Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has weighed in on a Pew Study revealing the disappearance of Christianity and rise of secularism in the United States, asserting that the seeming decline of Christianity is, in fact, "good news" for the church.
"Christianity isn't normal anymore, and that's good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20-22)," Moore writes in an op-ed titled "Is Christianity Dying?" published on his website.
He goes on to explain that the report simply shows that there are fewer " incognito atheists" and more honest atheists in America today.
"We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America. Again, that's good news. The gospel comes to sinners, not to the righteous. It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved. And what those honest atheists grapple with, is what every sinner grapples with, burdened consciences that point to judgment. Our calling is to bear witness," he writes.
"People who don't want Christianity, don't want almost-Christianity. Almost-Christianity looks in the mainline like something from Nelson Rockefeller to Che Guevara at prayer. Almost Christianity, in the Bible Belt, looks like a God-and-Country civil religion that prizes cultural conservatism more than theological fidelity. Either way, a Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That's because it's, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain."
Moore writes that he is, in fact, "encouraged" by the recent Pew study, referencing the thriving, vibrant, countercultural congregations that aren't afraid to not be seen as normal to the surrounding culture
"The future of Christianity is bright," he writes. "I don't know that from surveys and polls, but from a word Someone spoke one day back at Caesarea Philippi. The gates of hell haven't gotten any stronger, and the Light that drives out the darkness is enough to counter every rival gospel, even those gospels that describe themselves as "none."
The Pew study, released on Tuesday, revealed that Christians as a whole fell from 78.4 to 70 percent of the population between 2007 to 2014, with every major group experiencing a decline. Evangelical Protestants fell from 26.3 to 25.4 percent, and Mainline Protestants declined from 18.1 to 14.7 percent.
Additionally, the religiously unaffiliated group rose to 22.8 percent share of the population in 2014, overwhelming the number of Catholics in America, who fell to 20.8 percent.
Those identifying as atheists among the unaffiliated nearly doubled, rising from 1.6 to 3.1 percent of the total population in the same time period.
Writing for Christianity Today, author Ed Stetzer echoes Moore's point in arguing that the statistics about Christians in America "are simply starting to show a clearer picture of what American Christianity is becoming-less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture."
He writes, "For example, the cultural cost of calling yourself "Christian" is starting to outweigh the cultural benefit, so those who do not identify as a "Christian" according to their convictions are starting to identify as "nones" because it's more culturally savvy. Because of this, the statistics show (on the surface) that Christianity in America is experiencing a sharp decline. However, that's the path of those who don't read beyond the surface. If there remains a relatively stable church-engaged, convictional minority, and there is a big movement on self-identification, that means that the middle is going away."
Stetzer concludes, "Christianity is, and will continue, to lose its home field advantage; no one can (or should) deny this. However, the numerical decline of self-identified American Christianity is more of a purifying bloodletting than it is an arrow to the heart of the church."