April 8, 2009

The Decline of Christianity in America

I found a link to this article over at Ben Witherington's site. I agree that this is a monumental shift in the American climate. I am sure that I am less surprised by Dr. Mohler in regards to the unbelief in the Northeast, seeing as I live in New York. I often wonder as to the fate of America, a land I love very much, as well as the Western Church.

It is helpful here to consider the thoughts of Loren B. Mead in his work The Once and Future Church. This work was originally written in 1991, though my edition is from 1994, but it seems to anticipate much of what is currently going on in our culture. Mead recognizes two classic paradigms in Christian ecclesiology, and what we are witnesses now is the immersion of a third.

The first paradigm he calls the Apostolic Paradigm (p. 11). In this paradigm, the context of the world was the hostile socio-political environment. Within this environment, the church was a separate "called out" entity that gathered together for mutual support and mission. Their mission was to reach out to their environment and draw people into the congregation.

He calls the second paradigm the Christendom Paradigm (p. 19). I have also heard this called imperial theology, and you may hear me use that terms else where. When Constantine converted to Christianity, and turned the empire "Christian", it did much to damage this former viewpoint. The context of the world shifted to a benevolent simpatico environment that claimed to be a part of the church. Indeed, it began to claim to be the church, and that is the fundamental shift. The process of evangelism shifted to bringing forth the reign of Christ, to spreading our particular culture. This paradigm has been maintained in the West up until this point, when our culture is beginning to turn its back to the church.

The new paradigm that Mead sees immerging (p. 26) he does not name, but so far he is dead on about the description. In many ways, it is the combination of the two paradigms, and sadly it is caused more by the change of the environment than a change in theological perspective (though that is also happening). The new context is ambigous, in that it is not entirely hostile, but it is also no longer part of the church. The mission of the Apostalic Paradigm has returned in full force, though there is still a tendancy to try and make the world Christian, rather than simply trying to proclaim Christ in the world. The inner structure of the church is equally confused, containing much of the rigidity of Christendom Paradigm, while reclaiming some of the more personal aspects of Apostalic.

I am fascinated to see what the future has in store for the Church. I am not truly worried, since I know that God is at the head of the whole thing. Instead, I am more honored to be part of the church at this crucial point in history and the world.

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