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.

Why I’m Not in Church on Sunday Mornings Anymore


Leaving, walking out of churchurchWhen my 15-year-old son graduated out of Sunday School, he missed the dialog he got in class. We sat passively in church on Sunday mornings, and I could tell he was disconnecting. I’ve never been a twice-on-Sunday person, so I thought that perhaps we instead could go on Sunday nights, where the youth group was a little more like the Sunday School he had been attending. Similar worship, but with a little more back-and-forth, and a more intimate crowd.

Still, something is not the same. It’s not just the transition from Sunday morning to Sunday evenings, but something in me. And it’s because I’ve changed at the same time the Church in America has.

We’re at a crossroads, folks. I’ve written about it for years, but I think I need to talk more about it.

This transition has got me pondering where we as Christians got off base and the general status of the Christian Church in America. I want to share my experience.

I want to reiterate that it’s my experience. I’m drawing on it. It may be different for you. It probably is.

First, I don’t have any allegiances to any one flavor of Christianity. Each has some validity, and each has its blind spots, and even its wastelands. In fact, the valid and invalid differences are largely what define each church or denomination.

I’m going to cheese off a lot of people by saying this, but if you’ve been in the same denomination from the day you were born, it’s like living on a farm in Montana in the middle of nowhere. Nothing wrong with your place, but East Etherville, Montana, is not New York City, and it sure as heck is not Beijing, China. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you know what the Christian faith is like, because your flavor of it ain’t even close to being the full expression. Really. You don’t know. And as much as I’ve been around the block in a bunch of American denominations of radically different expressions, I’ve never sat in a Catholic cathedral in Argentina, a house church in peril in Iraq, or a decaying Greek Orthodox Church in Athens. I can imagine what those would be like, but I would be wrong. You and your favored flavor are wrong, too, about some aspect of the Christian Church universal. Just accept your limited view and subsequent wrongness. You’ll be a better and more humble servant of Christ if you do.

So again, what I share here is my experience. It’s wrong from the start from someone’s perspective, and I understand that. You don’t have it all down either. Thank you.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, and as much as the Lutherans had it going on with understanding grace and the centrality of Jesus, there wasn’t a lot of concern for the lost or for being the priesthood of all believers empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sure, the priesthood of all believers is a bedrock Lutheran understanding, except like an excerpt from Animal Farm, some creatures were more equal than others—and those had ordination papers and a seminary degree.

Ironically, it was a Spirit-filled Lutheran who taught me about the charismata, but then there wasn’t much room for that wonderful man in Lutheranism either, so…

I saw a lost-concerned, Spirit-filled way to live when I started attending an Assemblies of God church. While the leaders at that church were solid, the denomination had trouble with some of its other leaders and big names, and it all tainted the rest of it. Human frailty—and for a young, naive man, it was hard to make sense of. Now, I know better.

The Church of Christ Restorationist asked many good questions about some aspects of the Faith I had always taken for granted, but they had the opposite problem with wayward leaders, and I never understood how one could restore the Christian Church by blackballing people.

The Presbyterians held Scripture and study in high regard, but sometimes money was held up equally high, and people who didn’t have any money not so much.

Evangelical Free excelled at being all evangelically. Good sermons, though.

Methodists somehow hold together their big tent of diverse factions, and we can all learn from them, but they also have a hard time telling anyone, “Yeah, that ain’t right, and you need to stop doing that.”

The Vineyard rocked both the Kingdom of God Now and the Kingdom Not Yet, and it also got the gifts, creativity, and worship right. In fact, the Vineyard folks had the best balance—at least until John Wimber died. And that whole Kansas City Prophets fiasco.

American Baptists—well, they have John Piper and a few other solid pastors who are trying.

Pentecostals have a great sense of duty to God and country and to ol’ time religion. Coming full circle, I just wish there were more focus on Jesus (rather than whatever it is I’m doing) and grace.

Here’s the thing. All those churches and denominations have their goods and bads. But somehow, someone, somewhere, some church, has got to put all those goods in one place. And start dumping the bads at the same time.

Does any church pray anymore as a corporate body on Sundays? And not here and there, three minutes and a cloud of dust, but on-your-knees, specific, intense, non-canned prayers, both with church leaders leading and the people in the seats praying for the immediate needs of the folks sitting next to them. I mean, how hard is that? Really, if the Church as a whole isn’t devoted to prayer, we might as well pack up and end the charade. We’ll spend a half-hour singing witless, CCLI-approved chart-toppers, but praying for more than five minutes taxes everyone’s ability to focus. C’mon, Church!

I used to adore worship times. I would genuinely lose myself in the hymns of my old Lutheran church and during the peak era of the Vineyard with its huge P&W influence. Great, great music sung with passion to our great God.

Today, I grit my teeth in worship time because the songs we sing are so bizarre, unfocused, irrythmic, vague, and constructed for marketing purposes. Who is this sung to? For? And why is there a new song or two every week? Why does the entire verse consist of the same note or two, and yet it’s so hard to sing? Heck, I used to play drums on a church worship team, and I’m not even sure how to make all the syllables fit in that line. And why does nothing rhyme so I might recall the rhyme and remember how the song goes? Maybe it’s me. I dunno. I think the last contemporary worship song that helped me connect to God was “Revelation Song,” and that came out like a decade ago, right?

I don’t want to sit in a pitch-black theater anymore, where I can’t see people around me (you know, the Body of Christ), and where I can’t look at anyone on stage because I have a strobe light flashing in my eyes, all 50,000 watts of it. I don’t want to go to church and worry that I may have an epileptic seizure from the light show.

Jesus, Light of the World. Remember when churches were lit by natural light? Often with some stained glass windows, which were enough light show for most of us? I get enough darkness during the week. Can I come to church and see the faces of fellow believers lit both by natural light and also the Light of the Holy Spirit? Please?

And speaking of Jesus, can I hear the Word of God read out loud? A big chunk of it? In context, please, and not a set of cherry-picked verses used to make a point. And can the sermon be about Jesus and not about how I can try harder to be a good Christian? I don’t need five points and an application or three. I need Jesus. I need to hear about Him because it’s unlikely I’ll hear about Him from the world, except as a curse word or two, and the world is where I dwell for most of the week anyway. Maybe if I heard more about Jesus, some of those places where I’m screwed up as a husband, parent, employee, or whatever would get better because I had more of Jesus—rather than having more Christian principles I can’t possibly keep because I’m a broken person who is terrible at using checklists to make myself better.

Maybe I could go to church and use the gifts God gave me to help other people. If I had a chance. I pray well, I think, and I do hear from the Lord for other people. Words of knowledge. Words of wisdom. I care about other people, but sometimes my life is harder than I wish it was, so I don’t get the chance to do as much personal ministry outside of this blog and those opportunities I might have for a couple hours a week in the assembly of the believers.

Sometimes, I wonder if any church thinks I have value within the Body of Christ. I think I’m not alone in wondering that.

Maybe I’m too self-centered by asking these things and wondering what the solutions might be.

I hope to see a church that lifts up Jesus and never stops doing so, where the whole Bible is read actively and with joy, and prayers are the language of love that each of us bestow on each other (and not just hidden in our prayer closets).

I want to sing to the Lord and not worry that I’m off beat or that I’ll screw up the words, and that those words have real meaning about Jesus, and not some capitalized Someone, or some River, or Rain, or whatever the market-driven metaphor of the week is. I want to connect with God in worship and not hope to and instead leave disappointed that somehow I knew how to worship just fine once, but I’m not doing it right anymore.

I keep hoping for more spiritual Light and not more artificial lights. There’s enough gloom in the world; I don’t want to marinate in it on Sunday, punctuated only by lasers and disco balls.

I really don’t want to hear about me anymore or what I should be doing. I’m painfully aware of what I can and can’t do, and the can’ts outnumber the cans. I want to hear about Jesus, because He can do everything, and without Him, none of us can do anything.

I want to hear about and experience the Kingdom of God Now. Because none of us is marking time until Heaven. It doesn’t work that way and never has. Most of us are aware of the Kingdom of God that is Not Yet. Most of the Church in America has shifted everything to the Not Yet and acts like the other half doesn’t exist. I want to see—and be a part of—the other Kingdom half too.

I long to be the beneficiary of the assembled Body of Christ’s collective charismatic giftings and to use my gifts to help too. Because that’s the entire point of being the Body of Christ, each person unique and necessary to the health of the whole. Along the way, maybe we will hear prophetic revelation that will be discussed and discerned as true by mature leaders, so the church can anticipate needs and not always just react, both with too little and too late. You know, the way Paul said the Church should be, not this deaf and dumb thing we substitute because we’ve disempowered everyone out of ungodly fear.

More than anything, despite all the cranks, killjoys, fearmongers, and naysayers, I pray for a Church that is everything we see in the Book of Acts and more. Because THAT Church has never stopped existing—except in the hearts and minds of shriveled people. And I’m not one of them. God help you if you are.

We keep asking what is wrong with the Church in America. We’re wringing our hands over what has gone awry, and why attendance is down, and why, why, why…

I’m no genius, but it seems to me that we have simply forgotten what is main, plain, and important. We have no patience for God, no love for anything authentic, and we want to be entertained for an hour.

But that’s not everyone.

I really don’t want what most people seem to treasure in a church nowadays. A show doesn’t cut it for me. Neither will business principles and celebrities save a church, nor hip leaders, marketing trend analysis, or flash.

The Holy Spirit showing up in power WILL draw people, though. Churches toss in everything else when there is no presence of God. Sooner or later, people get wise to the lack. They’re getting wiser every day.

Some people want the presence of God. Heaven knows I do.

Maybe I’m self-centered in my wants, but I want real Church done the old-fashioned way. More than that, I desperately need it. Maybe you do too.

The Godly Wait and See before They Do


“Just Do It”

We all know the slogan. It may be the most popular of our era. If any marketing motto can speak for the American psyche, it’s this one.

Conversely, “a friend of God” once wrote this:

But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
—Psalms 38:15 ESV

The Bible is filled with humble people who waited on God. Waiting involves serving, abiding, and patiently expecting. Waiting always demands time.

WaitingGod dwells apart from time. He’s the attendant at both your departing train station and the station at the end of the line–at the same time. And He knows every happening in-between. You can’t fool Him, because he’s at the beginning, end, and all points along the way.

Big picture? He alone sees and understands it. No one, human or otherwise, does. Betting people would be idiots not to bet on God. He knows how the dice land even before they’re tossed.

Yet most people live by “just do it.”

Jesus lived this way:

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
—Luke 6:12 ESV

The understanding behind that waiting:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise….”
—John 5:19 ESV

Wait. See. Do.

Expect. God will answer. Then we will know our course of action.

Nothing in our cultural and societal milieu supports waiting, especially waiting on God. We rush from one forced solution to the next. When people wring their hands at the condition of the world today, the fretting results from the fruit of impatience, of a “just do it” attitude among leaders, who feel compelled to act, yet do so without waiting on God and seeing what He is doing.

Such leaders inhabit not only our government offices but also our church buildings. They even inhabit your home and mine.

No wonder so many programs and initiatives fail. Even governments and churches. Households, too. In failing to wait, we will not see, and therefore, whatever we do in blindness will never be of God.

Yet, somehow, the one who waits on God is deemed the fool.

Except by God Himself.