Putting the American Church into Perspective

Our perspective should be colored by God’s global and eternal purposes, not by the smaller, immediate “world” that we know.


A recent article in Relevant Magazine online, Report: 8 in 10 Evangelicals Live in Asia, Africa and South America, was there to greet me this morning when I opened Facebook. The article title, and the concluding statement put things into perspective:

“[T]hese figures … underline an important point about the vast racial and ethnic diversity of the evangelical strain of Christianity — a diversity often neglected in American conversations about faith.”

Evangelicals make up a little over 25% of the Christians in the world, and only 14% of the Evangelicals in the world live in the United States (993 million of 660 million evangelicals worldwide).

Let that sink in.

Let’s take another step back. Let’s gain a little perspective. Let’s look at American Evangelical Christianity for a moment from the larger perspective of the world.

More Evangelicals live in China and India, taken together, than in the United States (66 million and 28 million totaling 94 million). Almost one-third (32%) of all Evangelicals in the world live in Asia (213 million). Another 28% of Evangelicals live in Africa (185 million), doubling the number of Evangelicals in the United States! More Evangelicals live now in South America (123 million) that the United States.

These numbers show that American Evangelical Christianity is dwarfed by the number of Evangelicals worldwide, and the gap is widening.

A Christianity Today article in 2016 observed that Iran has the fastest growing evangelical church in the world. (Which country has the fastest-growing church in the world?) A 2019 article by a missions organization reports that Afghanistan has the second fastest Tgrowing church in the world. (You’ll Be Surprised Where Christianity Is Growing – And Where It Is Not) A 2018 article in the Houston Chronicle article reporting on the results of a conference at Rice University indicates that Christians in China are estimated to exceed the number of Christians in the US by the year 2030. (China, officially atheist, could have more Christians than the U.S. by 2030)

What does all of this mean for us?

Continue reading “Putting the American Church into Perspective”

The End of White Christian America?


The headline reads: White Christian America ended in the 2010s.[1] As a white evangelical (and male), the first reaction to such a headline, I admit, is to cringe. We hear so much about the white privilege, white evangelicals and white Christians, generally.

It gets old for me. But, if this time really spells the end of “white Christian America”, however that might actually be defined, then so be it.  truth is truth. Reality is reality.

Of course, the headline in the NY Times in 1966 that God is Dead[2] proved to be a bit exaggerated. Thus, I don’t necessarily concede that white Christian America ended in the 2010s. I am skeptical of statistics and statisticians. I am skeptical of sweeping statements. I am skeptical of the biases that inform the conclusions we reach.

Further, the statement implies that we can identify white Christian America (and agree on a definition). I don’t identify, myself, with the stereotypes that appear to be informing the article. My wife and I decided to live in a city and allow our children to go to public school in which white folks like us are minorities. We made that decision for the sake of giving them experience with diversity. We embrace diversity.

On that basis alone, I think we defy the view of “white Christians” that inform the article. More than that: I feel that we are not alone. I feel that most of the white Christians I know view the world more like me than the article suggests. Personally, I don’t think racial considerations are as much a factor as the statisticians and pundits who use them assert, nor do I associate white and Christian.

“White Christian” Europe is a ghost of what it was. Europe and Canada are decidedly “post-Christian”, and the United States is following. Meanwhile, Christianity in Latin and South America is growing at a record pace, as is Christianity in China and Iran, even amidst the oppression and persecution. Jesus was a Middle Eastern “man of color”, and most Christians in the world are non-white.

Still, the numbers in the United States tell a story. I am not sure we are very good at reading and understanding the story they tell. I would argue that the story these numbers tell is more about a seismic shift in the predominant worldviews that drive societal change in the United States than a racial divide – not that there is no racial divide.

Though I am skeptical about the story this article tells, the numbers suggest that something is going on. Some shift has occurred over the last decade or two that is revealed in these numbers, and it is a shift away from a politically conservative, Christian position (white, black or brown).

The predominantly white, evangelical movement that has rallied around Trump as a political savior is a last ditch, desperate and ill-conceived (in my opinion) attempt at clinging to a position of societal influence. It’s an attempt to exert human wisdom and strength into a flawed human system. I am not sure how much of that effort is inspired by faith in the sovereignty of God and how much it is inspired by the will of man.

Yes, God establishes authorities, like Donald Trump, and that means God establishes the authority of other leaders, like Barack Obama (or any other leader, for that matter).[3] If we believe God establishes any authority, we have to believe He establishes all of them (even the ones we don’t like, the ones that we feel are a threat to us). We can’t say with any degree of integrity that God only establishes certain authorities that we favor, and not others.

Frankly, we need to reconsider how to interpret Romans 13 on that score, starting with the fact that Paul spoke those words to the Romans who suffered greatly under a harsh and hostile Roman world that worshiped Caesar and put to death those who would not bow down to him. It can’t mean what we popularly think it means in the United States.

We also need to be careful about putting our confidence in kings. Our confidence should be grounded in God, alone. God established Saul as king when the people wanted a king (like the other nations), but that wasn’t actually a blessing; it was actually a rejection of reliance on God.[4]

God gave the people what they wanted, though they were actually rejecting God in the process. God used that circumstance, as He uses all things, to accomplish His purposes, of course. But that doesn’t mean that the people who supported having a king were on the right side of that equation.

We have to remember that our end game isn’t in this world, but in the life to come. If the numbers and the trends they reveal suggest anything, they suggest that we will need an eternal perspective all the more as we lose hold of our significance among the powers and influences of this modern US world.

And if the world hates us (for the right reasons – because we are God’s people, not necessarily because we have power or privilege), we shouldn’t be surprised. The world hated Jesus too. Our best response isn’t to cling to worldly power, but to die on the cross that God has shaped for us.

God is strong in our weakness. In this time in which Christians seem to be losing our foothold in the national power structure, we need to look to God for our strength. That isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. That’s where we should be looking for our strength in all circumstances. It’s easier, though, to lean on God’s strength when we are weak.

And, assuming that is the case, it’s going to easier for us to lean on God. Not necessarily because we want to, or because that is our natural inclination (because it isn’t), but because we will have no other choice. And if that is the case, then so be it.

I won’t rue the end of white America, though I would glad trade the white part for the Christian part. The white part will continue to color. It’s inevitable, and frankly I think for the best in a world that is increasingly global and diverse. Every tribe and tongue is represented in Revelations, so why would Christians do anything but applaud the increasing diversity of the United States?

As for Christian, I would gladly lose cultural (American) Christianity for real spiritual renewal.  Maybe God is stripping away the impurities to expose the gold. If that is the case, we have a long way to go, and the fire is going to get hotter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] White Christian America ended in the 2010s, by Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and the author of “The End of White Christian America,” which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. His forthcoming book is “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity”, published at NBCnews.com Dec. 27, 2019.

[2] God is dead, and religion dying, remembered by James Finn in the New York Times April 19, 1970

[3] For an excellent expose on the way we cite Romans 13 to support our own bias, see Misusing Romans 13 To Embrace Theocracy, by Stephen Mattson at sojo.net December 10, 2019.

[4] See Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted? at Navigatingbyfaith.com November 17, 2019.

A Discussion about the Influence of Christianity on Western Civilization by Two Non-Believers

What is the the impact of Christianity on the values and assumptions of western civilization?

Dionysus Bacchus Wine statue portrait

In my college English classes, I recall the attitude that Tom Holland conveys in a recent interview of he and AC Grayling by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable? podcast: Did Christianity give us our human values? Neither Holland nor Grayling are believing Christians, so I was intrigued to listen to what they had to say.

Holland explained that he was raised in the Anglican church, but he found Christianity to be “dull” at an early age. He was much more drawn to the ancient, classical world in the same way he was drawn to dinosaurs when he was younger. “It was big; it was fierce; and it was extinct. To be honest, I was very much on the side of Pontius Pilate: the eagles, the togas, the glamour of it. Jesus becomes slightly dull in comparison. He was a loser, really.”

Tom Holland says there wasn’t a dramatic moment in which he lost his faith. It was more like his faith was a dimmer switch dialing down. He says, “My faith was essentially blotted out by the sun of my fascination with the classical world.”

This was more or less the attitude I remember in the education of my youth. In my high school Latin class, we celebrated Roman society, even dressing in togas one day for some kind of holiday party in class. In 1978, just before I set off for college, Animal House, the movie, practically turned the toga party into a curricular activity.

I remember distinctly a professor explaining through an entire class on Milton’s Paradise Lost why Satan is the most appealing character in that classical work. The theme of naïve innocence and initiation into the world of knowledge that brings with it the thrill of discovery and loss of that innocence runs through all of English literature.

The loss of innocence is a rite of passage. The world of knowledge, being equated with that loss of innocence, is more fun, interesting and downright exciting. “Religion” (Christianity) was viewed as a desperate attempt to hold on to that naiveté, even while the proverbial horses of lust, titillation and wonder about the forbidden world are escaping the barn.

Tom Holland, like my worldly professors in college, gladly left the “dull” world of Christianity behind.  When he set out to write history, he was drawn to write about the Greeks and Romans of his youthful fascination. This effort took him to a surprising place. He says, “I found the experience of living in the minds of people like Caesar, … people I had deeply admired as a child, almost hero worshiped … increasingly unsettling.”

Through the process of researching and writing history, Holland has come to realize that the present values of humanism, secularism and liberalism that are prized in western society find their roots in Christianity. They realization of the impact of Christianity on the values and assumptions of Western civilization was “sharpened” for him in the process of writing a book on the history of Islam.

Holland recalls that he found himself coming to the conclusion that “[much of what] Muslims believe about the origins of Islam are actually mythic, are back projections”. Muslim critics repeatedly complained of the book he wrote on the Islam, challenging him that he wouldn’t dream of subjecting his own beliefs and values to the same critical review. Thus, Holland says, the book he wrote most recently, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, began as an attempt to subject the origins of his own cultural values to the same standard of critical review.

He says that the book was his effort to take the criticism to heart and to trace the thread of his own humanist, liberal values back to see “where it leads through the labyrinth”.  Speaking of that effort, the culmination of which is now in print, he says,

“Ultimately, it leads back to Christianity, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in almost all of the essentials, myself, my friends, the society in which I live, the whole of the west is so saturated in Christian assumptions that it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them.”

This is not the post-modern, post-Christian narrative that I have heard elsewhere. Indeed, AC Grayling, the other guest on the podcast that inspires this blog today, takes a different view. That is the subject of the interview. The interview is worth a listen, whether you might side with Grayling or with Holland. The fact that Holland comes out of the atheist camp to announce what he has determined from his research is noteworthy. Therefore, I publish this short blog post and invite you to listen along to this interesting discussion.

21st Century Reflections on 2nd Century Description of Christians

Rome, Italy. Trajan Markets, built in 2nd century AD by Apollodorus of Damascus in the time of Emperor Trajan

The following descriptions of Jews contrasted with Christians in the Roman Empire inspire my thoughts today:

“Rome respected Judaism because the religion was ancient and enduring. Jews had survived opposition for over a thousand years and, in spite of that opposition, had spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.… Roman authorities did not require Jews to venerate the gods (say, through sacrificial offerings in local temples) or to serve in the military, and Romans viewed and used at least some local synagogues as civic centers, which implies that Judaism served the larger Roman public, however modestly. Jews were far more integrated into Roman society than it might at first appear.

“…. Jews worshiped one God, Yahweh, to whom they were exclusively devoted; followed a rigorous set of ethical and religious practices; and refused to participate in pagan rituals and festivals. They observed a way of life that set them culturally apart. The Jewish rite of circumcision kept Romans who were attracted to Judaism from wholesale conversion. Jewish kosher laws required that Jews shop in their own stores, their dress codes made them noticeable, and their commitment to marry only fellow Jews prevented them from assimilating into Roman culture.”


“Christians appeared to live like everyone else. They spoke the local language, lived in local neighborhoods, wore local styles of clothing, ate local food, shopped in local markets, and followed local customs. ‘For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or custom. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.’ At a surface level Christians appeared to blend in to Roman society quite seamlessly.

“Yet they were different, too, embodying not simply a different religion but a different—and new—way of life. ‘They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.’ They functioned as if they were a nation within a nation, culturally assimilated yet distinct at the same time. ‘Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth.’”[1]

This is the fascinating description of Christians from an anonymous letter writer in the Second Century to Diognetus, a Roman official, which the writer of the book from which the excerpt is taken compares to the Roman view of the Jews in the same time period. The comparison inspires a number of thoughts that are worth exploring.

Continue reading “21st Century Reflections on 2nd Century Description of Christians”

Paul… the Radical Countercultural?

Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: we are “all one in Christ Jesus”

Paul Mosaic at Chora Church in Istanbul

People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.

Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.

There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.

I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:

“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.

Continue reading “Paul… the Radical Countercultural?”

Lay Your Weapons Down

Our battle is not against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:12)


Os Guinness says, “It’s no secret that the world doesn’t know how to handle our differences.” Just consider countries like China, Iran and others in which dissidents are treated as enemies of the state, rounded up and imprisoned or even killed.

In the West, we have handled our differences better than most in the last couple of hundred years, but we have had our issues as well. Guinness addressed religious matters, in particular, and notes that we have different views for how to address differences. There are those who advocate for the “sacred public square” where religion is king, while others urge a “naked public square” that is wiped clean of religious and faith expression.

He advocates for a third way of dealing with religious differences: “the civil public square”. In the civil public square, all people are given freedom of conscience to speak from their own faith tradition, or no faith tradition at all (which is also a kind of faith).

Guinness criticized the last 50 years in the United States during which culture wars have been battled out in the public square. The result is that differences have become more entrenched, and they are getting deeper and wider as time goes on.

As a Christian, Guinness is concerned about the state of the church in these times. He observes that millions of people are dropping out of religion altogether because of “the ugliness of Christian extremism in public life”.

He is quick to say that the secular extreme is just as bad, but I agree with him that we (Christians) should be concerned for our own influence in the world.

Continue reading “Lay Your Weapons Down”

Climate Change and the Gospel


Many Christians deny that climate change is happening, perhaps because many Christians distrust science. More accurately, perhaps, they distrust scientists, as a large number of scientists are atheists, especially some extremely vocal scientists who “preach” a form of scientism[1].

As Christians, though, we need to be careful here. We need to respect truth wherever we find it and wherever it leads. Without letting go of the revealed truth of God in Scripture, we need to recognize and acknowledge truth that science reveals – the truth of God’s creation.

We also need to recognize and understand the difference between science and scientists. Science, done right, reveals the truth of God’s creation. The scientists who do science are influenced by their own biases, assumptions and preconceptions, worldviews and individual perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that the results of the science they do can’t be trusted.

We have to separate out the science and the conclusions drawn by scientists from the science. Even there, those conclusions shouldn’t be discarded without consideration. Scientific conclusions (conclusions that naturally and inevitably follow from proven premises) should be distinguished from philosophical conclusions (extrapolations from the scientific conclusions that go beyond the bare facts and enter into philosophical territory).

What does that mean? A very extreme example might be the assertion by Neil deGrasse Tyson that science has replaced philosophy and made it irrelevant. He maintains that science tells us everything we need to know about reality. This very statement is a philosophical statement. (Hint: it’s not science.) Just because a scientist says something doesn’t make it true.

We also have to keep in mind that science has been reduced over the decades and centuries to mean something more limited than what it once meant. (Theology was once known as the Queen of the Sciences). Science is now limited in its definition to mean the study of the natural world and its material components and processes. Scientific method is limited to what can be proven by observation of the material world and its processes.

Science is a species of knowledge, but we sometimes conflate science with knowledge, thinking that science is the end-all and be-all of knowledge and that knowledge is only that which science reveals to us. As Christians, we don’t believe this. Philosophers don’t believe this. Artists, and poets and musicians don’t believe this. Many scientists don’t believe this as well.

But, I digress. I believe that the science for climate change is accurate – at least to some extent. To what extent, I am unable to conclude, as I don’t know the science well enough. But that the climate is changing is fact. It is changing, and we shouldn’t be ignorant of that fact.

It is also fact that we are contributing to that change. CO2 emissions, for example, have gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution. That is science that can’t (shouldn’t) be denied. It’s been substantially demonstrated in a multitude of ways.

To what extent has our activity contributed to the change? To what extent is our activity driving the change? To what extent can we reverse the change? Can we reverse climate change by our efforts? I think these are all open questions as I understand the state of the science.

As Christians, I think we need to be careful to respect the truth of science; otherwise we are guilty of denying and misrepresenting truth. We need to respect truth wherever it is found because our God is true, Jesus was truth personified. For that reason, also, we have no reason to be afraid of the truth.

Our approach should be appropriately nuanced on issues like climate change. How we deal with the truth and respond to it must be placed into context. There is a higher truth than climate change: God and His purposes that we learn from revealed truth found in Scripture.

For the Christian, the prospect of climate change does not appear as the ominous a threat it is for the non-believer. This is because we understand that the earth is passing away;[2] and God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.[3] In fact, Jesus warns us not to store up our treasures on earth where they are subject to rot, decay and destruction (sounds like the second law of thermodynamics), but to store them up in heaven.[4]

But we also need to be mindful that God made us stewards of the earth, and He expects us to be good stewards. Continue reading “Climate Change and the Gospel”