David Gushee and “Why Is Christianity Declining?”


church demolitionEver hear the one about things happening in threes?

I’m a Vine Reviewer with Amazon.com, and recently, David P. Gushee’s new book A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times came up in my review queue. The title sounded interesting, so I bit on reviewing it. Later that afternoon, Gushee was mentioned on an episode of the podcast Breakpoint. Then later that weekend, I read an article at Religion News Service called “Why Is Christianity Declining?” by…well, I’ll let you guess.

So who is David Gushee? Interestingly, he has a Wikipedia entry, so perhaps you should check it out.

Did you? An impressive set of credentials, right? Well, except perhaps for being on the board of directors for Sojourners. But hey, no one’s perfect.

But back to his 10 reasons why Christianity is in decline.

So, you read it and came back. Notice what I noticed?

Yes, all those reasons are largely societal perceptions or sociological in nature. Almost none is related to spirituality.

To me, the great failure of contemporary Christianity is that we have turned everything about the faith into something made by man. It’s about marketing. It’s about demographics. It’s about the intersection of faith and science. It’s about affluence, antisupernaturalism, family tradition, or some other thing rooted in data points.

What it’s almost never about is a person’s relationship with God.

Where is that mentioned in Gushee’s list? Nowhere. Heck, he even adds seven more points and still doesn’t touch on it.

To me, that’s an epic fail, because I think the real reason Christianity may be declining in America is a lot of leading Christians have lost all concept of the faith being about intimacy with God.

People today are not meeting God. They aren’t experiencing the Kingdom of God either. And people who neither meet God nor experience His Kingdom in its fullness won’t stick around in a church more about entertainment and head knowledge than a genuine, living, breathing intimacy with the Creator.

The source of the problem? Christian leaders who are incapable of getting people to that place of intimacy with God. I get tired of the ones who make faith into a solely intellectual endeavor. Or a sociological one. I get upset at leaders who look at every problem and prescribe some kind of change in church programming based on the latest psychology experiments or the trends in marketing espoused by some business guru. More lights! Louder music! The latest fad!

Aren’t you sick to death of all that crap? Because that’s what it is, utter crap.

When you walk into the assembly of believers in church on Sunday, are you encountering the living God of the Universe? If not, why not? And if not, who can blame you for walking out?

There’s a massive number of people getting together each Sunday who have convinced themselves that they have this great Christian thing going in their church, but where is the evidence of God meeting people there in a powerful way that blows away all skepticism? It’s not there in most cases. Which is remarkably sad, especially for those self-deceived people.

Some people don’t like Leonard Ravenhill, but I have to keep going back to what he said: You never have to advertise a fire.

The buzzword in Christian circles is authenticity. In reality, the most authenticity you can have on any given Sunday—or anywhere at anytime—is to meet God on a regular basis in such a way that His Presence changes you just by being near Him.

I think fewer and fewer people are in that position. I think it’s why Christianity may be in decline. We’re wandering around lost, telling ourselves that God is here, but at the same time, we’re not connecting with Him.

It’s not God’s fault. It’s more the fault of people who tell other people what to do and how to be a Christian, and yet those seekers never connect because the tellers aren’t connecting either. That’s where we are in America 2016. Tragic, isn’t it?

I don’t know any other way to fix it, either, than for churches to stop messing with the crap and start getting back to the King and the Kingdom. And that starts with repentance and prayer. Lots of both. Perhaps the kind that will make our church service run too long and force the preacher to ditch the sermon this week. You know, inconvenient stuff that takes us out of our comfort zone and obsoletes all the bulletin bullet points.

So I read why Christian academics and intellectuals think Christianity is in decline, and I wonder how people so smart can miss obvious truths about what is most needed. Because if you and I are not encountering God in profound ways amid the communion of the saints, then nothing in the universe will save us.

The Idol God Is Breaking in the American Church


Previously, I’d commented on an article that posited a slightly different idol that afflicts Americans:

Idol #1

But after recent political upheavals that left a lot of Christians wringing their hands, I read a different article a Christian friend posted:

How Cruz’s Dropout Exposes the Corruption of the American Soul

The sheer brazenness of the title was enough to suck me in, plus it’s CharismaNews, so it’s bound to have hyperbole galore.

I was not disappointed.

Or, actually, I was.

Like far too many articles in Christian sources today, the foundation rests on fear. Despite the fact the Bible tells us over and over NOT to fear, Christian media love to fan the fear.

And the fear this article fans is one I see rising everywhere: The fear of not having power.

I’d use the polysyllabic word powerlessness instead, but the “not having” carries a nuanced interpretation I think must be stressed. This is about control too.

Right now, American Christians of many stripes are scared to death that both they and the American Church are not in control of power.

Consider the following:

  1. Declining church attendance
  2. A string of losses in high-profile national, state, and local legal battles and protections
  3. A presidential race where no clear “Christian candidate” remains, in fact, the remaining candidates seem the polar opposite

Most interesting is the swiftness of this reversal of fortune. And it has been a dire and fast fall.

But here’s the thing…

We Christians look at patterns of events in the world and in the Church, and while we’re good at noticing them, we’re terrible at providing solutions because we misinterpret what is happening behind the scenes. Only later does it turn out that what we thought was A proves actually to be B.

So while gloom, doom, and The End get bandied about by Christian Chicken Littles driven by fear, I want to propose that our fear of judgment on America is wrong, and that the actual judgment is on the Church. I want us to consider that all these dark happenings are good because God may be breaking an idol in the Church.

Broken idolAnd what is that idol? Well, I mentioned it already: Power.

But not all power. Instead, I think that God is forcing the Church to stop investing so much time, effort, and devotion to man-made, secular power.

The #1 form of secular power obsession in the American Church for the past 40 years has been political power. Guess what? The previous couple elections punched in the face the idea of the power of the Christian voting bloc, and the 2016 presidential race shot it in the head.

To this I say, good. I also say that Roe v. Wade didn’t just turn America into a wicked charnel house, but it ingrained in the Church the wrongheaded idea that the godly response must come primarily through political maneuverings, which may have set the progress of the Christian Church back by 40 years. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but in the wake of recent events, it seems crystal clear.

Some of that failure in politics comes from a declining church attendance. With that has come the fall of the über-pastor, and with him/her, the importance of the über-churches they pastor. And what accompanies that fall? A loss of man-made power. The media stops focusing on the same old Christian faces, and instead shoves microphones in the faces of other 15-minutes-of-famers.

Where does this leave the American Church? Pretty busted. Heck, we can’t even keep pervs out of bathrooms.

All that man-made, secular power? Gone.

And I firmly believe God has purposefully taken it away. Good for God.

So Christian, stop blaming this on the devil. Stop blaming this on evil groups and people. Stop blaming, period.

You see, a Church that relies on man-made, secular power is no Church at all.

This is the Church:

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

—Zechariah 4:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

—Acts 1:8

Where is real power, Christian? In the Spirit of God. And honestly, in a supposedly charismatic generation, the Spirit of God and the power He alone brings has been #2 for a long, long time. God’s not going to let that be the case anymore.

This is a good thing.

The reason all the man-made, secular power sources are now failing Christians is because God wants them to fail so Christians will start getting serious about living by the Spirit, and not by manmade, secular power.


Feel a little naked right now? Honestly, that’s where we are as Church. Naked and exposed. Because we’ve been doing it wrong. And for a long time.

I hope a lot more starts to fail for us. Because perhaps then we’ll get serious about what it means to have no power in ourselves or in other men yet have all the power of the universe and beyond available to us.

We haven’t seen that in this generation. Heck, we haven’t seen that in a few generations.

Better start learning what it means to cultivate humble, Spirit-driven power, because that’s the only power that will get us through the days ahead.

Thoughts on a Prayerless House of Prayer, “Premarital Sex” as an Oxymoron, and More


I’ve been accused of being a thinker, but I just bluff well. Fact is, my Myers-Briggs is strongly ENFP, which makes me a feeler instead. Still, I’m always in my head, though the heart rules.

Some things I’ve been pondering…

Prayerless House of Prayer

I don’t have any figures to back me up, but my own experiences over the years tell me most evangelical churches spend about five minutes praying corporately during any 60-90-minute Sunday meeting. Mainline Protestant churches may up that to 10 minutes out of about an hour. Either way, it’s slim pickings prayer-wise.

When Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple, He referred to the temple as a house of prayer. While it’s an error to conflate the OT temple with a NT church, the idea that corporate prayer matters still exists. Consider how many references to prayer the Bible contains.

Consider this also: On your own, you can listen to a recording of a teaching/sermon, sing songs to God, and find out about goings-on in your church, but you can’t pray corporately without a corpus, the Body of Christ.

So what the heck is our problem on Sundays with praying as a group of believers and actually spending some time doing so? Isn’t that one of the purposes and tasks of the Church? Do we simply not believe our own mantra concerning the power of prayer?

Makes you wonder if one reason people eschew church meetings is because the church isn’t doing what it should be doing anyway, so what’s the point?

Is Premarital Sex an Oxymoron?

Facebook’s trends sidebar recently included “news” of celebrity couples who “saved themselves” for marriage by refraining from the wango tango before the wedding. How bizarre that this qualifies as something we need to know.

We think of fornication as sex before marriage. Adultery is sex after marriage but with someone who is not one’s spouse. Both trend high on the “really bad sins” list in the minds of most Christians.

A challenge: What does the Bible say constitutes a marriage?

Almost all Christian wedding ceremonies quote this verse from Genesis:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
—Genesis 2:21-24 ESV

Here’s the baffling reality: For as highly as God and Man hold marriage, there’s no proscribed marriage ceremony in the Bible. No set words to say. No vows to make. Nothing. We have other examples of things to say or do as shown in the Bible for hallowed events, but weddings, nope.

When you look, almost nothing is said except that a man who defiles a virgin must pay a bride price for her and make her his wife, but if her father objects, the man still must pay dad the money (see Exodus 22:16-17).

So does the wedding ceremony really mean anything?

If we get down to the purest essence from that Genesis passage, we find these elements:

  • Leaving parents
  • Holding fast (cleaving) to a spouse
  • A sexual union that formally makes the couple one flesh

So, is marriage simply the following?

  • Have sex exclusively with one person, leave your parents, and set up your own household.

Because it seems to me that’s the definition of marriage from a biblical perspective. Which makes the whole issue of premarital sex an oxymoron. The sexual act itself creates what God recognizes as the formal union. There’s no ceremony there, just the intention to start a separate household.

We understand why adultery is wrong. But what if the real sin in fornication isn’t the sex itself but having sex without any intention both to stay true to the other person and to establish a separate household with them?

Really changes the perspective, doesn’t it?

Super Bowl as Church Meeting

Heard more arguments for making Presidents Day the Monday after the Super Bowl. I don’t see any drawbacks in doing so.

Except that the Super Bowl has become an alternate Thanksgiving Day, only with friends instead of family members. It’s the religious holiday for people who feel no compulsion otherwise to do anything religious.

Used to be that Sunday evening church services didn’t bow to the Super Bowl, but now they do. Many churches cancel whatever Sunday evening meetings they ordinarily hold in deference to the Big Game. One could argue that all the elements of a church service (communion meal, worship, separation from other events, identification with a restricted group, and fellowship) exist within a Super Bowl party.

Makes me wonder if instead of decrying our perpetual slide into worldliness and placing too much emphasis on things that will pass away (such as Super Bowls), we Christian instead try to understand what we have done to our church meetings that so many people would rather be at a Super Bowl party substitute.

False Football Prophets

Dear Lord, I hope it’s not true that some self-proclaimed prophet said revival would only come to America if the Panthers won. Looks like my hopes are dashed.

Are there any genuine prophetic voices left out there?

Of Kingdoms and Politics

Christians I know continue to line up behind their chosen presidential candidates, and it’s a hot mess honestly, much more than usual. It says something about the beliefs of the supporters and how they read the Bible.

  • Those who feel the need to upset the establishment, to turn against the Pharisees and usher in a new kind of Kingdom, so to speak, support Trump or Sanders.
  • Those who desire a kinder, gentler, humble Kingdom are falling in for Carson.
  • Those who want a Kingdom that transcends boundaries and makes peace between factions look to Rubio.
  • Those who instead want the King to come, winnowing fork in His hand, to separate the wheat from the chaff support Cruz.
  • Those who nostalgically recall the way the Kingdom used to be are in for Christie, Bush, Kasich, or Clinton.
  • And I’ve got nothing for Fiorina.  😉


Want to rebut or endorse any of my musings from above? Please comment below. Your comments make Cerulean Sanctum a great place to be, and I appreciate them very much.