Religion News Service, a hub of journalistic advocacy for the religious left, has had several rather telling articles lately. First on the docket is this piece from Ryan Burge, who urges Christians to abandon unpopular teachings of Scripture in pursuit of numerical growth.
The headline reads, “On LGBT and women’s equality, stark statistical reality is coming for white evangelicals.” The title alone has several notable features. First is the framing of the issues in terms of equality, which itself suggests that white evangelicals are bigoted in their views on these matters. Next, the liberal triumphalism: the future belongs to them, “stark statistical reality” looms before evangelicalism. Third, of course, is the focus on “white evangelicals”, a favored target for the left in recent times. Are evangelicals of other ethnicities significantly more open to sexual immorality or women preachers? I suspect not; in any case, Burge makes no effort to demonstrate that they are.
Through the course of the article, Burge notes some facts about the American social and religious landscape that are, indeed, important–but not news to most. The rise of the “nones”, and shifting opinions related to LGBTQ issues and women preachers are discussed.
Then he takes the data, and applies it towards the usual ridiculous but unsurprising liberal conclusions. Visualizing churches as businesses, he says that evangelical churches aren’t selling what the younger generations are going to want to buy. Our beliefs are outdated, like a Blackberry in the iPhone age. Our options are 1) to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy regardless of numerical decline, or 2) “evangelicalism could begin to slowly shift its stance on issues like women pastors and same-sex relations.”
To his credit, Burge grants some validity to option 1, stating “There is integrity in this path.” What’s ridiculous is his implication that option 2 would lead to numerical growth. He’s basically suggesting that evangelical take the path of the liberal mainline denominations: change doctrines and practices to keep in step with the times. But his own research shows the correlation between the rise of the “nones” and the decline of liberal mainline Christianity, and he describes his own projection saying that “The results indicate that the ‘nones’ will unequivocally be the largest group in America by 2029, and that’s largely a result of more mainline decline.”
Even in purely pragmatic terms, liberalizing evangelical doctrine and practice so as to be more like the mainline denominations is a terrible idea, and not likely to bring numerical growth. Burge says our ‘product’ is unappealing to young American ‘consumers’; but what his own statistics express much more pronouncedly is that the ‘product’ being sold by liberal churches–a watered-down accommodation of Christianity to secular culture–is precisely what American ‘consumers’ are rejecting.
It is true that secularism is on the rise in America. But what the religious left cannot seem to grasp is that the quickest way to kill your denomination is to liberalize it to meet (post)modern mores.
But the more fundamental issue is that this whole way of looking at things is flawed, one might even say idolatrous. The metaphor of the church as a business selling a product to consumers is natural to Americans, but it is offensive to the church and to the church’s Lord. And this sort of thinking has been a poison within the evangelical world for quite some time.
We are concerned about lost people finding salvation. But they are not consumers, Christianity is not a product, and the church is not a business. We are the body of Christ, the people of God in the midst of a world of darkness. The church has no right to cast aside God’s commandments in pursuit of popularity. It’s an understatement to say, as Burge does, that “there is integrity in this path.” It is the only path with integrity.
It is also the path with the most hope for Christianity in America. As the mainline denominations are strangled by their own compromise, evangelicalism may see another great awakening, if God so chooses. Burge says, “I’m sympathetic to the view that God can change hearts. But I see no evidence of divine intervention in the data.” That’s a remarkably short-sighted view of things. The history of the last two millennia has provides ample demonstration of God’s ability to change hearts. This is not guaranteed in any given time and place; it is possible anywhere, in any circumstances.
God can and does change hearts. The responsibility of the church is to be faithful to her Lord, to advance the kingdom of God in the dominion of darkness, and to pray Maranatha–our Lord, come. The “stark statistical reality” of shifting American opinions is not the reckoning people should be most concerned about.