing nothing about it.  Well, they’d like to do something about it.    It is interesting to me that the Christian Church has historically been very involved in community well being.  What has changed?  Simply this:  within the last hundred years or so, Christians in society have relegated off their ‘good works’ to the government.  And why not?  The Church’s job is only to preach the Gospel, right?  And what could be more Christian than funding expansive social services?   Ah, you thought the Christian Church would actually get credit for its support of all those programs!  Boy were you wrong! Instead, it appears to people that the Church isn’t doing anything.  Ironic, since it was the Church that was instrumental in enacting all these social programs.  Of course, since these social programs have been secularized, now anyone can step in and help their community… but of course, it would be wrong to proselytize while doing so, since it is, after all, public money…

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.

I like what Barna says, here:  “The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.”    There’s just one problem… of all the doctrines of the Bible, the one that hasn’t been defined at all just happens to be the doctrine of love.  No wonder it has been ‘re-defined.’  There have been wars, almost literally, over the nature of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments.  Everyone thinks they know what love is, though, so no one feels like they need to study what the Bible says about that.   Here again we see evidence of Barna’s first megatheme- biblical illiteracy.  At the same time, tolerance is often a mask for a lack of conviction.  A lack of conviction is often a symptom of people not really sure that what they personally believe is actually, really true.  As Barna says, there is a place for ‘tolerance’ even on things that we really do believe is actually true.  You can only find that place when one knows what they believe and why the believe it- and thus, which things are important, which things are non-negotiable, and which things can be ‘tolerated.’

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

Barna is right on here.   Christianity has been a huge, and positive, influence on American society and civilization in general.  This is largely unknown, again even among Christians.  Christianity’s flaws, however, are known to everyone.  Christians have basically given up this fight and thrown up their hands in surrender- thus the Christian ghetto.  But here again, one needs to have confidence that one’s beliefs are actually true and is confident they can adequately express that truth in ‘polite society’ and moreover one must believe they have the right to express that truth.

For this reason, we need to stop mindlessly funneling ‘spiritual’ people off to church work, as though only religious people do religious work.  We need solid Christians doing good work everywhere out there, and we need to support them as if they were actually missionaries- which they are.  We need Christians active in the arts, active in politics, active in law, active in medicine, active in science- and unashamed about their beliefs, and knowledgeable about what they are, why they have them, and how they relate to whatever they’re actually doing.

My ministry has focused on this very thing.  Our Christian writing contests seek to raise up writers who will reflect their worldview in their future occupations as authors, writers, sitcom writers, newspaper editors, speech writers, advertisers, etc.  Our online apologetics conference aims to push people in their current vocation to integrate their faith in tangible ways in what they’re doing.  We’ve been looking specifically at influencing the culture, because Barna is right- most people are getting their worldview from nothing more than headlines and scenes they’ve seen in the latest episode of their favorite television show.  And these are the Christians!

There is no time for half measures.  It’s time to get serious, my friends.  I do not yet think we’ve reached a critical mass of anti- or un-Christian attitudes, behaviors, and sentiments, but once we do, it’ll be too late until things go ‘kaboom!’  There is still time to turn the tide.

But not much.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Horvath and apologeticsconfernce, XtianWritingContest. XtianWritingContest said: Apologist not surprised with #Barna 6 thngs killing #church: http://bit.ly/hqvW0c #apologetics […]

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