Last month, Harvard named an atheist as its University Chaplain.
Harvard University was originally founded because the Puritans were concerned that their clergy were well-educated. Named after pastor John Harvard, Harvard University was presided over by clergymen for 70 years, and its original motto was “Truth for Christ and the Church.”
This pretty much sums up the state of American Christianity in 2021.
It’s just one example amongst many that we’re witnessing a dramatic departure from Christianity in America. I’ll spare you the statistics (you can look them up here or here) but its clear that Christianity is in a massive free-fall. Many prominent Christian leaders and artists have announced they no longer identify as Christians. What the hell is happening to Christianity in 2021?
I’d name this crisis in 6 different ways:
1. National politics have been elevated above the Good News of Jesus.
Everything has become politicized. Christians have embraced false allegiance of political parties in the place of their allegiance to Jesus alone. Covid, the internet, and the volatile political climate have separated the church and Christianity into ideological tribes that have lost sight of their unity in Christ, and have separated into their political allegiance, each claiming to be the “true” form of Christianity.
Christians have listened to the allure of worldly voices that encourages everyone to centralize their race, ethnicity, class, or political affiliation. Consequently, as Christianity has declined, religion has not gone away – we’ve made a religion out of our politics.
And, as Andy Crouch says, when you make an idol out of something, at first it asks for nothing (posting on social media, demonstrating your group membership) and gives you everything, but in the end it asks for everything and gives you nothing.
2. The rise of social media.
In his book Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes: “Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library, a personal diary, and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know—and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That’s what a smartphone represents to us.”
John Mark Comer, in his forthcoming book “Live No Lies” writes: “The Barna Group called our cultural moment “digital Baby-lon.” In a predigital world, to experience the cognitive disso-nance of exile, you had to attend a far-left university or live in the urban core of a secular city like Portland or LA (or London or Berlin). Now all you need is an iPhone and Wi-Fi.”
Everyone can be exposed to extreme views merely at a few swipes of their iPhones. Social media algorithms are designed to continue to feed us content that keeps us interested and clicking, and often that means the content we consume becomes more and more extreme.
3. American Christians have uncritically abandoned “biblical justice” in favor or “social justice.”
Social justice, in today’s terminology, means “equality of outcome” rather than “equality of opportunity.” It means “waking up” to the point where you “see systemic injustice everywhere.
Thaddeus Williams recently wrote a great book called Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. In the book, Williams differentiates between “Social Justice A (or biblical justice) and Social Justice B (an unbiblical imitation that is socially destructive). Bibical justice is giving others their due, is horizontal as well as verticle, sees human identity as fundamentally fallen or sinful. Because we’re saved by grace, we have no grounds to judge or to think we’re better than anyone else in the areas of race, class, and gender.
Social Justice B proposes an alternative worldview to the worldview of the bible. It says that we are not all basically sinners before God, but that we are basically either members of an “oppressor” group or members of an “oppressed group.” Taking the place of rebellion against God, Social Justice B says racism is THE original sin. This type of social justice is associated with authors like Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Williams says this kind is extremely destructive to society and to the church.
4. Christians are getting lured into unbiblical worldviews that appeal to their best nature.
Of course the Bible is against injustice and oppression of any kind, but the insidious nature of the prevalent secular visions of justice is that they redefine who is oppressed and who is not oppressed, and allow those who perceive themselves to be oppressed to totally demonize their opponents and avoid accountability themselves. Many Christians have rejected the good news of Jesus and traded it in for secular worldviews that continues to divide society and destroy the church.
5. Many Christians have rejected sexual norms that used to be clear in the Bible.
Christians have rejected God’s created order in favor of what’s culturally popular. Our culture is continuing to embrace forms of a new kind of Gnosticism, that seeks to dissolve the nuclear family, divide up God’s people, and reject God’s good creation. God’s created order for marriage as being something that only takes place between a male and a female is something that is ridiculed in our culture, and not only that, but if you don’t embrace the modern view that God’s order should be deconstructed, you’re labeled a bigot.
Similarly, the predominant postmodern worldview of our culture says your identity is only found from looking inward, and once you decide what that is, society has to cater to you. This worldview rejects God’s view of sexuality, saying that men and women are not basically any different from each other, and that says we shouldn’t discriminate by refusing a man who wants to compete as a female in the Olympics… That says that gender is fluid and I can decide whatever I want to be … that’s Gnosticism – rejecting what God has created in favor of a secret knowledge that must be discovered.
6. Everything is porn.
Everything in our culture has been reduced to dopamine and clickbait. Add to that the reality that nothing is taken seriously anymore. Everything is a meme. Teenagers are allowing their worldviews to be formed by other disgruntled teenagers on TikTok, and because of this clickbait world that has hijacked our attention spans, few people have tolerance for long, nuanced discussion about theological issues. Instead, whatever the latest “hot take” is that goes viral controls the public discussion, and there is very little room for neutral conversation. “Outrage porn” dominates our social media feeds. We’ve forgotten how to do silence and solitude, glued to our phones 12 hours a day. Outrage is what sells, gets clicks, gives people the dopamine hit. Algorithms feed us with more and more extreme content to affirm our pre-chosen opinions and ideologies, and we’ve all become salivating addicts to the internet.
It’s a bleak state of affairs, but its also nothing new.
Just in case you didn’t know…
Christianity is now in cultural exile.
Christianity, historically speaking, has thrived when in exile. Our moment is an incredible opportunity for followers of Jesus. Here’s five simple things we can do to continue to be faithful in as we enter into cultural exile:
1. Trade news for the Bible.
Cut your news consumption in half. Don’t let news sources “disciple” you by consuming them every single day. Be informed, but don’t be consumed. Read God’s Word and immerse yourself in a biblical worldview MORE than you read the news.
2. Have a ‘digital fast’ one day per week.
No screens, devices, or TVs. Enjoy God’s creation, invest in relationships and creating memories with your family and friends.
It should go without saying, but once again we need to rediscover a lifestyle of prayer. Asking God to raise up faithful workers and leaders in the church. Asking God for wisdom. Asking God for peace in anxious times.
4. Do something nice for your neighbor.
Because its so easy on social media to “perform” our political affiliations or social justice opinions and outrage, we get a false sense of participation. Do something tangibly kind to the people that live close to you. This will teach you to be less concerned with what everyone is saying online, or on the news, and more concerned with how you’re actually living your life and loving people. One kind thing for your neighbor is greater than 10,000 well-meaning Facebook posts.
5. Ruthlessly eliminate dopamine.
Our brains are bombarded with dopamine through our phones, devices, social media, video games, bingeworthy Netflix shows. We’ve become distracted and distant from reality. When we don’t get our dopamine for the day, we get depressed and anxious. We need to return to the disciplines of silence and solitude, learning to be okay with being still.
Article Written by Nevan Hooker
Nevan graduated from Regent University in 2004. He spent 14 years building a publishing company that was acquired by Salem Media in 2018. He is now a full-time investor who lives in Las Vegas with his dog Arizona.