My friend Dr. Tim Keller is out this week with his second essay in a planned four-part series on the decline of evangelicalism, and what that troubling trend means for Christians going forward.
Tim, who is courageously battling pancreatic cancer (and doing well), offers a thoughtful, candid – and hopeful – assessment about our current state of affairs. I’ve long said that leadership is knowing reality and suggesting solutions to problems. That’s precisely what my pastor friend does on a regular basis, even though he’s no longer preaching each Sunday.
Although Tim ultimately brings a hopeful message, he’s by no means myopic about where things are for evangelical Christians today. His assessment is sober-minded, acknowledging that an escalating secularism has gained steam and is infecting every category of culture, especially the “elites” who control society’s institutions.
In my thirty-five years at Focus on the Family, I’ve witnessed and experienced a fundamental shift regarding the receptivity of the Christian message not only just here in the United States but also across the globe. The secularization of Europe came first, and many warned the wave would come west. That’s exactly what happened. In Europe, empty churches have been transformed into restaurants and even bars.
Yet despite the gathering storm clouds, Tim suggests Christians can remain heartened and hopeful – and for six main reasons:
First, he suggests that even secularism has its limitations. In times of strife and trouble, where do people turn? Secularism doesn’t bring comfort or meaning. It’s hollow and vacuous. We even see it when a loved one or friend dies and someone says, “I’m sending good energy your way” instead of promising prayer.
Second, Americans must remember evangelical Christianity might be waning in practice here in the United States, but it’s growing in strength in other parts of the world, especially underdeveloped nations. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a force that cannot be stopped.
Third, and on a related note – demographics is destiny. Evangelical Christianity encourages children and large families, and where the faith is fervent, mothers and fathers are welcoming lots of kids. This is good news.
Fourth, there is a richness and depth in evangelicalism because it’s chosen as opposed to being inherited from previous generations. My mother and father’s faith is not mine. I made a very deliberate and consequential decision as a teenager to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at an FCA camp. Because I made the decision, I’m invested in it and believe in it with all my heart.
Fifth, our faith is not something we deal with only on Sunday – it’s part of who we are every day of the week, and it informs our life and activities at home and at the office. If we’re sincere and deliberate, it’s highly contagious to those around us.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Keller suggests “the promise of Jesus” changes everything, infusing hope into even the most desperate and difficult situation. He is correct. In a generation where hype has become habit and there is no shortage of bad news, the best of news is that Christ resides in power on the throne. It might be dark – but the light of Jesus will brighten our way.