Rather than being a cause for alarm, the dying-away of cultural Christianity should be seen as an opportunity. It used to be too easy to be a Christian in America; so easy that one could adopt the label simply by being born in this “Christian nation” and going to church once or twice a year (if that), in between relentless attempts to swindle the stock market, accumulate beach properties, and build an empire of wealth and acclaim.
Christianity’s Collapse . . . or Clarification?
The number of people in the US who call themselves Christians is shrinking. And that’s a good thing. Every few years, new data shows an ongoing decline of Americans who identify as Christians and an ongoing rise in those who identify as religiously unaffiliated (“the nones”). Yet headlines announcing the death of American Christianity are misleading and premature.
“Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified,” wrote Ed Stetzer in 2015 following the release of Pew Research data showing the Christian share of the American population declined almost eight percentage points from 2007 to 2014. Stetzer points out that the surge in “nones” is because nominal Christians are giving up the pretense of faith while convictional Christians remain committed.
The “God” of Cultural Christianity
For most of US history, to be American was to be “Christian.” National identity was conflated with religious identity in a way that produced a distorted form of Christianity, mostly about family values, Golden Rule moralism, and good citizenship. The God of this “Christianity” was first and foremost a nice guy who rewarded moral living by sanctifying the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., a substantial 401(k), a three-car garage, and as many Instagram followers as possible).