Book: Why Is “Christianity” Failing in America?

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While America still boasts of being a “Christian nation,” in the area of private religious practice “Christianity” is in a state of serious decline. Today, church attendance is at an all-time low, and the number of Americans who profess to being Christian is rapidly dropping. Young people in particular are dropping out of church at an astounding rate, and significant numbers are abandoning Christianity altogether—calling it irrelevant to real life.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that even among self-professed Christians morality is at an all-time low. As revealed by numerous surveys, it appears that there is little in terms of lifestyle and conduct to distinguish a “Christian” from a non-Christian.

What has happened to our churches? Why has Christianity been largely ineffective at stemming the tide of worldliness that plagues even churchgoers? Could it be that Christianity itself has unwittingly played a key role in the moral demise of its own followers?


Christianity in America—the Sad Statistics

Let’s look first at the decline of American Christianity in terms of participation—then we’ll look at it in terms of practice. In her book Quitting Church, Julia Duin documents today’s rapid decline in church attendance. Moreover, she argues that “something is not right with church life” today. She says that modern churchgoers are increasingly disappointed by what they consider to be a lack of genuine spirituality—that organized religion has become dysfunctional. She argues that today’s churches seem overly focused on culture—fads, image, creative marketing and packaging, membership drives—and that worship services frequently border on entertainment. Meanwhile, teachings are becoming liberalized and lack relevance to real life.1 As we will see, Christianity’s focus on culture—on fitting in—is exactly why it is failing.

Duin, who has spent much of her career researching Christianity in America, writes: “It’s no secret that the percentage of Americans in church on any given Sunday is dropping fast.” How fast?

Research conducted by the Barna Group over the past few decades reveals key insight into the so-called unchurched—those Americans who do not regularly attend church services. According to a 2014 Barna report, in the early 1990s about two out of 10 adults were churchless. In the early 2000s, it was three in 10. Today, the unchurched make up nearly half of the adult population. Including children, that number comes to 156 million.2

Moreover, there is little real growth among churches: “The raw number of unchurched people in the United States is staggering. Most of what gets counted as ‘church growth’ is actually transfer growth, rather than conversion growth—that is, people transferring their allegiance from one church to another, not transitioning from non­Christian to Christ­follower.”

Looking closer at the data on the unchurched, Barna notes that some 65 percent qualify as moderately to highly post-Christian. (This analysis is based on detailed surveys dealing with beliefs and behavior.) Being post-Christian means they are moving away from the Christian religion entirely. Barna concludes: “In other words, in spite of ‘Christian’ self descriptions, more than one third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people.” Also, 20 percent of the unchurched qualify as skeptics—a category that includes atheists and agnostics.3

The decline in Christianity is most notable among the nation’s young adults. In fact, according to Barna’s research, the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. This becomes apparent when looking across the following four demographic groups:

 

Group               Born                  Post-Christian
     
Elders 1945 or earlier 28 percent
Boomers 1946-1964 35 percent
Busters  1965-1983 40 percent
Millennials 1984-2002 48 percent

 

Clearly, Christianity—as it is taught and practiced today—is rapidly declining. But why? It all has do with American culture.

Indeed, in spite of America’s “Christian” self description, there is a growing sense among churchgoers that our nation’s culture is changing so fast that young people in particular are uncertain as to how to express their faith. As Barna notes, “Not too many years ago, church attendance and basic Bible literacy were the cultural norm. Being a Christian didn’t feel like swimming against the cultural current. But now?”

It appears, however, that the root of the problem is not Christianity itself; it is how the “Christian religion” is packaged, presented and practiced in today’s mainstream church. When the churchless were asked about their personal beliefs, two thirds claimed to be “spiritual.” More than half said their faith was “very important” to their life. Moreover, while not actually claiming to be Christian, almost 70 percent of them had a favorable view of Christianity.

So why are they churchless? Nearly half of them said they see no value in personally attending church.4 Clearly, the research points to the church itself as the problem!


Are Mainstream Churches Becoming Irrelevant?

As a lead researcher for Christianity Today, Drew Dyck writes that the 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate.” Dyck also notes that, according to Rainer Research, approximately 70 percent of America’s young people drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22.5 A more recent study by Barna shows that 60 percent of today’s young adults in their 20s—who had regularly attended church during their teen years—are now “spiritually disengaged” (i.e., not actively attending church, not reading the Bible, and not praying).6

According to Duin, research suggests that, at current dropout rates, onlyabout four percent of American teens will end up as Bible-believing adult churchgoers (compare this to 35 percent of baby boomers and 65 percent of their World War II-era grandparents).7

Again, all of this suggests that something vital is missing from the average person’s church experience—especially if they are young. Indeed, according to Barna, fully half of all young churchgoers say they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. A third of them say it is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.8

What’s behind all the empty pews? In a word—irrelevancy. Duin notes that for the millions of American Protestants who have become church dropouts, church has just become too boring. “Church has nothing to do with their actual lives. What’s preached and talked about is irrelevant to their daily existence in the twenty-first century.” She says there is a disconnect between what is coming from the pulpit and people’s real lives. Duin quotes Mike McManus, a syndicated Christian writer: “They’re not preaching on real issues—divorce, chastity, cohabitation—that people are facing. There’s an avoidance of the big issues people are facing.”9

Chuck Baldwin, an outspoken Christian minister and author, has long lamented Christianity’s failure to be relevant to modern life. Calling today’s mainstream church “the opiate of entertainment and feel-good-ism,” he writes that when it comes to influencing societal conditions, culture and the political philosophy of the nation, “America’s churches are the largest block of irrelevant, impotent and insignificant institutions in the entire country.”10

Baldwin charges today’s complacent ministry as the cause, calling them “hirelings in the pulpit [that] lust after ease and social acceptance”; he says they willfully and blindly “bask in their ignorance.” Quoting the 19th-century revivalist Charles Finney, Balwin writes: “If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”

According to Baldwin, most of what comes from today’s pulpits lacks relevance to real-life problems, challenges and experiences. Rather than being shepherds and watchmen, he says today’s pastors are more like cheerleaders and CEOs. “Our churches are not ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (I Timothy 3:15, KJV); they are centers of social interaction, recreation, and feel-good indoctrination. Preachers are not reprovers, rebukers, and exhorters (II Timothy 4:2); they are ear-ticklers, entertainers, and expositors of irrelevance…. The result: ineffective, impotent, weak, unprepared, and sheepish Christians.”

This dereliction of duty extends as well into the area of addressing political and social issues from the pulpit. In researching conservative pastors, the Barna Group found a serious disparity: 90 percent of pastors agree that the Bible speaks about all of today’s key political issues; but only 10 percent of them are willing to address these issues to their congregations. The Barna report noted that when it comes to the separation of church and state, it’s the churches that have “separated themselves from the activities of the state.”11

Barna’s inquiry into the matter shows that the average pastor views church success primarily in terms of “attendance, giving [money], number of programs, number of staff, and square footage [of facilities].” The report concludes: “Now all of those things are good measures [of success], except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them.” Ultimately, most pastors will not get involved in politics because political issues can be controversial. And “controversy keeps people from being in the seats, controversy keeps people from giving money, [and] from attending programs.”

Baldwin adds: “The mega-church phenomenon of the last several decades transformed how pastors think and behave. Pastors read the ‘successful church’ books and publications; they attend the ‘successful church’ conferences; they watch the ‘successful church’ videos, etc. They then try to mimic the tactics and strategies they have been taught. And if there is one constant theme, … it is pastors must avoid controversy like the plague.”12

One cannot help but ask, “Are pastors more concerned about being ‘successful’ than they are about being truthful?”

The bottom line is that Christianity’s popular “feel-good Gospel” is just not relevant to the real-world problems and stresses people are facing. The widely-promoted bumper sticker “Honk If You Love Jesus!” pretty well sums it up. Unconsciously, those who remain a part of today’s organized Christianity end up just “playing church”—claiming to be Christian while living like a non-believer.


The “Christian” Lifestyle Gap

Recent research polls have brought to light some astounding facts concerning the conduct of Christians—particularly those ages 18 to 29, as this group has been intensely studied. Overall, there appears to be a gigantic lifestyle gap between what is believed or professed and what is actually practiced. As we will see, most Christians—especially in the young adult group—are indistinguishable from non-Christians in almost every area of life. In his book Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Jared Wilson notes that “in American culture, it has often become hard to distinguish between the body of Christ and the culture of society.” He says Christians often quote such passages as “Judge not lest you be judged,” or “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” because we want to “justify how we live without the pesky burden of what Jesus requires of us.”13

In his compelling book Revolution, George Barna laments the considerable “disconnection between what research consistently shows about [the conduct of] churched Christians and what the Bible calls us to [actually] be.” If Christians are what they claim to be, adds Barna, “their lives should be noticeably and compellingly different from the norm.”14

According to Barna’s 2005 data, of the 77 million Americans who claimed to be churchgoing “born again” Christians, fully half of them admitted that they had not “experienced a genuine connection” with God over the past year. Moreover, less than 10 percent claimed to possess a “biblical worldview”—i.e., a core set of convictions and beliefs that they have proven as absolute truth (the other 90 percent claimed only a “patchwork” of theological views).15

Is it any wonder, then, that “worldliness” is as much a problem inside mainstream Christianity as it is outside? A good indication of the depth of the problem can be seen in how self-professed Christians approach divorce. The divorce rate for those who profess to be Christian and who claim to follow the teachings of the Bible is exactly the same (around 50 percent) as those who do not. Today, most divorces are unjustified—a matter of convenience. Marriage vows mean almost nothing. Are we really to believe that all of these “Christian” divorces are justified before God—when He says He hates divorce (Mal. 2:16)?

Then there’s the glaring problem of premarital sex and abortion among self-professed Christians. In his article “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It,” Tyler Charles writes: “A surprising new study shows Christians are having premarital sex and abortions as much (or more) than non-Christians.” He notes that “a recent study reveals that 88 percent of unmarried [American] young adults (ages 18-29) are having sex…. [But] the number doesn’t drop much among Christians. Of those surveyed who self-identify as ‘evangelical,’ 80 percent say they have had sex”—yet 76 percent of the same group believe sex outside of marriage is wrong. The stats get worse: “Of those 80 percent of Christians in the 18-29 age range who have had sex before marriage, 64 percent have done so within the last year [2011] and 42 percent are in a current sexual relationship.” Only 20 percent say they have never had sex.16

Among non-evangelicals (such as Baptists, etc.), the statistics are worse still: 53 percent of Christians in the 18-29 age group say they are currently “in a sexual relationship,” with only 12 percent claiming to have never had sex (these last two figures for Christians are almost identical to the national averages for non-Christians).

So much for biblically mandated abstinence!

The same studies also looked at abortion. According to Charles, of the approximately one million abortions that take place in the United States each year, a shocking 65 percent are obtained by women who claim to be either Protestant or Catholic. The remaining 35 percent are obtained by non-Christians. That’s 650,000 abortions each year obtained by Christians. Yet 77 percent of evangelicals believe that abortion is morally wrong (compared to 56 percent of the general population).17

For Christianity in America, these are damning statistics.

(In ancient Israel, God’s “chosen people” at times sacrificed babies and young children to false gods to appease them. It was pure idolatry. Today, “Christians” abort babies out of convenience—as if it was a form of birth control. But it’s the same approach—the spirit of idolatry. We worship the “god of sexual promiscuity”—and are willing to pay the horrendous price through abortion!)

Dyck labels the issue for what it is: moral compromise. He writes that many Christians experience an unbearable level of “conflict between belief and behavior. Tired of dealing with a guilty conscience and unwilling to abandon their sinful lifestyles, they drop their Christian commitment. They may cite intellectual skepticism or disappointments with the church, but these are smokescreens designed to hide the [real] reason. [In effect,] they change their creed to match their deeds….”18

This is reminiscent of what we see in the parable of the “sower.” In Matthew 13, Jesus says that some who joyfully begin their walk with God later find that they “have no root”—no real, lasting commitment (verses 20-21). Others start off strong only to allow the “cares of this world” to choke out their relationship with God (verse 22). Indeed, most young adults who abandon the faith do so in order to adopt a lifestyle that falls outside the bounds of Christian morality. Ultimately, they desire worldliness more than godliness.

David Kinnaman has researched this phenomenon for decades. In his book unChristian, he writes about the palpable “lifestyle gap” between what Christians profess to believe and how they actually live. Kinnaman argues that Christianity in America has a well-deserved hypocritical image. “Our lives don’t match our beliefs. In many ways, our lifestyles and perspectives are no different from those of anyone around us.”19

Kinnaman’s extensive research compared “born-again” Christians to non-Christians in over one hundred variables related to values and behavior. (Kinnaman focused on those who self-identified in surveys as being “born again” because—unlike those who self-identify as simply “Christian”—they claim to have a deeper commitment to Christ.) He writes: “In virtually every study we conducted, representing thousands of interviews [over a period of several years], born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.”

Not surprisingly, he found that the Christians were distinct in certain areas of religious behavior: they owned more Bibles, went to church, participated in church events, donating money to religious causes, etc. But that was where the distinction ended. “[When] it came to non-religious factors—the substance of peoples daily choices, actions and attitudes—there were few meaningful gaps between born-again Christians and [non-Christians]. Christians emerged as distinct in the areas people would expect—some religious activities and commitments—but not in other areas of life.”20

Kinnaman continues: Based on 2007 data, “we found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of [non-Christians]. When asked to identify their activities over the last thirty days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic Web site, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal, nonprescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true….” In the area of inappropriate sexual behavior—including looking at online pornography, viewing sexually explicit magazines or movies, or having a sexual encounter outside of marriage—Kinnaman found that “30 percent of born-again Christians admitted to at least one of these activities in the past thirty days, compared to 35 percent of other [non-Christian] Americans. In statistical and practical terms, this means the two groups are essentially no different from each other.”21

Astonishing—no difference.

What happened to believers not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2)? What about putting on the “new man” created in righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24)? What about developing the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5), overcoming sin and the world’s influence (I John 2:13-14; Rev. 2:26; etc.)? How can there be no difference between Christians and non-Christians? Is Christianity nothing but a social club, where members are “Christians” in name only?

Even in ancient Israel, God put a difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean (Lev. 10:10). Paraphrasing God’s words to Judah and Jerusalem—and to American “Christians” today: “Your pastors have misrepresented My teachings and have disregarded what was holy to Me. They have put no difference between what is holy and what is worldly, neither have they taught the difference between what is morally clean and what is morally unclean…. Indeed, I am profaned among those who call themselves Christians!” (Ezek. 22:26).

As Kevin Swanson writes in his recent book Apostate, Christianity’s “lifestyle gap” centers on the matter of who will be God. It is a battle over “whether man will be god or whether God will be God.” In taking of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam became the first humanist: he put human knowledge, human experience, and human will ahead of the authority of God. But either God will be God—in His way, on His terms—or man will be god. Swanson writes, “If God is the ultimate authority in man’s knowledge, ethics and reality, then He must be the central focus of life. He should permeate the thoughts, the motives, the academic teaching, the counseling, the family life, and the worship of the Christian.”22

There is simply no room for a “lifestyle gap” in real Christianity. As Swanson notes, “People always live out their fundamental beliefs. They may say they believe one thing while their lives reflect some other creed. In a world of a thousand hypocrisies and lies, there is only one way to determine the true creed of a man: observe his life and culture.”23


A Form of Religion

At the heart of the problem is that modern Christianity espouses the name of Christ but adheres to few of His teachings. A “Christianity”—really a “Churchanity”—has developed that unconsciously makes a show of religion with little to no substance. Evidence of this can be seen in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Immediately following the attacks, church attendance spiked; Americans everywhere were inspired and moved to seek God. But within a few months, attendance began returning to “normal” as people went back to life as usual. There was no grand revival of the Christian faith, no humbling of the nation before God, no introspective look into how we might have brought God’s judgment on ourselves—just a pretense of religion, enough to soothe our collective conscience.

This is reminiscent of the prophet Isaiah’s warning concerning those “who say to the seers [pastors], ‘See not,’ [don’t tell us about God’s coming judgment on our nation] and to the prophets [teachers], ‘Do not prophesy to us right things [such as the need to obey God’s commandments], speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions’ ” (Isa. 30:10). Tell us things to make us feel good about ourselves; tell us what a great church we have; tell us God is pleased with us as Christians.

The church itself is to blame: “Churchanity’s” narrow-minded rush to increase membership rolls has led to the development of spiritually weak, ill-prepared followers. Instead of emphasizing personal transformation and practical faith according to Scripture, young people in particular have been sold a feel-good religion—one that fails miserably when stacked up against the pulls and temptations of society.As Dyck rightly notes, “the Christian life is hard to sustain in the face of so many temptations.” But the church itself has failed to equip believers to fight the good fight. “I realized that most [who leave the church] had been exposed to [only] a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith.”24

Kinnaman has come to a similar conclusion: “It is easy to embrace a costless form of Christianity in America today … [with only] a superficial understanding of the gospel…. [But] in a lightweight [i.e., emotionally-based] exposure to Christianity, where a decision for Christ is portrayed as simple and costless, [the experience] will fail to produce lasting faith.”25

This particularly describes the experience of many young people. As Kinnaman notes, “Most teenagers in America enter adulthood considering themselves to be Christians and saying they have made a personal commitment to Christ. But within a decade, most of these young people will have left the church and will have placed [their] emotional connection to Christianity on the shelf. For most of them, their faith was merely skin deep.”26

Today’s so-called Christianity is based largely on carefully selected New Testament passages (mostly from Paul’s writings) that are twisted to make them appear to teach a “soft Christianity”—a costless “faith” void of works and indifferent to clear biblical teachings on morality. Thus, “getting saved” is typically based on a fleeting emotional experience wherein the new “believer”—who is usually too young to fully understand what it means to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28)—is enamored with a popularized feel-good-about-yourself “Jesus.”

And when all you have is a “feel-good” religion, morality is the first thing out the window.

In fact, for the past few decades popular Christianity has been spawning a new generation of plastic Christians—those whose belief in Jesus amounts to nothing more than a “get-out-of-hell-free card.” As David Kupelian notes in his groundbreaking book The Marketing of Evil, “Christianity has been dumbed down into a bumper-sticker religion…. This dumbed-down version of Christianity doesn’t require honest introspection or courage or self-denial or patience. The only ingredient it needs is a guilty person who’s sick of feeling guilty, wants relief, wants to feel better about himself, and desires an ‘insurance policy’ to keep him out of hell. But even the most insincere person wants to feel better about himself, wants relief from guilt, and fears death.... [Thus,] the trivialization of Christianity into a mantra of belief—but separated from works, from obedience to God’s laws, and even more fundamentally, separated from basic honesty, integrity, love of truth, and true repentance—has ushered in a generation of shallow, ineffectual and invisible Christians.”27 Moreover, as Swanson brings out, Protestantism has “reduced God’s law to a nebulous definition of love”—so that “God’s will [can] be interpreted in a thousand ways by a thousand different people.”28

The inevitable result is a counterfeit “religious experience”—leading to what Duin calls a “costless Christianity that’s easily maintained.”29 It’s easily maintained because it’s devoid of works or real obedience to God’s Word. Jesus corrected the religious hobbyists of His day for this very same approach: “Hypocrites! Isaiah has prophesied well concerning you, saying, ‘This people draw near to Me [God] with their mouths, and with their lips they honor Me’ ”—they say all the right things, call Jesus “Lord, Lord,” sing praises to God every Sunday morning—“ ‘but their hearts are far away from Me. [Thus,] they worship Me in vain, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men’ ” (Matt. 15:7-9). Jesus applied Isaiah’s prophecy to the scribes and Pharisees of His day, but the passage is just as applicable to today’s “Christianity.”

Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “An astounding and horrible thing has happened in the land. The prophets [pastors] prophesy [teach] falsely … and My people love to have it so…” (Jer. 5:30-31). They love to hear “soft doctrine”—“smooth things”—but nothing that will prick their consciences.

Ezekiel also wrote of such “churchgoers”: “[The] children of your people are … speaking to one another, each man to his brother, saying, ‘I pray you, come and hear what is the word [preached] which comes forth from the LORD.’ And they come to you [pastors] as the people [have traditionally] come, and they sit before you as My people [on Sunday mornings], and they hear your words. But they will not do them.”

Why? “For with their mouth they show much love”—again, they say all the right things, they sound like Christians—“but their heart goes after their covetousness” (Ezek. 33:30-31). They still covet this world and its culture—while fooling themselves into thinking they are somehow real “Christians”! Indeed, today’s churchgoers love to talk about Jesus as their Lord. But not every person who does so will enter the Kingdom of God—only the ones who do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46).

As a whole, modern “Christianity” has failed to meet the spiritual needs of its members. Rather than being a sanctuary for the spiritual growth and development of its followers, “Churchanity” seems narrowly fixated on image, public relations and membership drives. Unwittingly, its leaders have created a “Christianity” that emphasizes form over substance. Meanwhile, as corruption, politics and negligence plague churches, congregations are slowly but steadily consumed by worldliness. Having lost touch with the real-life issues churchgoers are facing, pastors and church leaders seem oblivious to the reality that so-called “Christians” today are no different than unbelievers.


Christianity—Seduced by Worldliness

What has happened to Christianity? How has worldliness made such inroads into the church? A key reason, according to Kupelian, is that when the church should have been at the forefront in the nation’s “culture wars,” it too was seduced by worldliness. Kupelian quotes Francis Schaeffer—widely regarded as one of the most influential evangelical thinkers of modern times—who takes the unpopular position that mainstream Christianity has drawn back and failed to engage in a meaningful way in the ongoing battle for American culture. Schaeffer writes: “Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle, or even been able to see that we are in a battle.” In describing the “failure of the evangelical world to stand for [the] truth,” he says the church has “accommodated” the world—tried to fit in. Schaeffer adds that it has been “the weakness and accommodation of the evangelical group on the issues of the day that has been largely responsible for the loss of the Christian ethos” over the past few decades. Such accommodation, he writes, is nothing less than “worldliness”—and has led to the further breakdown of America’s moral base.30

Kupelian suggests that such “accommodation” by church leaders was ostensibly an attempt to gain new converts, the idea being that you have to go where the unconverted are, act like them, look like them—all in hopes of winning their trust. But this approach is completely contrary to biblical instruction. He gives the following example: “[Youth] pastors at some point started to dispense with their formal attire and instead appeared before teenagers without coat and tie, so as not to appear a stuffed shirt. That’s a reasonable accommodation. But what happens when the youth leader’s strategy of going tie-less turns into his dressing like a rap singer, talking jive, and wearing earrings? That’s what’s happening in Christian pop culture today.”31

An extreme example of “accommodation” can be seen in the recent development of “churches” that offer enticements such as free beer or cigars—to be enjoyed during services, of course. This is nothing but an effort to attract non-Christians by appealing to their lusts. Scott Brown of the Center for Family Integrated Churches agrees: “[This is] relating with people by becoming like people.” He says, “When people come into the church, they should see a completely new kingdom, a completely new community. They should see how different God is than they are….”32

Eric Ludy, president of Ellerslie Mission Society, likewise expressed his concerns about the church seeking to attract the world by appearing cool. He says, “The problem is, Jesus wasn’t cool. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, Jesus didn’t do it the world’s way. He came in and [typically] offended the world.... We actually want to indict Jesus and say, ‘You know what? If You had known as much as we know, You would have done it differently.’ We want to appeal to the world’s sensibilities and somehow draw them to the Gospel. Jesus didn’t do any of that.” Ludy says that giving people the undiluted truth is the only way to bring relevance to Christianity. “The key is, we lift up the Gospel. We give the straight and narrow path. We give it undiluted—and people will start respecting us because we are not giving them something that will [merely] tantalize the flesh. We are giving them something that will bring life to their spirit.”33

Whereas Kupelian and others use the notion of “accommodation” to explain where Christianity has gone awry, Swanson uses the idea of synthesis—the attempt to mix biblical ideals with worldly philosophies (also called syncretism).He argues that in the “war of ideas”—an ongoing cultural crisis that covers every aspect of life, including music and entertainment, education, politics, economics, etc.—Christians must be extremely careful not to synthesize their beliefs with the humanistic ideas of the world. Swanson writes that “when Christianity abandons the centrality of God”—by trying to accommodate or synthesize with the non-Christian world—“it loses [the] critical, distinctive element of the Christian worldview.”34 The result is an irrelevant and powerless church.

Indeed, no other worldview will do. “For thousands of years, it was pastors and fathers in villages and homes who shaped the culture.” But today, “the media [has] replaced the church and the family as the dominant means by which society transfers information, inculcates worldviews, and forms [its] culture.”35 Ideally, with a thoroughly biblical worldview, the church will lead or create culture. But if it fails to do so, the church will be absorbed by popular culture—to the extent that it practically ceases to exist.

This is exactly where Christianity in America (and Great Britain, for that matter) finds itself today: rather than leading or setting culture, the church now simply reflects culture. Like the culture that now dominates it, the church is rapidly being infested with paganism, polytheism, relativism and even nihilism. As Swanson says, “The synthesized church [now] finds itself under the unhappy curse of being both compromised and irrelevant.”36

To put this another way, the church has followed the dubious path of “contextualization.” Thus, today the Gospel is preached in the “context” of popular culture. The original framework in which Jesus and the apostles preached the Gospel has become passé; what matters now is how the Gospel conveniently fits into modern society. Whether its music, entertainment, dress, language, morals or even attitudes, contextualism allows the church to borrow (synthesize) from the world whatever it needs in order to be comfortable, to appear effective, and to be appealing. Swanson writes: “If culture is the living out of a worldview, then Christians will live as Christians only if they are well acquainted with their own [biblical] worldview…. As long as the church tries to contextualize [popular] culture … it will be powerless to impact that culture.”37

But whatever the motive—fear of rejection, doubtfulness, need for acceptance and approval—wanting to fit in and be like the world is just the opposite of what Jesus instructed His followers. Notice: “I have given them Your words, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14; also verse 16). The world will despise you if you practice true Christianity because you will be so completely different in every aspect of your life—because you will refuse to “fit in” and participate in today’s popular culture. James adds: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Why has Christianitybeen so easily seduced by those who market popular culture? Kupelian argues that it is because “a hidden, selfish part of [churchgoers] wanted to embrace” the falsehoods of popular culture.38 Indeed, we want to fit in, to be of this world. It is just as God said through Jeremiah—“My people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). It is just as Ezekiel said—“their heart goes after their covetousness” (Ezek. 33:31).

“Accommodation” has truly been modern Christianity’s “Achilles heel.” This is why Christianity in America is utterly failing: there is no heart in the people or their pastors to truly seek and obey God on His terms! It is much easier to simply fit in—to accommodate the non-Christian world. But as long as “Christians” are immersed in popular culture—or in any culture based on a non-biblical worldview—their thinking and way of living will never conform to the Word of God.

Indeed, Paul’s admonishment in Romans 12:2 has never been more appropriate—“Do not be conformed to this world!”