The U.K. is “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on earth.” That’s one assessment of the results of the 2021 census of England and Wales, where only 46% of residents consider themselves Christian. That’s down from 59% in 2001. The growing secularization of England is well documented. If you follow things like this, you’re probably saying, “Well, duh!”
However, America is not a majority Christian nation either. Again, some of you will say, “Duh!” But suggesting our country is not majority Christian contradicts survey data.
An average of all 2021 Gallup polling revealed 69% of Americans “identify with a Christian religion.” That’s a majority, but I’d suggest many of these respondents are saying, “I’m not an atheist. I’m not Buddhist. I’m not Muslim. I must be Christian.” For these folks, though, Christianity is just a title, it isn’t a belief system.
Recently, we’ve considered Southern Evangelical responses to the 2022 Ligonier State of Theology survey. You cannot read the results and conclude that Southern Evangelicals have a good grasp of Christian beliefs. At best, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the responses are encouraging. Some are terrifying. As one researcher noted, Americans are Christian in name only.
Who is to blame for the poor state of belief amongst professing Christians? Who’s causing the increasing secularization of America? Many Christians will accuse politicians, public schools, and universities. While these are major factors, the real culprit is the church.
In 2008, Dr. Michael Horton wrote, “So while evangelicals are often quick to launch public protests against “secular humanists” for diminishing the role of God in American society, it would seem that the more likely source of secularization is the church itself.”
To grow, churches have abandoned teaching Scripture because that “turns people off.” Instead, they’ve embraced a market-driven approach. Rather than asking what Christ demands, Christian leaders seek to give people what they want. Horton noted, “Besides psychologists, sociologists are documenting the fact that Christianity in America – including evangelicalism – is less interested in truth than in therapy and in attracting consumers than in making disciples.”
Take a stroll around Facebook and view worship recordings. You’ll find sanctuaries that look more like concert halls than places to meet with the transcendent God. And you’ll hear sermons designed to help people feel better rather than think better. This is why Christianity is on the decline. This is why children abandon the faith in college. It’s not just the schools. It’s the churches!
In a 1938 essay, Dorothy Sayers wrote, “We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – dull dogma people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness.” In the Great Commission, Jesus charged the church to teach all nations to obey all he commanded. As Sayers noted, the world needs doctrine. Christ’s Kingdom is an objective reality, not a subjective sensation. It is advanced by opening Scripture and proclaiming its life-giving words.