Part 1: An Introduction to the Problem Facing the 21st Century Western Church
The "Takeover and Colonization of Christianity"
Twenty-first century Western Christianity is in dire straits. Europe exists in a post-Christian state, and many believe that the United States is effectively on a path towards that same end. While some may argue that there has been a resurgence of evangelical growth, what with such phenomena as the megachurch or emergent church movements, it seems that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to affiliate themselves with no religion. Whereas up through the mid-twentieth century one could expect an average United States citizen to understand the tenets of a Judeo-Christian heritage, a worldview of pluralism is now permeating the environment, essentially deadening secular society's sensory receptors pertaining to moral truths. Strangely enough, we find that this state of affairs has occurred despite the West having experienced over 60 years of peace, prosperity, and religious freedom. Or, perhaps, I should state that this condition has occurred because of said peace, prosperity, and religious freedom.
In their book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton detail out the results of an extensive interview process of 267 teenagers across the United States. Their conclusions paint a picture of a next generation of adults with a distorted view of religion, especially Christianity. Using the term Moral Therapeutic Deism, Smith & Denton describe the "creed" with which many of today's teenagers view religion, and Christianity. They describe the tenets of this creed as,
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die. 
They go on to write,
Therapeutic individualism defines the individual self as the source and standard of authentic moral knowledge and authority, and individual self-fulfillment as the preoccupying purpose of life. Subjective, personal experience is the touchstone of all that is authentic, right, and true... Members of therapeutic individualistic cultures are encouraged in various ways to "get in touch with their honest feelings" and to "find" their "true selves"... Moreover, moral duties, pain, and suffering are not seen, as they traditionally often were, as an inevitable part of life to be endured or perhaps through which one should grow in personal character and spiritual depth. Rather, these are largely avoidable displeasures to be escaped in order to realize a pleasurable life of happiness and positive self-esteem. 
With regards to teenagers, and to believers of all ages, many are warning that a worldview of Moral Therapeutic Deism, along with a general lack of coherent understanding of concrete Christian faith doctrines, results in an acceptance of pluralism and, consequently, a rejection (whether conscious or sub-conscious) of the belief in objective truth.
In his talk and study guide From Truth to Experience: Why the Church is Losing Its Vitality in the 21st Century, Greg Koukl (of Stand to Reason) argues that relativism, indeed moral relativism, has infiltrated the church in America. Citing Barna research from 2001, Koukl presents the following statistics regarding "born-again" believers. "Born again" believers were first defined by the following questions:
Have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?
If the respondent answered "yes" then they were asked a follow-up question about life after death. One of the seven perspectives a respondent may have chosen was,
When I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior.
Individuals answering "yes" to the first question and then selecting this perspective as their belief were categorized as "born again."
With that basis, Barna provided the following beliefs of "born-again" Christians in the United States:
45% believe Satan does not exist.
34% believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven.
28% believe that, while on earth, Jesus committed sins.
15% believe that Jesus did not physically return to life after his death on the cross.
26% believe that it doesn't matter which faith you follow because they all teach the same life lessons.
68% do not believe in moral absolutes.
For "born-again" Christian teenagers, the issue is even more desperate.
91% do not believe in moral absolutes!
One way in which relativism can infiltrate the church is in the form of subjective experience which, when combined with an over-emphasis on the personal and relational aspect of Christianity, may tend to drive believers towards a dependence not on the Word of God but on their personal opinion about the Word of God. Recall that Smith & Denton concluded that, Subjective, personal experience is the touchstone of all that is authentic, right, and true, for followers of Moral Therapeutic Deism.
Yet, we followers of Christ, here in the West, live in a cultural environment supposedly rich with a history of religious freedom. We have at our disposal the benefit of discipleship tools our predecessors in the faith could not have even dreamed of. We have access to a seemingly countless supply of interpretations and translations of the Bible, as well as a plethora of commentaries and Biblical expositions. Unfortunately, I think that along with freedom has come laziness; and along with a lack of persecution has come a secular cultural acceptance of religion (as one of but many "valid" worldviews). It should come as no surprise, then, that there is an evolved syncretism on our part - those defined as evangelicals - with an acceptance of, and a willful participation in, the ways of the world.
Consider, for a moment, some of the various means with which the United States was able to grow into a rich and powerful nation: a land full of natural resources, people fleeing oppression and mandating freedom - especially religious freedom - in their new home, founding fathers who understood man's natural propensity for depravity, a people with a strong desire to succeed and a passion to explore, and an economic system which rewarded hard work by the individual and the corporation. Now, consider how some of those same means helped the evangelical church in America become strong - strong enough to propel the United States into producing some of the greatest missionary movements for the Gospel.
But at what cost?
In my opinion, the current state of affairs of the evangelical church in America is due, in part, to a pragmatic approach to evangelism birthed, also in part, within an evangelical capitalistic mindset. When combined within a recent history (60+ years) of peace, prosperity and unprecedented technological advancement, and a secular culture which has become indifferent to the truly counter-cultural aspects of Christianity, the result is an essentially impotent form of Christianity, which has become syncretistic with a secular culture steeped in narcissism and relativism.
In this five part series I will argue that the problems facing Christianity in the West stem from:
1) A pragmatic mindset derived more from capitalism than from scripture,
2) An emotion-based view of Christianity, which gives too much importance to the feelings of an individual and to that of making proselytes, and
3) A cultural laziness which has evolved both from prosperity as well as an attitude that life's main goal is to have fun.
Finally, I will propose that, as a solution to the predicament we are in, there are good reasons for the evangelical church in America to stop focusing on making proselytes and to put their efforts into making disciples. In so doing we will take, as an example, the early Church and what it truly means to be counter-cultural.
Part 2: When A Church Is Run As A Business, It Can't Help But Be About The Bottom-line
A Pragmatic Mindset Derived More From Capitalism Than From Scripture
It is my opinion that the United States became a rich and powerful nation due, in part, to the aspects of capitalism which cater to the ability of humans to self direct their will towards goals, achieving them through determination, discipline and hard work. It is not difficult to find story after story of entrepreneurs who took little to nothing and built empires through their perseverance. Yet, hard work alone was not the recipe for success these people used. There were, and are, plans - business plans, marketing methodologies, sales approaches, growth models, etc.
Just about every salesman is schooled on how to entice a potential customer with the product he is selling, convincing the customer that he needs the product - regardless of whether or not the customer does, in fact, need the product. You may have heard the idiom, "He could sell ice to Eskimos!", describing the abilities of a top salesman to sell a product to an unlikely buyer. Or consider the various marketing strategies employed by establishments wishing to get customers inside their stores - all for the purpose of pitching products to them. The "loss leader" strategy stresses the point of selling one product at or below production costs for the sole purpose of being able to put other "for profit" products in front of the customer. It's a gamble - a bet - that the customer will not leave the store with only the "for loss" product. And who among us has not had product B pitched to us via means of first having product A presented? For example, at a Bass Pro shop I recently had a timeshare presentation pitched to me after being enticed to win a new truck by just "entering a drawing." Then there is the "bait and switch" approach in which the customer is led to believe they are getting product A when, in fact, they are sold a cheaper product B. It should be noted that one common feature of any sales approach is that the product is dressed up - enticed - to appear as indispensible to the buyer. Is it any wonder, then, that the phrase "Caveat Emptor" - "Let the buyer beware" - came about?
Now, take a good hard look at how twenty-first century Western evangelism typically takes place. And by Western evangelism, I'm talking about the notion of Christians executing what they commonly refer to as "The Great Commission" (ref. Matthew 28:19) by going out into the world and "making converts." Usually, there is some sort of emotionally tinged presentation, whether it be a "sermon," a skit, a concert, etc., in which the human condition is proclaimed - with special emphasis on how the individual listener's life is currently impacted in the negative by culture and how their individual life can be "fixed" or made "better" by their entering into a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Notice, if you're ever at an event where this type of evangelism is taking place, how emphasis is placed on enticing the unbeliever with a promise of some sort of betterment with very little explanation of the expenditure on their part. Many times I've heard it stated that "all you have to do is give your heart to Jesus", as if an unbeliever actually knows and understands the weight and implication of what those words mean.
At a typical evangelism event theology, of any concrete sort, is usually avoided as the focus is placed on making sure that unbelievers (and believers) will not be confused or bored. Many times one also finds the evangelist emphasizing the urgency of the call to decision - usually appealing to the fact that eternity is in the balance. Indeed, many Christians are of the thinking that every gathering of Christians must include some call for proselytes, lest we run the chance of any unbelievers leaving the gathering and possibly end up meeting the Grim Reaper, thereby sealing their fate to hell.
Adam McHugh authored Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Introverted Culture and describes some of the history of this curiously American style of evangelism,
Scholar Os Guinness explains that the tent revivals, the forebears of twentieth-century evangelical crusades, featured props and other innovations that were indicative of cultural pragmatism. Americans valued "hard work, common sense, ingenuity, and know-how" and did not have room or need for intellectual sophistication, abstraction or thoughtful reflection. American evangelicals applied these pragmatic values to religion and began to focus on the visible effectiveness of their methods - in the form of tangible, quantifiable results. 
...Mark Noll summarizes this part of evangelical culture: "To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment."
The pragmatism that we have inherited fosters an action-oriented culture. Evangelicalism values the doer over the thinker. The evangelical God has a big agenda. It's as if the moment we surrender our lives to Christ we are issued a flashing neon sign that says "GO!" There is a restless energy to evangelicalism that leads to a full schedule and a fast pace. Some have said that, in Christian culture, busyness is next to godliness... 
Without realizing it, most Western Christians structure their approach towards the implementation of their Christian walk using the tenets of capitalism, steeped in pragmatism. Keep in mind that capitalism, while an economic system, affects one's worldview as well. From Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, authors Smith and Denton describe mass-consumer capitalism and its effects,
People normally think of the economy and religion as two separate spheres of life that affect each other very little. In fact, however, American religion and spirituality, including teenagers' involvement in them, may be profoundly shaped by American mass-consumer capitalism. Capitalism is not merely a system for the efficient production and distribution of goods and services; it also incarnates and promotes a particular moral order, an institutionalized normative worldview comprising and fostering particular assumptions, narratives, commitments, beliefs, values, and goals...
...As an institution with a specific historical and social location, mass-consumer capitalism constitutes the human self in a very particular way: as an individual, autonomous, rational, self-seeking, cost-benefit-calculating consumer... 
[emphasis in original]
It seems that American evangelicalism, in its zeal to proclaim the Gospel, has unwittingly succumbed to methods which, by their very nature, help identify one's view of morality in an manner compatible with Moral Therapeutic Deism and American mass-consumer capitalism. Evangelicals have, for better or worse, become "individual, autonomous, rational, self-seeking, cost-benefit-calculating consumer[s]." It is somewhat unnerving when one realizes how closely the Western style of evangelism follows capitalistic marketing strategies. Note how the idea of a sales presentation is mirrored in a typical evangelist's pitch. I've even heard, much to my dismay, several pastors specifically tell their congregations that, when "witnessing" to an unbeliever, they must be sure to "close the deal" - a sales strategy term if there ever was one.
Also note how many outreach events, as well as normal gatherings, are structured as loss leader analogs. Churches will devise an event - a concert, a "Harvest" party, etc. - knowing full well that while most of the people coming are simply interested in having a good time, a certain percentage will be fodder for the gospel message.
"Feeling Slightly Dirty"
Having sales events designed to draw large numbers of people in the hopes that a certain percentage will buy your product is, essentially, a numbers game. In the business world, such tactics are well worn and will produce results. Business evangelists - salesman - are typically tasked with quotas they must meet in order to advance their career or, at the very least, remain employed. These quotas are many times tied directly to the dollar value or number of items sold, e.g., a quantity of cars sold per month. Such tactics have, unfortunately, not been lost on the evangelical community. I have heard from different pastors of similar quotas being mandated by senior pastors on their staff of associate pastors - e.g., increasing attendance in specific demographic segments of the church, by a specific amount, over a specific reporting period, or else be let go. In 2005 I wrote a blog post titled, Evangelical Capitalism: How the "bottom-line" determines our action. From my post,
The entrepreneur is interested in keeping the numbers at the bottom-line in the black. Profits equal success. Have we let capitalism so shape our worldview that it has also shaped our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus?
Dave Roberts, a former youth pastor in the Seattle area, left the following comment to that post,
I remember interviewing at a large church in Oceanside CA, and the Sr Pastor flat out told me he had a numbers bias. I was asked what I was going to do to increase the numbers in the student ministry department. That was the straw that broke the ...[proverbial]... camels [sic] back for me. I walked away from that feeling slightly dirty. It wasn't about Christ, it was about the bottom line, disguised as concern for the lost. My job would have been on the line if I didn't produce the numbers needed to satisfy the SP. 
Did you catch that? Associate pastors being tasked with producing quantifiable results (i.e., number of congregants) as a means of keeping their position. Let's see now... exactly which Epistle is that practice found in?
In franchise operations it is common to expect one's establishment to have jurisdiction over a specific geographical area - to be free from competition within the ranks of the corporate franchise company. In our evangelical counterpart, I have heard of senior pastors requiring that their associate pastors sign statements which state that if they leave the church they will not start a church within a specific geographic area limit of the church the senior pastor shepherds.
Did you catch that one? Senior pastors requiring their associates sign a contract so as to insure those same associates won't eventually cut into their... business.
Unfortunately, this business-model mentality is not limited to pastoral staff members, but freely flows down into the congregation as well. With a cost-benefit-calculating mindset, how many evangelicals end up counting proselytes at various events held at their churches? How many evangelicals acknowledge that while church programs may be designed primarily to draw people into the building, it's justified by the fact that the gospel is being proclaimed? How many evangelicals will readily admit to having fooled and / or tricked non-Christians to attend an event, rationalizing their actions by pointing to the "relationships with Jesus" that have been documented (and tabulated)?
What this obsession with success oriented business models has led to, in my opinion, is an evangelical community which caters to the felt or perceived needs of not only new believers, but of non-Christians as well. The reason these demographic groups are catered to is grounded in the fear that, if presented with a message they don't care for, then they will not stay or return to the venue. In other words, we've adjusted our message so as to insure we get the greatest possible return.
Whenever you listen to the advocates of twenty-first century Western evangelicalism, be aware of the mindset which revolves around business growth and success - that of business plans, growth models, franchise agreements, sales strategies, etc. Be aware of the metrics used to measure said success - that of bottom-line profit, return on investment, sales quotas, month-end sales reports, etc. Be aware of marketing methodologies used - that of loss leaders, sales pitches, advertising campaigns (honest and false), bait and switch enticements, satisfying customer demands, etc. It will help you identify what is truly occurring.
I do not believe that the consequences of our continued love affair with capitalistic methodologies can be overstated. Again, from Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,
One of the possible consequences of this capitalistic constitution of the human self is the way it can reshape the character of religion itself over time. The more American people and institutions are redefined by mass-consumer-capitalism's moral order, the more American religion is also remade in its image. Religion becomes one product among many others existing to satisfy people's subjectively defined needs, tastes, and wants. Religious adherents thus become spiritual consumers uniquely authorized as autonomous individuals to pick and choose in the religious market whatever products they may find satisfying or fulfilling at the moment. And the larger purpose of life comes to be defined as optimally satiating one's self-defined felt needs and desires, as opposed to, say, attaining salvation, learning obedience to God, following the Ten Commandments, achieving enlightenment, dying to oneself and serving others, or any other traditional religious purpose. 
And from McHugh,
...We invented the religious twentieth-century landmark: the megachurch - an expression of the church that introduced the paradox of people worshiping together in anonymity. At its best, the church growth movement has reached thousands of people with the gospel and shrewdly connected with the surrounding culture. At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity. Many evangelical megachurches, in their hope to create comfortable environments for seekers, have stripped their sanctuaries and worship services of any sense of mystery and the sacred. Their fast moving, high production events may entertain us and their avid employment of modern technology may dazzle us, but many times, they cannot help us hear the still, small voice of God.
In a cost-benefit-calculating mindset, a large church, with many congregants, equates to success and, by proxy, also equates to fulfilling the Great Commission. But if the arguments that our twenty-first century culture is made up of autonomous individuals, seeking whatever product fills their specific needs of the moment is correct, then have we not created something categorically opposed to the Bride of Christ? In a sense, we end up administering pain killers while the patient slowly dies without realizing his predicament.
As we consider the implementation of evangelism plans, whatever they may be, we would do well to consider this quote from Mother Teresa, "God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try."
Part 3: When Christianity Is About The Experience , Feelings Become Paramount
An Emotion-Based View Of Christianity, Giving Too Much Importance To The Feelings Of An Individual And To That Of Making Converts
At the heart of the twenty-first century Western model of Christian evangelism is the scripture found in Matthew 28 - what is commonly referred to as The Great Commission.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
- Matthew 28:19 ESV
With this verse Christians have, in sincere and fervent zeal, taken the Gospel message of Christ to all the nations of the earth. Unfortunately, and in spite of their zeal, some may have missed the true intent of the verse. Note that the reference I show above ends not with a period, but with a comma. The folks at Stand to Reason promote the principle of Never Read a Bible Verse, which is a pithy way of saying that one should never read a snippet of scripture (or any text, for that matter) without understanding the context of the passage the snippet is contained in. Using this principle, a better reference for The Great Commission would be Matthew 28:16-20, the paragraph which contains Matthew 28:19.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28:16-19 ESV
In examining this scripture one should immediately note, among other things, that the call is not to make proselytes (the common understanding, though incorrect, equates the term proselyte with convert) but to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them. While it may seem like a minor detail, the difference between making a proselyte / convert and making a disciple is quite significant. Some Christians argue that one cannot have disciples unless one has converts, thereby attempting to justify the act of making converts. However, I do not think that such an argument passes muster in the context of this scripture because the command is specifically to make disciples. It appears, from the text, that our responsibility is directly tied to the act of making a disciple, which is further clarified as that of baptizing them and teaching them all of Jesus' teachings. The distinction between our twenty-first century model of making a convert and that of making a disciple could not be more clear. Whereas a conversion process typically occurs at a momentary decision point in time, discipleship typically occurs over an extended period of time (indeed, sometimes a lifetime), usually between a teacher and a... disciple.
Yet, within the short history of the United States we have seen a strong leaning towards an emotionally based call for sinners to make a decision for God - to make converts. Adam McHugh, in Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture, describes this phenomenon as it applies to personality styles,
The roots of bias toward extroverted ways of thinking and acting reach back into the history of evangelicalism. The evangelical movement in the United States traces its origin to the Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...
At the center of the first Great Awakening was George Whitefield, an English evangelist who preached in churches throughout the American colonies. Some people hiked for days to hear him, packing every venue. Church historian Mark Noll describes Whitefield's highly extroverted preaching style: "In the pulpit he simply exuded energy; his speech was to the highest degree dramatic; he offered breathtaking impersonations of biblical characters and needy sinners; he fired his listener's imagination; he wept profusely, often and with stunning effect."...
During the Second Great Awakening - the origin of the camp meeting or tent revival - people would gather under a tent, sometimes for days on end, to hear evangelists preach the gospel. These evangelists addressed their listeners with dramatic urgency and intensity, impressing on them an immediate need for decision. People also responded with great emotion, sometimes in melodramatic displays of weeping or shrieking.
But whereas the first Awakening led to the founding of several of the country's most elite colleges, such as Princeton and Dartmouth, the Second Great Awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries introduced an anti-intellectual bent to evangelical Christianity. Suspicious of a dry, lifeless, academic faith, the leaders of the Second Great Awakening emphasized that conversion must be an experience in order to be authentic.
[italicized emphasis in original, bold emphasis mine]
And Michael Horton has criticized evangelist Charles Finney's over-emphasis on the act of making converts. In his article, The Legacy of Charles Finney, Horton writes,
Finney's one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney's revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor to today's altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them.
Has the act of making a disciple has been transformed into that of making a convert - or is there no difference between the two? Whereas many evangelicals have striven and continue to strive for leading unbelievers down a path to a point of decision, using Matthew 28 as their proof text, nothing of the sort can be found when one reads Matthew 28 in basic context.
Or consider the fish breakfast account in which Jesus has a post-resurrection conversation with Peter, alongside the shore, found in John 21:15-19.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
- John 21:15-19 ESV
Note how Jesus exhorts Peter to "feed" and "tend" His lambs and sheep, and not to "find" or "catch" them. While one may argue that Jesus' initial call to his disciples was to make them "fishers of men" and, therefore, those who would make converts, it seems inconsistent with the structure of the rest of the New Testament (unless one extends, by way of Matthew 28, that being a fisher of men equates to making disciples). Of course, this makes sense, given the fact that it is God who draws a person into His midst (ref. John 6 and John 10). And since we cannot possibly know what will happen or what would have happened, had we taken one of many different courses of action in how evangelize, it again is reasonable to conclude that our obligation is truly in that of making disciples.
That we confuse our obligation to make disciples with that of making converts is not surprising, in my opinion, given our propensity to be cost-benefit-calculating thinkers who adhere (sometimes unknowingly) to the many business model approaches used to measure what we attempt to define as "successful" methodologies. If you already believe that your goal is to get someone to "make a decision", then counting converts is an easy, quantifiable method of demonstrating your success.
A byproduct of the making converts model is that, due to a singular focus on Matthew 28:19, The Great Commission comes to be seen as the primary reason for a Christian's existence. Indeed, when one checks the Assemblies of God website, they will notice that, under the Mission Statement section, the following,
The Assemblies of God is committed to fulfilling a four-fold mission. Its primary reason for being is:
1. Evangelize the lost.
2. Worship God.
3. Disciple believers.
4. Show Compassion.
All other Christian responsibilities, then, take on a lower priority to that of "winning lost souls for Jesus" - and they are usually lower to the degree with which they appear to satisfy the primary objective. I once heard a pastor remark how all his effort was directed towards, as he put it, "Go and make! Go and make! Go and make!" Yet, under his approach, it was the making of converts he felt compelled to accomplish, leaving the Christ-followers in his church to self-perform their own discipleship training. Indeed, in such models, the very gathering of the saints for regular times of worship morphs into a gathering mainly designed to attract sinners to Christ - what has since been referred to as a "seeker-centered service."
As I see it, there is a danger in following the mindset which places a higher priority on the making of converts. What can, and does happen, is that the scripturally mandated act of making disciples begins to be seen of as essentially optional. The reasoning being, whether stated outright or subtly acknowledged, is that those who are already converted - the "church people" - are now "in the club" so to speak, and have no ultimate need for further attention. Don't believe me? Take a look at how programs are structured at your church. Take a look at where the emphasis is placed. Take a look at what drives the direction the church moves. Is the primary motivation to make disciples or to make converts?
Emotion Enters In
The confluence of the idea that we must make converts with that of a success oriented business model tends toward the mindset of an emotion-based view of Christianity. After all, successful sales approaches tend towards using emotion as the basis for making decisions. A friend of mine, in the sales business, once categorically stated that regardless of the information many people may want when deciding what product to buy (in this case, automobiles), and regardless of how much they may utilize said information, their final decision on whether or not to buy was ultimately based on emotion. Of course, one need look no further than that of marketing campaigns to see how this process works out in real life.
In the evangelical realm, this approach is played out in various ways, such as the so-called "sinner's prayer", the "altar call", the appeal to "enter into a personal relationship with Jesus", or the notion that Jesus can "set your life straight". When combined with emotionally-tinged sales pitches, is it any wonder that a good salesman can entice people to "make a decision"? However, the real truth is that there is a distinct difference between making a decision and making a commitment.
If you are a Christ-follower, look back at the various evangelistic calls you have seen and heard. Would you categorize them as declarations of God's Word as Truth, or as the enticements of an invitation offered? Is there not, in fact, a vital difference between selling someone on the benefits of an idea and informing someone of the veracity of an idea? Granted, simply declaring the Truth, while having informational sufficiency, will probably not be sufficient to convince another person of the Gospel message. For, despite my argument that emotion has been over-emphasized, we must not forget that humans are both rational and emotional. Enter the reasons with which you back-up your truth claims. And this is perhaps where the evangelistic paths diverge between those found in scripture and those typically sold to non-Christians in the West. Whereas the evangelistic approaches found in scripture focus around the proclamation of the truth, in love, the explanation of the need for redemption, and the living out of Christ's love, the evangelistic approaches of the twenty-first century West tend to focus around enticing the unbeliever to make a decision after presenting the Christian walk as one of "entering into a personal relationship with Jesus." In fact, sometimes the call is presented in the context of "Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with you," to which I imagine some unknowing non-believer may somehow think they'll be doing Jesus a favor by responding! Now understand that I am not painting every modern evangelistic outreach as falling under this umbrella. I'm simply illustrating how evangelicals have tended to move from declaration of the Truth, as a means of evangelizing, to that of offering an emotionally-laden plea.
In the book of Acts, which chronicles the beginnings of the early church, the word "love" - specifically, in the context of God's love - is not found once. Yet in our present age, evangelistic efforts seem to rely solely on pitching the notion that "Jesus loves you, and wants to have a personal relationship with you." However, many of the exhortations or evangelistic sermons found in the book of Acts rely on explaining to the listeners their condition (they are in sin), their need for redemption, and that said redemption can only be received through their repentance, the grace of God and Jesus the Christ's act of propitiation. In one instance, Paul goes so far as to state that God "commands all people everywhere to repent" (ref. Acts 17)! Imagine the reaction if such an evangelistic message was preached in our touchy-feely self-centered culture?
Now, certainly this does not mean that the idea of God's love, expressed corporeally through Christ's actions, is not the basis for his blessing the people of the world. The third chapter of John should make it clear that "God so loved the world." However, what we do not find happening in the book of Acts are messages given with enticements for the hearers to repent. And one should note that in place of catering to the felt needs of the variety of listener demographics encountered, rather, there is an awareness on the part of the early Christians of the variety of mindsets - or worldviews - in the different regions the Gospel was proclaimed. The variety of worldviews the apostles encountered did not determine the content of their message, but simply determined the how the message was explained. Note that Paul, when having a discussion with the philosophers of the Areopagus (ref. Acts 17), used their own system of thinking to explain the truth. In other words, he took their faulty ideas about truth and pointed out who the true God was.
"If Only One Soul Is Saved"
In discussing this topic with fellow followers of Christ, I sometimes get a counter-argument along the lines of, "Well, I understand what you're saying, but if only one soul is saved by a particular outreach event, then isn't it worth it?" Another variation of the argument is, "If we don't have an altar call, and give the non-Christian the opportunity to accept Jesus into their heart, what if they're killed in a car accident on the way home?" I call these the "If only one soul is saved" arguments.
A counterfactual is a philosophical term which, as applied to history, is essentially a "what-if" scenario. When one uses counterfactual thinking they are imagining what might have happened in an alternate reality. In my opinion, "If only one soul is saved" arguments are counterfactual scenarios. I do not believe that such arguments constitute a valid defense of the prioritization of the making converts approach over that of making disciples. Let me attempt to explain by using the counterfactual methodology itself:
Consider an outreach event a church is sponsoring, to occur this coming Friday night. Some church members have expressed concern over the amount of money being spent on the event, but other members have noted that "if only one soul is saved" at the event, then it's worth it. Now, what if I had the foreknowledge to be able to tell you that, indeed, one soul would be saved at the Friday night event?
"Wonderful!", you might say.
However, and here's the first rub, if the event were held on Saturday night, there would be 50 souls saved. Now, the second rub is that you can only hold the event on either Friday or Saturday night - not both. With this additional information, then, which night should you choose to hold the event?
Given the information at hand, I believe most people would choose to hold the event on Saturday, thereby reaching the most souls. After all, we are cost-benefit-calculating evangelicals.
Time for another rub. While the Saturday night event will, in fact, result in the saving of 50 souls, that one soul from Friday will not be in that group and, worse yet, he will not ever have another chance to make a commitment to God.
Now what do you do? Do you use logic of "the good of the many outweigh the good of the one" and sacrifice the one "Friday night soul" for the 50 Saturday night souls? Probably.
Oh, after you've held the Saturday night event and made 50 converts, there's one more bit of information I'll have for you - Remember that lone Friday night soul that was lost? He would have been a Billy Graham clone, and eventually win thousands upon thousands for God.
If you're anywhere with or ahead of me you will have already thought something along the lines of,
"Wait! We can't possibly know what's going to ultimately happen from the variety of choices we have to make!"
Bingo! You're correct. We cannot possibly know, under our own accord, the future implications or outcomes of the choices we make, regardless of whether or not those choices seem to us to be, at the time we make them, significant or insignificant.
Yet recall that the cost-benefit-calculating mindset, which follows the principles of evangelical capitalism, depends on quantifiable results as an indicator of success. But by our very own admission, we cannot know the impact of our free will choices. Does it seem reasonable, then, to base an evangelistic approach on a methodology with which we can never truly validate?
God, however, is someone who does know what can, and will, happen. And perhaps that is one of the reasons we are not tasked with making (and counting) converts, but with making disciples. Remember, God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
From my pastor friend, Matt Powell's blog,
Only the context of eternity can teach me the truth of what happens on earth. Trying to understand the events of this world without an eternal perspective is like using a tape measure with no numbers on it. You might know which dash the end of the board falls on, but you don't know what the dash means, or how it relates to anything else. When we measure the world without the eternal perspective, all we're left with is the judgments of man, and so we think a church with 4000 people in it is more blessed than the one with 75.
Catering To Felt-Needs
Another argument I receive, when discussing this topic, is that relying strictly on scripture or theologically-based teaching would not be as interesting to non-Christians and new believers. Ultimately, we could not attract people to church or, even if we did attract them, we could not keep them. A corollary to this argument has to do with making church more "fun", and will be discussed in the next part.
This argument, I think, is a bit more complicated. As such, it probably has a variety of resolutions. I think the idea that difficult teaching shouldn't be done because it will only drive people away is seriously flawed. While I would agree that Christians, of all people, should speak the truth in gentleness and love, it is still the truth that we must speak. Consider the fact that when Jesus' teaching became difficult and a great many of his followers left him (ref. John 6:22-71), he didn't go running after them! Not only that, but when he turned to question whether or not his remaining disciples would continue to follow him, his inquiry was not one of pleading but that of demanding that they state their intentions. We, as Christ followers must understand that the Truth is the Truth, regardless of how a non-believer (or believer) may react to it.
In another blog post of mine from 2005, titled Evangelical Capitalism (part 2): Sensual worship, I wrote,
Given that the typical non-believer is wary of showing up to church, so it is argued, we must strive to make their experience as comfortable, pleasant, and exciting as possible. Otherwise we run the risk of scaring them off or, at the very least, boring them to the point where they want nothing to do with Christianity. I understand the motivation for such evangelical marketing, as couched within the tenets of evangelical capitalism, but I wonder how sound such motivations are theologically.
Consider that the two greatest commandments, per Jesus himself, were to love the Lord God and to love our neighbor. Before we can love our neighbor we must love God. And before we can love God we must understand that we are obligated to love Him.
Related to concerns about scaring away non-Christians and / or new believers is the somewhat Unitarian notion that the Christian experience is essentially encompassed by what's commonly referred to as "a personal relationship with Jesus." Never mind, I suppose, about having a relationship with the Father and the Spirit.
In his December 2002 Touchstone Magazine article, A Stunted Ecclesiology?, J. I. Packer wrote,
No one should fault evangelicals for their loving attention to the task of unpacking the gospel message that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Nothing is more important than that the gospel is fully grasped, and exploring it and emphasizing it is a thoroughly churchly activity. But it has led to a habit of man-centered theologizing, which sets needy human beings at center stage, as it were, brings in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just for their saving roles, and fails to cast anchor in doxology, as Paul’s expositions of the gospel lead him to do...
Too often we evangelicals relegate the truth of the Trinity to the lumber-room of the mind, to be put on display only when deniers of it appear, rather than being made the frame and focus of all adoration. The church then comes to be thought of as an organization for spiritual life support rather than as an organism of perpetual praise; doxology is subordinated to ministry, rather than ministry embodying and expressing doxology; and church life is thought out and set forth in terms of furthering people’s salvation rather than of worshiping and glorifying God. The antithesis is improper and false, to be sure, but the man-centered mindset is real, and is one facet of a stunted churchliness.
The evangelical community in America has fallen, I think, into a pit of emotionalism attempting to ground Christianity as a feeling-based entity. In doing so the extroverted personality type has emerged as the driver, sometimes to the detriment of their introverted brothers and sisters. While this series of posts is not intended to address the extrovert / introvert issue, it should be noted that an over attention to the extroverted, or simply an emotion-based approach towards church, has led to a diminished appreciation of the rich, theological heritage Christianity affords. In Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture, author Adam McHugh details his journey as an introvert pastor as well as outlining how introverts can become productive members in God's church in the West.
From his book,
The slant towards extroversion in the larger culture has also infiltrated the church. I interviewed dozens of introverted Christians, and without exception, they expressed some degree of frustration and sense of exclusion from their churches.
For several years, my introverted friend Emily participated in a Christian community where extroversion was normal. ... The ideal of "intimacy" in this community was people constantly together, and the implicit assumption was that the more activities and social interaction a person engaged in, the closer she was to God. Others thought Emily was antisocial and, therefore, lacking in faith. She was also resistant to sharing intimate details of her life with others, and her lack of vulnerability was construed as a heart resistant to God.
Despite their good and sincere intentions evangelicals who equate being a follower of Christ with that of having a personal relationship with Jesus run the risk of alienating an entire demographic of the very culture they seek to reach. Again, from McHugh,
The evangelical priority on this kind of personal relationship with Jesus has direct implications for the nature of the community that forms around him. It is not surprising that evangelicals have a high value for intimate, informal relationships with one another, and we structure our churches - with small groups in our houses, fellowship hours, social events, accountability groups and prayer chains - in order to support this value. Most evangelical churches strongly encourage (and sometimes require) participation in these kinds of activities.
Let us not forget that our human psyche is made up of both the emotional and the rational. Neither should usurp the other. There is a place in our liturgy for both the emotional and the rational, the loud and the quiet, fun and reverence. To think otherwise, to consider that doing the "church thing" must essentially equate to an act of overstimulation runs the risk of making church equate to being and having fun. And that is the basis for the topic of Part 4.
Part 4: When "Personally Feeling Good And Being Happy" Is Our Goal
A Cultural Laziness Which Has Evolved From An Attitude That Life's Main Goal Is To Have Fun
It seems that our culture has come to expect to be catered to - to have their needs (felt needs) met. It also seems that we have moved from living as pragmatic narcissists to that of entitlement-expecting narcissists with a hedonistic bent. In the secular realm, catering to those felt needs is simply a business transaction; but in matters related to the spiritual, such catering can have eternal consequences.
In discussing the general attitudes of the younger generation with a friend from work, she told me of an e-mail she received from one of the coaches from her son's baseball team. It had to do with what this coach has seen with the kids he's coached and how it is also reflected in the college grads he's hired. He titled his e-mail The Coddled Generation. Here are some excerpts,
Last night I was watching a 60 Minutes program about motivation in the work place and the uniqueness of the generation entering careers in 2011.
The show was really interesting, both from the perspective of an employer as well as a baseball coach. On this particular show, the coaching professionals interviewed were motivators and trainers used by businesses - experts on the emerging generation of workers and how best to speak to and communicate with them. The show highlighted fun and wacky office cultures like Google and Zappos where strange outfits are commonplace, happy hours are frequent and workers can take turns in the “nap room.” This was designed to show how corporate structure has evolved to help make workers comfortable, keep them happy and engaged, and ultimately increase productivity.
At one point, one of the consultants interviewed described this generation as “The Coddled Generation,” and then went on to describe how their upbringing has led to a completely different worker. This expert referenced school environments where Mom calls to complain about a grade, where simply showing up is reason for celebration, and where trophies are awarded to each and every athlete.
I honestly believe that the culture has changed, and there are two main differences:
A lack of desire to be outstanding...
A need for coddling and hand-holding
How did we get here?
I would argue that the blessings of having won World War II, that of peace and prosperity, have since become anchors around our necks. When life is free from worry, then it seems reasonable for fun to become your aim. And in our haste to provide a safe and fun world for our children, we've conditioned them to expect to be catered to, to be entertained, and to expect that life's main purpose is to be happy. Whereas in times past children skipped adolescence, became young adults and then entered the workforce, beginning their own families, we now see young adults attempting to extend their childhood well into their 20s and 30s.
While many in the homeschool movement have long recognized this problem, it is very interesting to see it start being addressed by those in the secular realm. In The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, author Robert Epstein presents his case that the phenomenon we now accept as normal - that of adolescence - is, in fact, a byproduct of an industrial and technological age. From the book,
Adolescence is the creation of modern industrialization, which got into high gear in the United States between 1880 and 1920. For most of human history before the Industrial Era, young people worked side by side with adults as soon as they were able, and it was not uncommon for young people, and especially young females, to marry and establish independent households soon after puberty. It wasn't until the turn of the twentieth century that adolescence was identified as a separate stage of life characterized by "storm and stress." In what appears to be a vicious cycle of cause and effect, teen turmoil since the late 1800s has generated a large number of unique laws that restrict teen behavior in ways that adult behavior has never been restricted, and these laws in turn appear to have stimulated more extreme forms of "misbehavior" in teens. The rate at which such laws have been passed has increased substantially since the 1960s, with an increasingly wide range of new crimes being invented just for young people. The social reforms that created such laws were set in motion by some formidable individuals, not all of whom had benevolent motives. The extension of childhood past puberty has benefited a large number of new businesses and industries offering a wide range of products and services to the growing teen markets.
Now, keep in mind that children over the last sixty years did not change on their own... I believe they were raised in a different manner than their parents were. And if responsibility for their current state is to be handed out, then it must be handed out to their parents.
A "Divinely Underwritten Personal Happiness"
This cultural laziness, coupled with an attitude of expecting to have fun in life, has dire consequences for the evangelical community. Instead of presenting a Christian answer to the selfishness of our society, we acquiesce and end up catering to the very wants that perpetuate the myth of happiness. Instead of speaking the truth, and expecting people to work, we capitulate to the very methodologies our secular counterparts employ.
Consider the changes that have occurred to the program many churches have for children, formerly called "Children's Church", and now commonly referred to as Kidz, KidZone, KidsTown, etc. The emphasis is on generating high energy and having fun, albeit as we worship Jesus (and sometimes God). Whereas we used to expect the children to learn stories directly from the Bible, during their time at church, it is not uncommon to now find them engaged in playtime, snacktime, videotime, sing a few worship songs, listen to a short, uplifting story that has an analogous connection with a Biblical theme, and then a closing game. Throw in a Sunday where the kids wear pajamas to church and the cycle is complete. Think I'm exaggerating? Sit though the children's church at your church some time. I recall one acquaintance telling me how exciting a certain megachurch's children's ministry was giving, as an example, the fact that after parents signed in their children, the kids slid down some chute into the room where their service was held. He even remarked that, "It makes it fun - kind of like you're at Disneyland!"
One of the girls mid-week ministries, in the denomination of the church I attend, recently changed the slogan on their official t-shirts. Previously, their shirts had "I will follow Jesus!" across the front. Now, "The Fun Club!" adorns their shirts.
The evolutionary pattern in the young adult (aka teenager or student) groups has hardly been any different. Highly charged, frenetic events pepper the evangelical church realm, going by names such as Crossfire, Ignite, The Revolution, The Lounge, Engage, Converge, or WOW, all wooing an already over-stimulated demographic.
Note that simple name changes to groups which were formerly known as "Children's Church" or "Youth Group" are hardly issues to be concerned about. Rather, one must address the cultural and mindset changes which may accompany such name changes (e.g., the rationalization given for the recent name change to "Cru", for Campus Crusade for Christ, reeks with inconsistency). Also, such a shift in approach mimics, in my opinion, the types of marketing and worldview shifts now found in secular culture.
A society which deifies personal happiness cannot help but teach their children the same values. One of the conclusions that Smith & Denton came to, when compiling the data for their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, was the realization of how important personal happiness was to teenagers in the United States. They write,
For comparison with these tallies on religious terms, we also counted the number of teens who made reference to the key therapeutic ideas of feeling happy, good, better, and fulfilled. What we found... is that U.S. teenagers were much more likely to talk in terms broadly related to therapeutic concerns than in... religious terms...
...In fact, our teenagers used the single, specific phrase to "feel happy" well more than 2,000 times. In short, our teen interview transcripts reveal clearly that the language that dominates U.S. adolescent interests and thinking about life, including religious and spiritual life, is primarily about personally feeling good and being happy. That is what defines the dominant epistemological framework and evaluative standard for most contemporary U.S. teenagers - and probably for most of their baby boomer parents. This, we think, has major implications for religious faiths seriously attempting to pass on the established beliefs and practices of their historical traditions.
[italicized emphasis in original, bold emphasis mine]
I would argue that when we turn the act of becoming a follower of Christ - the very process that includes making a disciple, that of baptizing and teaching someone (a disciple) the teachings of Christ - when we turn that act into one of simply making a decision we have replaced the term "disciple" with that of "proselyte." When that becomes our pragmatic goal, combined with a society in which we enjoy peace and prosperity, and a progressive culture ever leaning towards pluralism, then it seems to follow that we will tend towards having congregants who rely on the phrase to "feel happy" when defining their purpose in life, especially when regarding faith issues. And it is no wonder that when the church turns to follow the secular notion of pursuing happiness, that her programs, her focus, her very emphasis hinges on this aspect of providing happiness (albeit via a relationship with Jesus).
Review the manner in which many churches advertise themselves to the public, typically via websites. Emphasis is placed on the fact that the church provides a "warm and friendly" environment, where the visitor can "come as you are" not having to worry about a "dress code", and they'll be able to "connect" with those seeking answers to any "questions" they may have through "relevant" (but short) messages or "conversations." We make sure to note that our churches are places where parents can expect their children to be provided with a "creative, exciting and fun-filled" time where they'll be sure to hear about Jesus.
Let me reiterate that most of these features are, not in and of themselves, wrong. However, if you are a follower of Christ, look back at how most churches will pitch these features in a way which promotes how the visitor will benefit. In other words, we tend to essentially portray Christianity as being able to make you, the individual, happy. Consider the various phrases and "corporate speak" we employ:
What good things has God been doing in your life?
What does this verse mean to you?
God gave me this verse.
My life verse is...
God is there for you.
Jesus wants to touch you.
Yet ask the typical churchgoer some basic questions about their faith and, despite their striving for happiness in their life, you will most likely get a fumbled response. Is this what discipleship is supposed to be about? Smith & Denton presented a portion of an interview with one teen regarding her faith. An excerpt,
Interviewer: When you think of God, what image do you have of God?
I: What is God like?
T: Um, good. Powerful.
I: Okay, anything else?
I: Do you think God is active in people's lives or not?
T: Ah, I don't know.
I: You're not sure?
T: Different people have different views of him.
I: What about your view?
T: What do you mean?
I: Do you think God is active in your life?
T: In my life? Yeah.
I: Yeah, hmm. Would you say you feel close to God or not really?
T: Yeah, I feel close. [yawns]
I: Where do you get your ideas about God?
T: The Bible, my mom, church. Experience.
I: What kind of experience?
T: He's just done a lot of good in my life, so.
I: Like, what are examples of that?
T: I don't know.
I: Well, I'd love to hear. What good has God done in your life?
T: I, well, I have a house, parents, I have the Internet, I have a phone, I have cable.
Is her attitude an anomaly, or does it reflect the general tenet of faith understanding within our community of believers in America? How well do you think the young adults in your church's youth group would articulate their faith? Do you suppose that the general adult membership would do much better?
Brett Kunkle, a Christian apologist from Stand to Reason, will sometimes visit Christian high schools or church youth groups and role-play as an atheist college professor attempting to discredit Christianity. The young-adults (and sometimes the staff) are unaware that he is acting and when faced with the arguments he presents they, many times, are unable to respond with cogent arguments for their faith. While the touchy-feely experiential faith they are comfortable with may make them feel happy, it leaves them empty-handed when facing a battle with secular culture.
We live in a culture which prizes - worships - self realization. We cherish our uniqueness (even if we rush to join the crowd to indulge in every capitalistic driven fad marketed to us). We prioritize our rights above our responsibility. Ever notice how comfort has become one of the deities we will not allow anyone to blaspheme? Except for limited areas of business, gone are the days where one dressed up for white-collar work (indeed, do 20-somethings know what the term "white-collar" means?). Instead, we laud the fact that we can wear flip-flops, shorts, t-shirts, sweats, etc., to events / activities which more formal attire was previously expected (by a strict and uptight culture of the past). This devolution of standards has also resulted in "casual" wear equating to "honesty". Pastors who show up in shorts and flip-flops are real, honest, and authentic, while parishioners are reassured that there is "no dress code" so they can "show up as they please." After all, we're reminded, God "accepts you just as you are."
However, beyond the trappings of mere cultural fashion slag, one of the biggest threats in which a culture of happiness, caught up within a touchy-feely-personal-relationship religion can produce, is that of pluralism in the church. Enter the pluralistic notions that find their way into a book such as Love Wins*, by Rob Bell. From his promotional video for the book,
Several years ago we had an art show at our church and people brought in all kinds of sculptures and paintings. And we put them on display and there was this one piece that had a quote from Ghandi in it. And lots of people found this piece compelling. They'd stop and sort of stare at it and take it in, and reflect on it. But not everybody found it that compelling. Somewhere in the course of the art show somebody attached a handwritten note to the piece. And on the note they had written, "Reality check. He's in Hell."
Ghandi's in Hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure? And felt the need to let the rest of us know?
Will only a few select people make it to Heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in Hell?
How does one become one of these... few?
And then there is the question behind the question. The real question: What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the Gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that - that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be ... Good... News?
This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian Faith. They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies, and they say, "Why would I ever want to be a part of that?"
Such anti-Biblical notions are not unexpected in a pluralistic culture. What is also unexpected, unfortunately, is that we now see such worldviews prevalent in our children. From Smith & Denton,
The majority of American teenagers appear to espouse rather inclusive, pluralistic, and individualistic views about religious truth, identity boundaries, and need for religious congregation... When it comes to their thinking about what is legitimate for other people, most affirm pluralism, religious inclusivity, and individual authority.
"Individual authority." Yes, after unpacking the fluff of pluralism and inclusivity, the result is a condition in which morality is self-determined. It is interesting to note what C.S. Lewis said about the notion of a "right to happiness," and how it related to Christianity.
Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.
...As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity.
What seems to have been lost on our culture is the very notion of objective truth. In a politically correct culture we elevate individual authority as the arbiter for ultimate moral questions. Immersed in a sea of pluralism we, as evangelicals, are in danger of drowning. Moral truths become moral opinions. We have subtly slid into the same secular pit which affirms that truth is determined solely by experience. Thus, questions about who God is, indeed, questions about the very existence of God become viewed as a matter of one's opinion.
We need to understand who God is and who we are. We also need to understand that it doesn't matter whether or not you like God. Truth is truth and it is not dependent on your comfort level. In What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, J. Budziszewski writes,
The [First] Commandment presupposes more than just the knowledge that God is real. It presupposes that we also understand that benefit incurs obligation, supreme benefit incurs supreme obligation, and we are indebted to God for benefits beyond all others. This in turn presupposes that we know the principle, "Give to each what is due to him," what we owe God being loyalty, worship, and obedience. To deny Him is the deepest form of treason - much more serious than the ordinary sort.
Is it possible, in a culture which considers having fun to be their purpose in life, to convey the notion that we owe God worship and He owes us nothing?
I once heard a preacher, after describing the love qualities of God state, "I wouldn't want to serve a God who was unloving". Well guess what? It doesn't matter what kind of God you or I would want to serve. God is God, regardless of what we think. I've had debates with atheists who categorically state that they wouldn't want to believe in a God who ordered various acts of "atrocity" as found in the Old Testament (ref. the destruction of the Canaanite women and children). How is their concern any different from the preacher's I just mentioned?
The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is:
What is the chief end of man?
Were we to ask that question to a typical evangelical churchgoer, what would the answer be? To have a personal relationship with Jesus? To be happy?
Yet, the catechism's answer is:
Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.
In an age of moral relativity, we now find that moral absolutes are called into question. In an age where "love wins" is there room for moral absolutes? Oh, wait, Barna already asked the question and, as I stated in Part 1, we find that only a dismal 9% of teenage born-again evangelicals consider there to be any moral absolutes. Truth, it seems, has become intertwined with emotional experience. Smith & Denton write,
However, it appears that only a minority of U.S. teenagers are naturally absorbing by osmosis the traditional substantive content and character of the religious traditions to which they claim to belong. For, it appears to us, another popular religious faith, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, is colonizing many historical religious traditions and, almost without anyone noticing, converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness...
Is it our duty to cater to felt-needs that have been nurtured by a therapeutic individualism mindset?
Again, in 2005, I wrote a blog post titled, Evangelical Capitalism (part 3): Butter or not butter? From the post,
At what point do we consider catering to society's wants tantamount to acquiescing to their demands? Are we really interested in cultural relevance? Or are we more concerned with being hip? I believe a society which over-emphasizes comfort is a society which is decadently self-indulgent. It used to be we spoke the Truth in love... now, however, it's couched in an easy chair.
Eventually, evangelicals will have to ask themselves whether they want to fill the pews or proclaim the Word.
I was at a church planting seminar where the pastor of this church was flown in to talk about his philosophy of ministry and planting. He was a good enough and well meaning guy, but I worried that there was little to no critical engagement over the issue of the fine line between becoming the culture, and being relevant to the culture.
Indeed, just how do we become relevant to culture?
* Note that I have not read the book.
Part 5: Becoming Truly Relevant And Truly Counter-Cultural
We Must Never Stop Evangelizing
If you've read the first 4 parts of this series, and have made it to this final post, I thank you. Hopefully, whether or not you fully agree with my argument, you have at least taken a hard look at the issues I've been discussing. However, if past experiences I've had in attempting to discuss this topic are any indication, then I fear that those fully entrenched in the pragmatic approach of evangelical capitalism - those truly in need of hearing my arguments - will have already left the conversation. If that has occurred, then it is unfortunate, because I believe that this issue is critical to how we, as evangelicals, conduct our lives in the 21st century.
So, how does the Church in the twenty-first century West be relevant to the secular culture around it?
Before I give you my thoughts in that area, let me be clear about what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that we should stop evangelizing. I am not saying that we should forego outreach events. I am not saying that we should stop working for church growth. I am not saying that we should stop spreading the Good News. I am not saying that we should forget about relationships. I am not saying that we should consider having fun a bad thing.
What is it we are grounded on? The Bible? Do we or do we not truly believe that the Word of God is the Word of God? I'm not asking if you believe that the words of scripture have some mystical quality - I'm asking whether or not you believe that the Word of God is the direct, objective means by which all Christ followers over the past 2,000 years have had to understand God, and who he is.
Given the amount of text in the New Testament, isn't it odd that so very little of it is devoted to explaining how to convert a non-believer (i.e., make a proselyte)? Not taking into account the four Gospels, which are historical narratives directed towards demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah, we see much of the rest of the New Testament written to explain theology, to narrate the history of the early church, and to provide exhortation and discipleship practices for early church communities in their day to day lives as followers of Christ.
Yet, how do most twenty-first century Western churches and, by extension, evangelicals approach day to day matters of living as a Christ follower?
I find it interesting to see how many current age Western Christians are seriously interested in maintaining their body health and fitness. From the likes of Christian Yoga (an oxymoron if there ever was one) to gym memberships to full-fledged Boot Camps, it's not difficult to find Christians seriously dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And this, in and of itself, is certainly a good thing.
But consider the following hypothetical scenarios: After hearing from friends about how great it is to be part of an exercise routine, someone decides to join a gym. After enthusiastically attending for a few weeks, the person begins to lose a driving interest, showing up sporadically with a less-than-exciting attitude of enthusiasm. Despite exhortations from her friends, this person seems to never really put forth the effort or show the determination required to fully participate in the workout sessions being presented.
Given that scenario, is it not reasonable to conclude that this person's friends would consider her commitment to the workout routine to be less than ideal, if not essentially non-existent? Would they not consider her to be undisciplined in her approach? And, if she is undisciplined, then she is either not a true disciple or, at the very least, a poor disciple of the training program?
Now, consider a similar scenario, except that the enthusiastic members of the gym do not consider commitment to the workout routine to be paramount. Instead, simply signing-up and joining the gym is the primary goal. In their view, the more members they can bring in to the gym, the better. If the members eventually become serious in their commitment to the workout routine, all the better, but if some members are lackadaisical in their commitment, well, that's to be expected - just remember - what's important is that they are in the club.
Which, of the two scenarios, better describes the typical evangelical church in America?
Would that we, as a community of believers, be half as dedicated to being and making disciples as we are to our workout routines, shopping escapades, sports commitments, hobbies, etc.
You see, when making proselytes becomes more important than making disciples, then potential converts (Gospel fodder) could become to be viewed as more important than existing followers of Christ. Combine this mentality with a pragmatic evangelical capitalism mindset and where you should have worship and disciple making directed to God's glory, you have programs designed specifically to save the lost. Instead of man's chief end being to glorify God it becomes to hold outreach events. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that outreach events are not important. I'm simply saying that when we lose sight of the body of the Church, the bride of Christ, we miss the reason for Christ coming to Earth, and we miss the reason God wants to bless the peoples of Earth.
Replacing "Justification For Real Sins" With "A Spiritual Pat On The Head"
When we market whatever church discipleship programs we have towards specific demographic groups, whether they be based on age, marital status, or special needs, I believe we are tending to corrupt the "all things to all" concept by ignoring the family of God concept readily seen in the NT text. While we truly understand that church fellowship should be for all within our midst, we effectively segregate ourselves, despite our good intentions, into groups such as: Children's, Homeschool, Marrieds, Mens, Prayer, Singles, Singles 20-30s, Singles 40-50s, Singles 60+, Spanish, Womens, Young Adults, Young Marrieds, Marrieds (Old Marrieds?), Life Groups, Care & Recovery, New Believers, Youth, College-Age, Compassion, Prison, Other. In following the methodology and conclusions of the world, we approach church as if it's simply an extension of secular business analogs. For example, while we tend to think that teenagers are rebellious and naturally repulsed by whatever the adults in their lives (typically, their parents) like, serious research is saying something different.
From Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,
Perhaps the most widespread and persistent stereotype about teenagers in American culture is that they are intractably rebellious. In U.S. culture, the very idea of "teenagers" and "rebellion" are virtually synonymous. Decades of psychological theorizing about adolescents in the twentieth century, based primarily on observation of adolescent psychological patients, not coincidentally, portrayed the teenage years as inevitably rocked by "storm and stress." For decades, experts taught that adolescence is a time of radical identity change, emotional upheaval, and relational conflict... Although academic adolescent researchers have more recently come significantly to revise this picture of normal adolescence, many books about teenagers and religion continue to employ the "storm and stress" master frame in ways that set teenagers' religious values and interests in opposition to those of adults. They depict youth as "alone," "disillusioned," "irreverent," uniquely "postmodern," belonging to something that is "next" and "new," and "in search of an authentic faith" different from that of existing adult religion, which simply "isn't cutting it." Such stereotypical cultural frames lead to the clear impression that, when it comes to faith and religion, contemporary teenagers are deeply restless, alienated, rebellious, and determined to find something that is radically different from the faith in which they were raised.
But that impression is fundamentally wrong. What we learned by interviewing hundreds of different kinds of teenagers all around the country is that the vast majority of American teenagers are exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices.
[emphasis in original]
Critics may, at this point, raise some concerns - sincere concerns. Immediately, some may ask, "But what about all those who have been reached by the very methods you criticize? The touchy-feely, loss-leader, fun-entertainment methods - are all methods that really do work!" My response is that such a question is ultimately the wrong question to ask, for it relies foundationally on the balance sheet mentality. And in any method which focuses on the return on investment, there are always those demographics which are maximal revenue producers and which, by way of cost-benefit-calculating motives, must be favored over the minimal revenue producers (which are, typically, the minority). Ever wonder why there is no "quick checkout" line at a big-box warehouse store such as Costco? The very foundation of such an establishment is to get its customers to buy a lot of big, large amounts of their products. So, in effect, our evangelism methodologies take on the mantra of "the good of the many outweigh the good of the few."
From S.M. Hutchens, in a Mere Comments blog post titled Attractive Worship,
To note that those who are sent scampering off by the liturgical ordeals they must face in such churches are only a minority, like people who favor classical music, is no argument in its favor. To endorse attraction evangelism is in fact an attempt to justify such programs theologically by asserting that they attract far more sinners than they repel, which is no justification at all.
For those still clinging to the outreach events that supposedly bring in scores for Christ I would ask, If such events are so successful, if such events are so beneficial to the body of Christ, then why are such events performed only on a periodic basis? Should not these events be the very mainstay of the evangelical church in America? (after all... if only one soul is saved) Unfortunately, those fully entrenched in the notion that the pragmatic evangelical capitalism methodology is valid because it is successful will not listen - their bottom-line is that they see quantitative results and that is, in reality, what ultimately matters. A companion argument for pragmatism, when an argument is given, is that they can point to intimate, long-lasting relationships that have been developed with the use of this method. It should come as no surprise that the majority of these proponents also happen to be individuals that thrive on having many, outgoing relationships. While this paper is not meant to address this aspect of personality styles, I would only question whether or not our purpose, as Christians, is to make as many friends as we can - or to make disciples.
In discussing a similar topic with my friend and pastor, David Thomas, Ph.D., he stated the following, with regards to the good intentions of fellow believers,
"The irony, of course, is that in seeking to be more “friendly” than God, flattening critical truths about His nature and becoming overly instrumental and pragmatic in our teaching (i.e., “How will this work to lead people to Christ?” Rather than, “What is truth, and what will best reflect God’s glory?”) we surrender His very mercy and betray the knowing heart of the sinner who intuitively seeks a robust justification for real sins instead of a spiritual pat on the head."
Indeed, a spiritual pat on the head, while perhaps bringing momentary happiness, will not suffice in pulling someone from the pit of despair.
A "New Culture Capable Of Making Life... More Tolerable"
As the church responds to a decidedly different secular culture in the twenty-first century, it might do her well to look back at how the first Christians responded to the culture(s) of their day. In The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, Rodney Stark provides us with a historical analysis of what events and actions led to the quick rise of Christianity, from its humble beginnings with a small band of followers. What we see is that early Christians were not focused on growing the church but on living the truth and, in so doing, did not acquiesce or syncretize their worldview with the cultures around them but, rather, became truly counter-cultural in their lives.
This counter-cultural approach was reflected in how the early Christians acted towards those in need. Stark points out that Christian benevolence, towards anyone in need, was a virtue recognized even by those with opposing worldviews,
...there is compelling evidence from pagan sources that this was characteristic Christian behavior. Thus, a century later, the emperor Julian launched a campaign to institute pagan charities in an effort to match the Christians. Julian complained in a letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the virtues of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their "moral character, even if pretended," and by their "benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead." In a letter to another priest, Julian wrote, "I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence." And he also wrote, "The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us"
While my constructive criticisms about how we do church in the twenty-first century West are many, I do notice and applaud the very real concern that many evangelicals have towards helping their fellow man. Yet we must not conclude that simply helping the poor and the sick, during times of natural disasters, was a necessary cause for the rise of Christianity. Indeed, it certainly could be argued, as Stark does, that while such disasters provided the opportunity for a sufficient cause for Christianity's rise, there was another aspect of Christianity that would set it apart - providing the necessary conditions for its rise. From Stark,
It must be recognized, of course, that earthquakes, fires, plagues, riots, and invasions did not first appear at the start of the Christian era. People had been enduring catastrophes for centuries without the aid of Christian theology or Christian social structures. Hence I am by no means suggesting that the misery of the ancient world caused the advent of Christianity. What I am going to argue is that once Christianity did appear, its superior capacity for meeting these chronic problems soon became evident and played a major role in its ultimate triumph.
Since Antioch suffered acutely from all of these urban problems, it was in acute need of solutions. No wonder the early Christian missionaries were so warmly received in this city. For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.
We must take note that Christianity provided a new culture to the world it existed in. If Christians in the twenty-first century West are to truly be effective, then they must come to the realization that followers of Christ bring a new culture to society - that of real counter-cultural values. My pastor once said something to the effect of, "Listen! You are not being counter-cultural by getting a tattoo on the back of your neck." Exactly. Cultural fads are still fads (and, in the case of tattoos, permanent fads), and sycretic attempts to mesh secular fads and methodologies as being compatible with Christian thought only end up producing cheap imitations. Early Christian benevolence, to use one example, was not at all about making someone feel comfortable and happy, or providing a non-threatening relational / religious experience for a "non-churched" individual, but was simply a genuine expression of Christ, and of God's love.
For another example of how the early Christians provided a new culture, Stark illustrates the change they promoted on their view of women vs. the culture's approach at that time.
In this chapter I have attempted to establish four things. First, Christian subcultures in the ancient world rapidly developed a very substantial surplus of females, while in the pagan world around them males greatly outnumbered females. This shift was the result of Christian prohibitions against infanticide and abortion and of substantial sex bias in conversion. Second, fully in accord with... theor[ies] linking the status of women to sex ratios, Christian women enjoyed substantially higher status within the Christian subcultures than pagan women did in the world at large. This was especially marked vis-a-vis gender relations within the family, but women also filled leadership positions within the church. Third, given a surplus of Christian women and a surplus of pagan men, a substantial amount of exogamous marriage took place, thus providing the early church with a steady flow of converts. Finally, I have argued that the abundance of Christian women resulted in higher birthrates - that superior fertility contributed to the rise of Christianity.
Note that the early Christians weren't viewing women differently as a means to increase their numbers; they were viewing women differently because that was / is one of the tenets of how Christianity viewed the world. This is an important point: early Christians acted how they were supposed to act, regardless of what it might do to the bottom-line. We need to understand that our battle is a battle of worldviews - that of Christian vs. Secular. In the long run, which worldview better addresses the realities of this world, both physical and spiritual?
In fact, of course, the rise of Christianity was long and perilous. There were many crisis points when different outcomes could easily have followed. Moreover, in this chapter I have argued that had some crises not occurred, the Christians would have been deprived of major, possibly crucial opportunities.
MacMullen has warned us that this "enormous thing called paganism, then, did not one day just topple over dead." Paganism, after all, was an active, vital part of the rise of Hellenic and Roman empires and therefore must have had the capacity to fulfill basic religious impulses - at least for centuries. But the fact remains that paganism did pass into history. And if some truly devastating blows were required to bring down this "enormous thing," the terrifying crises produced by two disastrous epidemics may have been among the more damaging. If I am right, then in a sense paganism did indeed "topple over dead" or at least acquire its fatal illness during these epidemics, falling victim to its relative inability to confront these crises socially or spiritually...
[italicized emphasis original; bold emphasis mine]
In essence, early Christianity rose by addressing real needs with a new (or counter) cultural worldview that was not only new, but true. And it was validated not by its selling points, but by its veracity.
Addressing A Culture's "Pursuit Of Purpose And Meaning" Through The Worship Of God
The church in the twenty-first century West must understand that our primary reason for existing is to worship and glorify God. To best glorify him we need to know him and understand who he is. Rather than expecting to hear a word from God, we'd best be about getting into the Word of God. Discipleship designed to explain and teach God's truths provides the means with which a follower of Christ can enter into a full-orbed relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Through such a relationship, providing the means for followers to worship and glorify God, that same God then provides the means for his followers to live out their lives in his love. In doing so, their very thoughts and actions, though supremely glorifying God, will serve as ambassadors for God's call upon those lost, thereby serving God's plan of blessing the peoples of the earth.
What I argue for is that our virtuous goals need not change, but our focus must.
The church in the twenty-first century West must be decidedly Trinitarian and not effectively Unitarian.
The church in the twenty-first century West cannot exist by continuing to segregate its congregants and, indeed, its very churches, by the use of secular based marketing demographics. The church began by ministering, in community, to those from womb to old age. Churches which place higher emphasis on any demographic, for less than virtuous reasons, are not glorifying God.
The church in the twenty-first century West must expect (and demand) more from its congregants, especially in the group of what is now referred to as "youth" - those in their teen years. History has shown that teenage young adults are more than capable of handling many functions and responsibilities we now consider solely adult in scope. From Robert Epstein, in The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen,
Young people in the Bible often function fully as adults: as parents, heroes, prophets, soldiers, and even kings. It's likely that Mary gave birth to Jesus by age thirteen, and at age twelve Jesus held his own in discussions with wise men at the temple in Jerusalem. The New Testament does not restrict any activities because of someone's age. The age at which young people are held accountable for the actions varies from one religious group to another: for Catholics the age is seven; for Mormons the age is eight; for Jews the age is thirteen for males and twelve for females. In general, the world's religions recognize that young people have enormous capabilities - spiritual, intellectual, parental and inspirational. In the Bible, respect and reverence flow strongly from young to old, but with the creation of the child-centered family a century ago, parents started to serve their children in ways that have done many children more harm than good.
And from Smith & Denton, in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,
Adults in the United States over the past many decades have recurrently emphasized what separates teenagers from grown-ups, highlighting things that make each of them different and seemingly unable to relate to each other. But our conversations with ordinary teenagers around the country made clear to us, to the contrary, that in most cases teenage religion and spirituality in the United States are much better understood as largely reflecting the world of adult religion, especially parental religion, and are in strong continuity with it.
Instead of catering to or, worse yet, entertaining our youth, we must show them their responsible part in the worship of God.
The church in the twenty-first century must be about making disciples - true disciples of Christ - striving to develop believers who understand not only the reason for the hope they have, but how their lives are to be lived to be in service to God's plan.
Christianity In The West: Either A "Pathetic Version Of Itself," Or A "New Conception Of Humanity"
In Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he posits that participants in the coming worldwide economy must focus on three main aspects, one of which he defines as abundance. To cater to abundance, one must cater to the felt-needs brought about by our own technological advancement. From Pink,
...Today, the defining feature of social, economic, and cultural life in much of the world is abundance.
...The prosperity it has unleashed has placed a premium on less rational, ...sensibilities - beauty, spirituality, emotion. For businesses, it's no longer enough to create a product that's reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful, abiding what author Virginia Postrel calls "the aesthetic imperative."
[emphasis in original]
Pink argues that one consequence of the West's prosperity is, essentially, free time. We no longer have to spend as much time on survival and, as a result, we search for things to give our lives meaning. In true human idolatrous fashion, one avenue we proceed down is that of material beauty or uniqueness. It is indeed interesting that businesses have identified and latched onto the felt-needs of consumers, and now market their wares in an attempt to address this cultural desire. Alas, I think that the church, while possessing the true answer to the desires of a prosperous self-indulgent humanity, sometimes responds in like business fashion, ultimately providing additional idols in an attempt to soothe our souls.
In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical, and functional needs is woefully insufficient. Engineers must figure out how to get things to work. But if those things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them. There are too many other options. Mastery of design, empathy, play, and other seemingly "soft" aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Think about what Pink posits, and then consider how closely aligned (to his argument) the typical evangelical church in America is. How much of our approach and our marketing strategies (sometimes disguised as "design" elements), are directed towards meeting these felt-needs?
In truth, the human desire for meaning, or some form or transcendence is a reflection of the Imago Dei - the Image of God - stamped on each and every one of us. Yet it is also true that the satisfaction said desire is found in no other place - in no other person - than God.
Again, from Pink,
Visit any moderately prosperous community in the advanced world and along with the plenteous shopping opportunities, you can glimpse this quest for transcendence in action. From the mainstream embrace of once-exotic practices such as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace and evangelical themes in books and movies, the pursuit of purpose and meaning has become an integral part of our lives.
Yet living out as Christians means catering to needs - real needs. Has the evangelical West, after being provided with an opportunity to address real needs (i.e., the quest for transcendence), simply caved in to a syncretism with the very worldview it supposes to cure?
What would be the effects on a typical church in the twenty-first century West if some or all of my proposals were to be put into practice? I would predict an immediate drop in membership and / or attendance. Pure and simple. When one is used to junk food or candy, and it's suddenly taken away, they'll go looking for it elsewhere. When one has been coddled and catered to, they quite probably expect to have some right to be happy. C.S. Lewis wrote, "A right to happiness doesn't, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall..."
So we must make a choice: Do we continue to practice a pragmatic, capitalistic form of evangelism, while the culture continues to darken; or do we seek to truly be counter-cultural, and live out the truth? We must choose soon.
From Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,
But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism... The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
However, we are not without hope (to be sure, we are never without hope). Perhaps we can take a lesson from history. Per Stark,
In my judgment, a major way in which Christianity served as a revitalization movement within the empire was in offering a coherent culture that was entirely stripped of ethnicity...
Christianity also prompted liberating social relations between the sexes and within the family... Christianity also greatly modulated class differences - more than rhetoric was involved when slave and noble greeted one another as brothers in Christ.
But, perhaps above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death.
...Christians effectively promulgated a moral vision utterly incompatible with the casual cruelty of pagan custom.
[emphasis in original]
Yes, indeed. Christians need to stop making converts and to bring, rather, a new conception of humanity to a world steeped in pragmatic narcissism.
 Wikipedia, Irreligion in the United States, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_the_United_States (June 20, 2011).
 Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 118.
 Smith & Denton, 162-163.
 Smith & Denton, 173.
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 Gregory Koukl, From Truth to Experience: Why the Church Is Losing Its Vitality in the 21st Century, Stand to Reason, (2004), 5.
 Dictionary.com, caveat emptor, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/caveat+emptor
 Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 24.
 McHugh, 25-26.
 Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 176.
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 Rusty Lopez, Evangelical Capitalism: How the "bottom-line" determines our action, New Covenant blog, (January 19, 2005). http://newcovenant.blogspot.com/2005/01/evangelical-capitalism-how-bottom-line.html
 comment by Dave Roberts, Evangelical Capitalism: How the "bottom-line" determines our action, New Covenant blog, (January 19, 2005). http://newcovenant.blogspot.com/2005/01/evangelical-capitalism-how-bottom-line.html
 Mary White, About Business Franchises, (eHow, 2011, last accessed July 15, 2011). http://www.ehow.com/about_4586411_business-franchises.html
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[21 McHugh, 26.
 Gregory Koukl, Never Read a Bible Verse, (Stand to Reason, 2001). http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5466
 Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 23.
 McHugh, 24.
 Michael Horton, The Legacy of Charles Finney, (Modern Reformation, 2011, last accessed July 15, 2011). http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=625&var3=authorbio&var4=AutRes&var5=1
 When comparing many of the evangelistic messages found in the book of Acts, one finds a common thread which would typically include a declaration of man's condition of sin, the need of a Savior for redemption, the existence of the Christ as the Savior, and the need for repentance on man's part. For example, reference Acts 2:14-41; 3:11-26; 8:26-40; 10:34-43; 13:13-43; 14:8-18; 17:22-34; 20:17-35.
 It should be noted that there is no indication that Paul continued to have debate with the men of the Areopagus. Indeed, it seems that Paul's methodology was to proclaim the truth and work with those who received it, essentially ignoring those who rejected it.
 Wikipedia, Counterfactual thinking, (June 15, 2011), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_thinking
 Matt Powell, This Earth, Wheat and Chaff blog, (January 14, 2005), http://wheatchaff.blogspot.com/2005/01/this-earth.html
 Rusty Lopez, Evangelical Capitalism (part 2): Sensual worship, New Covenant blog, (January 27, 2005), http://newcovenant.blogspot.com/2005/01/evangelical-capitalism-part-2-sensual.html
 J.I. Packer, "A Stunted Ecclesiology?", Touchstone Magazine, (December 2002). http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=15-10-037-f
 Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place In An Extroverted Culture, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 17-18.
 McHugh, 19-20.
 Robert Epstein, Ph.D., The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, (Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books, 2007), 23.
 Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 168.
 Smith & Denton, 135.
 Brett Kunkle, Atheist Role Play #3, STR Place blog, (June 29, 2011). http://strplace.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/another-atheist-role-play-2/
 Smith & Denton, 115.
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "Answers to Questions on Christianity" 1944, ans. 11, 58-59.
 J. Budziszewksi, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2003), 31.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, (2011, last accessed on July 15, 2011). http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC_frames.html
 Smith & Denton, 171.
 Rusty Lopez, Evangelical Capitalism Part 3: Butter or not butter?, New Covenant blog, (February 7, 2005). http://newcovenant.blogspot.com/2005/02/evangelical-capitalism-part-3-butter.html
 Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 119.
 S.M. Hutchens, Attractive Worship, Mere Comments blog, (January 27, 2005), http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2005/01/attractive_wors.html
 David Andrew Thomas, Ph.D., e-mail to author, (July, 2011)
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 83-84.
 Stark, 161-162.
 Stark, 128.
 Stark, 93-94.
 Robert Epstein, Ph.D., The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, (Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books, 2007), 287.
 Smith & Denton, 170.
 Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2006), 32-33.
 Pink, 34.
 Pink, 35.
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, "We Have No Right to Happiness", (1963), 318.
 Smith & Denton, 171.
 Stark, 213-215.