Christianity: One Choice among Many in the Religious Buffet

Sam Rainer

January 15, 2009

A new Barna Group research project reveals that Christianity is no longer the default spiritual setting for Americans. The fading of the Christian faith in America has been widely discussed. For most, this conclusion is not surprising:

Half of Americans believe the Christian faith no longer has a lock on people’s hearts. Overall, 50% of the adults interviewed agreed that Christianity is no longer the faith that Americans automatically accept as their personal faith, while just 44% disagreed and 6% were not sure.

As Christianity’s popularity diminishes, the religious buffet becomes more attractive. Barna reports about the increased acceptance of customizable religion:

By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church.

In the last section of the report, Barna expounds upon the implications of these findings. I found his insight helpful. I’ll summarize his thoughts:

  1. Christianity in American is now defined through the lens of American individualism. We are becoming more comfortable selecting from various sources our personal theological viewpoints.
  2. As a result of these individual choices, Americans select a contradictory body of beliefs. And they are comfortable with their decisions.
  3. Christianity is not the sole source for the formation of religious beliefs.
  4. Americans are more driven by “feelings and emotions” in the development of their faith. Conversations and self-reflection now trump biblical literacy.

Many “causes” and “movements” have surfaced to counter these trends and to “fix” the church. Ironically, success has been limited. Ed Stetzer speaks of this phenomenon in an excellent Catalyst article:

I continue to see movements gaining traction among Christians that do not seem to have many converts. In other words, they have recruits to their cause, but few converts to Christ. And I am concerned. I am concerned that in the name of “fixing the Church” we are not proclaiming the Church’s gospel.

You’ve seen it, too, among others—the emerging church wants to rethink structures; the missional folks want more social justice; the charismatic folks want more of the Spirit; Baptists want to convert the Presbyterians; the house church people want more authentic community; and the Reformed folks just want, well, I am not sure since they never seem happy.

These words from Ed hit home with me:

Now, I am not willing to say that a lack of converts is a sign of unfaithfulness. But, I am willing to say that too many change movements are not seeing lost people’s lives changed. And I think that is the wrong kind of change.

So, my Reformed friends, let’s not only read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John (that is, John Calvin, John MacArthur, and John Piper), let’s go plant some more churches. My emerging church friends, let’s take a pause from the theological rethink and head into the neighborhood and to tell someone about Jesus. My missional friends, let’s speak of justice, but always tell others how God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” My house church friends, let’s have community, but let’s be sure it is focused on redemption. My Baptist friends, let’s focus more on convincing pagans than Presbyterians. And, my charismatic friends, let’s focus less on getting existing believers to speak in tongues and more on using our tongue to tell others about Jesus.

So, let’s continue conversations about being “missional” or whatever, but let’s not do so if it distracts us from the mission. Instead let’s talk about these issues but not let them distract us from our main focus—showing and sharing the love of Jesus to a desperately lost world that needs a message of hope.

Like Ed, I identify with some of these movements and pieces of others. And I have certainly been guilty of thinking my way is the best way to reach people. But a renewed passion and fresh focus on showing and sharing the love of Jesus – is the fix really that simple? I think it is.

One comment on “Christianity: One Choice among Many in the Religious Buffet”

  1. Ed does a great job of speaking to all, regardless of what they might call themselves. You’re absolutely right, the solution is really very simple. We overdo it most of the time. 🙂 Thanks for posting this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *