As part of Skye Jethani‘s blog-based book tour, I got to ask him one question regarding his new release The Divine Commodity: Discovering Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity. Here’s that question followed by his answer.
Newsweek recently announced that American Christianity is in great peril. The number of self-professed Christians continues to drop along with weekly church attendance while the percentage of Americans with no faith at all is on the rise. Dr. Al Mohler, president of the largest Southern Baptist Seminary, believes these statistics spell the weakening of Christian influence on culture. Dr. Mohler is quoted by Newsweek as saying, “A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”
Some fear that Europe, with its empty cathedrals and growing Muslim population, is the crystal ball in which we may see America’s spiritual future most clearly. These days we American Christians are routinely told that church pews are emptying, people of all ages are abandoning institutional church and the Christian faith. Yet it’s at this time that you choose to write a book which I think questions the validity of all this measuring and worry.
What message does God have through The Divine Commodity for church leaders and the rest of us who are fretting over the dwindling size and influence of the American church?
I believe the North American church is in a time of “creative dislocation.” I agree with Dr. Mohler that we are seeing a remarkable cultural-shift, and that the “Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western” culture. Where I depart from Dr. Mohler is when he calls this a “cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”
Christianity is indeed losing its privileged position of cultural authority in North America, but this dislocation is creating the conditions for God to do something new within and through his people. For those who believe the church and its mission can only succeed by maintaining control of schools, institutions, and governments, then I can understand why trends outlined in the Newsweek article would stir worry. But my guess is that these folks have bought into what I call The Daisy Cutter Doctrine (as discussed in Chapter 9 of The Divine Commodity).
The Daisy Cutter Doctrine is the belief that God’s huge mission can only be legitimately accomplished with huge methods. For example, to impact the United States for Christ, Christians should seek control of the United States Government. Or, if we want to shift cultural values Christians should be producing Hollywood blockbusters that promote the virtue of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. The idea is that a big mission requires big methods for a big impact.
But with Christianity and the Church becoming increasingly marginalized in our culture, the opportunities for massive cultural impact are shrinking. This, I suspect, is what has people like Dr. Mohler so concerned.
I am not.
The overwhelming witness of Scripture is that God transforms the world using the smallest and most unlikely methods—the outcasts, the underdogs, the forgotten, and the under-resourced. Last week was Passover and Easter. In one story the most powerful empire on earth is defeated and plundered by a band of poor slaves in communion with God. In the other story, the powers of evil and hell are defeated by the death and resurrection of a poor itinerant preacher from the backwaters of Galilee.
Beyond the testimony of Scripture, a glimpse at the state of global Christianity shows that many of the places where the faith is growing most rapidly are also where it lacks a privileged position. China may be the most vivid example, or among the Dalit (Untouchables) of India.
For those church leaders that have great concern over the “decline” of Christianity in America, I believe The Divine Commodity carries a message of enduring hope. God may be simply refining his church and burning away the cultural dross that we’ve acquired from our privileged position. This refining may be painful as we lose institutions, facilities, and even some previously impactful ministries. But in the end I have great confidence that Christ’s Church, even in America, will prevail. For when we are weak, then we are strong.
To visit the other blogs participating in this book tour, go here: http://zonderfann.com/2009/04/14/blog-tour-for-the-divine-commodity
To purchase The Divine Commodity (I highly recommend it), head over to Amazon.com