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.

Splintered Kingdom


I used to always get a laugh when Leonard Ravenhill would comment, “Let’s talk about church abominations…uh, I mean denominations.” Yeah, that one always got me chuckling.

A couple weeks ago, the youth pastor at our church lamented that he couldn’t rally the youth departments of local churches to join together for a big service project in the local community. “Everyone’s afraid some other church’s youth group is going to steal their kids. So they won’t do events like this,” he says. You could see the frustration on his face.

A few miles down the road from me is a church. The sign out front says it’s part of The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly. Well, honestly, for all my experience watching the Church, that denomination was a new one on me.

I would have suspected that The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly may have started out as part of the larger Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) and splintered off. I’m wrong about that, though. But then our country, by one estimate, has 350,000 churches in it. And if it seems that it has 125,000 distinct church denominations, well, that’s the state of Christendom in the United States. Please don’t blame me if I can’t follow the history of all the schisms. Broken GlassHeck, it appears that The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly itself splintered into four separate groups. What led to that breakup is anyone’s guess.

My guess is that it was over something menial.

Now I’m not singling out a particular denomination for derision. I’m just noting the reality. Frankly, I think the Presbyterians have probably got everyone else smoked with the sheer number of breakaway Presbyterian denominations, especially given the total number of Presbyterians in this country. Even the ones, like the Presbyterian Church in America, that pride themselves on the purity of their doctrine end up breaking down into tinier bits of Christianity over time.

So if The Church of God of the Mountain Assembly and the Presbyterians can’t hold themselves together despite agreeing on major points of doctrine, how likely is it that anyone can bring together an American Baptist church, a Nazarene Church, a Holiness Pentecostal church, and a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church to do anything worthwhile as a group for the Kingdom of God?

Instead, we all go our separate ways, do our own minuscule outreach projects, and then wonder why nothing great ever gets accomplished for God in our communities.

With his cry of “Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King proved himself one of the greatest American prophets. Fact is, we can’t all get along. And nowhere does this show more clearly than in the Church of Jesus Christ in America—to our shame.

I’m a Christian first. No other label applied to me by anyone else truly matters. I go to a Pentecostal church, but I’m not really a Pentecostal. I’m a Christian. End of story.

Which is why I’m getting progressively irked by the inability of us Christians to break out of our denominational stupors, reach across the street, and tell the Christians who go to “That Church That Is Not The Same Denomination As Ours” that we all should work together for the common goal of getting the Gospel out.

I want to think that this denominational schism is about something more than money, but in America 2009, it’s probably not. I suspect that too many church and denominational leaders are worried that if they and Church Z work together, their folks will like Church Z better, and then Church Z gets the people—and their precious dollars. And if it’s not money, it’ power and legitimacy. Because for a lot of us, nothing proves our doctrinal correctness more than when our church steals away some other church’s people.

I really don’t want to be that cynical, yet I am.

So we keep fracturing the Kingdom of God into punier bits made in our own image, and along with that fracturing goes the power to effect real change on a wider scale. Rather than risk pooling resources, each church goes its merry way, satisfied with marginal accomplishments, each thinking it’s transforming the nation for Jesus.

Meanwhile, a look at the larger national picture tells an entirely different story.

So when I hear Leonard Ravenhill make his little joke about denominations, I don’t laugh like I used to. If he were around today, I don’t think he’d be laughing, either.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
—Mark 3:24

Thursday Thoughts


Just a few things I was thinking about or read elsewhere and thought were worth sharing…


Given the hoopla over this “revival” in Florida (which I spoke of earlier this week) and the rise of prophetic ministries across this nation, consider what revivalist Leonard Ravenhill said were the marks of a true prophet and see if any of those characteristics match prophets in today’s modern charismatic movement. (Ravenhill’s comment that “The degree of his effectiveness is determined by his measure of unpopularity” should be a good indicator of direction.)

Also in this vein, with people obsessed with signs and wonders, consider what David Wilkerson authored in his message “A Christless Pentecost: Is Christ Becoming a Stranger in Our Midst?

What is it with people acting like animals at some of these supposed revivals we keep hearing about? Nothing disturbs me more than to hear this kind of nonsense. The late Derek Prince offers some discernment that is much needed but rarely heeded.

Had enough charismatic-bashing from me, a charismatic? Well, how about this for positive spin?

Because I write Christian fiction, I’m all too aware of the traps that such an endeavor poses. It’s very easy to lead one’s readers into a ditch. Tim Challies does a worthy job dismantling the questionable theology of the über-bestseller The Shack.


I’m finding that the latest version of WordPress is much slower than previous versions, not only in the Admin pages, but in loading the blog itself. WordPress dropped gzip compression and their object caching. Without them, this site loaded like molasses, so I restored that functionality and cut load speeds to a third of what they were after the upgrade. I’ve spent several hours trying to optimize Cerulean Sanctum for faster loading.

Firefox 3.0 RC1 is a fine update, but it proved devastating to the way my computer ran. I have an old PC running XP that has 512 MB of RAM (and the cost of 1GB of 168-pin ECC PC-133 DRAM for it is ridiculously high, so I’m stuck with the following issue and solution). Between all the bloatware updates on Windows and most other software out there, my processes were paging, including my satellite Internet drivers, causing them to spontaneously unload when Firefox grabbed all the CPU cycles and RAM. Grr. If you have a similar problem, setting Firefox 3.0’s process priority to “Below Normal” will solve that problem. Don’t understand why the software slams the CPU so hard, but there you go. If the upcoming update of Firefox were a kid, the verdict would be “Doesn’t play nice with other children.”

Creation Care

I’m surprised that no one is looking at the upcoming Beijing Olympics as the cauldron of some future pandemic. You’ll have people from all over the world descending en masse on China—the world’s petri dish for disease. The Asian continent, and China in particular, serves as the birthplace of many communicable diseases, influenza being only the most prominent example. The Beijing Olympics will concentrate groups of far-flung people who normally never congregate and do so in that disease-spawning region. It not only offers the possibility that people dispersing after the Olympics will take disease worldwide, but also that people will bring diseases into the region that may find the environment to their liking, either mutating into something more virulent or finding some combination of factors that encourage DNA-swapping. No matter what occurs, we should keep our eye on this.

I think this is one of the coolest, wettest springtimes I can remember. What does this say about global warming?

On the other hand, scientists are finding that the massive increase in carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere since the 1950s has created ultra-potent poison ivy. As someone who never used to be bothered by the stuff during my years in Christian camping ministry, I can attest to the change.

As an Audubon member (and treasurer of my local chapter), I keep a lookout for birds. My neighbor, the chapter president, and I both note an alarming lack of bluebirds this year after years of increases. Anyone out there seeing bluebirds or noting changes in their numbers?

On the other hand, we have plenty of meadowlarks on our property, a bird that is rapidly dying out due to the overdevelopment of pasture land. This article at Audubon notes other familiar birds that were once common but are now in trouble.

I continues to grieve me how carelessly we trash the world God gave us in pursuit of avarice. On another blog, a commenter lambasted me for my concern that putting in a massive Wal-Mart superstore in my little town would ruin the night sky. He told me in no uncertain terms that if I cared about that loss I should move out of the area. My valid question: Are there any such places left, and if so, how long before they, too, get turned into a strip mall? Sometimes I am just staggered at our willingness to defecate all over our living spaces and think nothing of it. Heck, even dogs don’t do that.

Think deep thoughts this weekend. When we get opportunities to relax, we need to be considerate and thinking people. Christians, more than any other people, must be wise. We know the Source of wisdom, right?

Be blessed.