The fact that Obama can still smoothly become the 44th President of the United States of America even under the pressures of an economic downturn reveals that evangelical Christians in America have very little influence on the society. Mark Chavez’s book titled “American Religion: Contemporary Trends” provides accurate data to illustrate that the changes in America’s religion needs to be reflected upon.
In fact, similar trends are impacting America’s Chinese Churches. On the surface, these crises are more or less related to the current cultural atmosphere. “The Gospel and the Culture” has been a topic of analysis in Chavez’s book, which would eventually spark discussions among experts. The following is an explanation for four of these areas of crisis, which poses as inevitable challenges for those who pay attention to the development of Christianity.
1. The impact of Religious Pluralism
In the second half of the twentieth century, due to the immigration trend, many religions are brought in from the various continents. Chavez pointed out that, currently, Americans are more accepting, or more appreciative of, religions that differ from their own. Three quarters of Americans stress that not one religion has absolute advantage over another. In other words, not one religion can call itself “the one and only truth”, or is the inevitable path through to “God” or “an Infinite Being”, or is above all other religions.
Among the scholars who promote religious pluralism, John Hick and Paul Knitter are the most influential. Hick especially emphasizes that we must replace “God” with “the Real”, because the infinite being has no form. The religious sect that Obama belongs to, “the United Church of Christ”, is one that holds the view for religious pluralism.
2. Religion which emphasizes spirituality but is tired of organization
After the 70’s of the twentieth century, the Western world has gradually been influenced by the world view of post-modernism. Thus, the opening of doors to spirituality has become a trend that is hard to curb. In fact, in a period of technological advancement, mankind’s experience with the spiritual realms has only increased. The mysterious Eastern religions have become the modern trend that many Westerners pursue. Many Americans use meditation, hypnosis, astrology, and fortune-telling as means to obtain personal life’s fulfillment. It is no wonder that Os Guinness would opine that the rise of Eastern mysticism and metaphysics has led to the decline of the Christian faith.
Currently, on the topic of religion, Americans feel that “intolerance for differences” and “religious objectivity” are two major sins that should be judged harshly. Many books about the new era are being printed, which have become the spiritual food that is purchased by many. These books speak about experiences of the “universal spirit” and “reincarnation”, to ease the pressures of reality.
“Organizational” religion often will expose mankind’s flesh and weaknesses, and thus will lose the purity and sacredness of religion. Although our youths are keen on pursuing the spiritual truth, they are unwilling to become a “member” of the Church, in order to avoid situations and traps caused by human-led operations.
3. Loosening and forfeiting of basic religious doctrines
The doctrine of “Biblical inerrancy” has been a topic of debate for close to 40 years in the Western Christianity. Although there are theological and philosophical issues that arise when trying to defend this stand, this conservative doctrine is crucial to preserving the purity of religion. Currently, only one third of American Christians believe in “Biblical inerrancy”. Besides, the acknowledgment of other religions also being able to lead to the” path of salvation” and the acceptance of same-sex marriage by Christians are rising. It is apparent that Christianity in today’s America is gradually departing from the right path of basic truth.
In the book “No Place for Truth”, published in 1993, theologian David Wells solemnly pointed out that the American Church is becoming more and more ignorant of the Biblical truth, so that forums are now aiming for psychological healing, and not to bring mankind face to face with God. The basic doctrines are easily swayed and compromised, so that today’s Church cannot become “the pillar of truth” and “the bright lamppost”. The organization and platform of the Church often take into account “the needs of mankind”, and the focus is often not on the glory of God.
4. Loss of societal respect for Clergymen
According to the author’s observations, the image of clergymen is slipping and sliding, and this is mainly due to three reasons. Firstly, in the past 30 years, a few influential Christian leaders or televised Evangelists, due to sexual scandals or financial errors, have caused the public’s loss of trust in Christian leaders. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Ted Haggard have all lost their footing and hurt the Christian Church substantially. In the realm of Catholicism, news of child molestation by priests have also created doubt in the conduct and faith of clergymen.
Secondly, due to the secularization of the society and the Church, distinguished youths no longer aim for a life of “servitude to God”. Naturally, the Church leaders are of average caliber, including knowledge and abilities, and are not up to par when compared to those of the past.
Thirdly, since the 70’s of the twentieth century, the left- and right-wing parties of American Christians are hold opposing and attacking roles in political topics, and thus have caused the ordinary people to resent the radical right-wing Christian leaders. Worse yet, a small number of right-wing Christian leaders often speak inappropriately on certain sensitive topics, and thus further encourage discontent in voters.
The reasons for the decline of Christianity in the United States of America are not one but many. However, the truth is, mankind is easily led astray from God’s path during times of comfort. Mankind’s corruption, scientific development, post-modernism, the infusion of Eastern religions, and many such reasons have caused the gradual abandonment of reverent traditions. The downturn of the American Christian’s spirituality can directly impact the moral standards of the society, and the secularization of the Church can also weaken the power of Evangelism. Let’s hope that Chavez’s objective reports can awaken the American Church to re-examine its faith seriously, return to the Bible seriously, so that a revival can come once more.
[Editor's note: Carol Lee translated the article.]