The idea that we are living in a “post-Christian” America is not a new concept. Just look around if you want evidence that it exists, and it’s existence is not found in small numbers, either. But first, let’s look at what we mean by “post-Christian” America.
In an article published on October 6, 2020, titled, “US Christians Embrace Secularism in ‘post-Christian’ America,” by Dr. Tracy Munsil, Executive Director, Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, she opens her article with the following information:
American Christianity is undergoing a “post-Christian Reformation”— and rather than providing leadership and faithfulness in an age of moral decline, members of the majority of the nation’s major Christian groups are rapidly leaving biblical foundations behind and exchanging traditional theological beliefs for the culture’s secular values.
New research from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University finds that members of the nation’s four main Christian groups—evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatics, mainline Protestants, and Catholics—are customizing their beliefs and creating new worldviews that are only loosely tied to the biblical distinctives that have historically defined them.
According to CRC Director of Research Dr. George Barna, who conducted the research, “The irony of the reshaping of the spiritual landscape in America is that it represents a post-Christian Reformation driven by people seeking to retain a Christian identity.” Barna explained, “Unfortunately, the theology of this reformation is being driven by American culture rather than biblical truth.”
ACU President Len Munsil agreed. “As Christians, we are called to be ‘salt and light;’ to transform the culture around us by sharing biblical principles and living according to God’s truth. This latest research shows just the opposite is occurring.”
“What we are seeing is an American Christianity that is rapidly conforming to the values of a post-Christian secular culture,” Munsil said. “As a nation we are in need of a reset first to change the direction of individual Christians, and, ultimately, to transform culture.”
Most stunning in the research is the radical departure by evangelicals from traditional Scriptural teachings and historical reliance on the Bible. Evangelicals are rapidly embracing secularism, with a majority (52%) rejecting absolute moral truth, 75% believing that people are basically good rather than the biblical view of humans having a sin nature, and 61% admitting they no longer read the Bible on a daily basis. One-third to one-half of evangelicals embrace a variety of beliefs and behaviors in direct conflict with longstanding evangelical teaching, according to the American Worldview Inventory 2020.
The study found that the slide into secularism is even more pronounced among Pentecostals and charismatics. Two-thirds (69%) reject absolute moral truth; 54% are unwilling to define human life as sacred, with half claiming the Bible is ambiguous in its teaching about abortion, and 69% say they prefer socialism to capitalism. A full 45% did not meet the definition of born-again Christians. (Quote source and complete article are available at this link.)
So, what does it mean for a society to be post-Christian? GotQuestion.org answers that question with the following information:
The term “post-Christian” has no universally accepted definition, though it is often applied to modern Western cultures. In that use, a post-Christian society is historically based in Christian ideas and follows simplified Christian values, but rejects the authority of Christianity and does not consider it the basis of either its ethics or its culture. The Christian language and expression that once permeated society become rare or superficial in a post-Christian society. In contrast to other cultures that are explicitly anti-Christian or grounded in a different religion, such as Islam, a post-Christian society selectively claims virtues rooted in a Christian worldview, while selectively rejecting the truths that make those values possible.
The change in society is not necessarily about identification: a large proportion of those exhibiting a post-Christian worldview may still identify themselves with the term Christian. Labels do not replace reality, however (2 Corinthians 13:5). Many self-identified “Christians” in a post-Christian society lack basic knowledge of biblical faith. Prior generations took such knowledge for granted; its absence widens the disconnect between the culture’s assumed values and its self-perception. Fading understanding of biblical faith, ironically, sometimes leads people to think they “know better” than their spiritual predecessors (see Proverbs 15:5).
A common thread in “post-Christian” culture is the assumption of Christian values without respect for Christian contributions. That which is perceived as “good” is assumed to be self-evident, despite having Christian roots. Restrictions that conflict with evolving desires are assumed to be frivolous, despite having prevented disaster in the past (Proverbs 13:14). In truth, most distinguishing values of Western culture—both positive obligations and restraints—are natural only to a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Prior to widespread acceptance of Christianity, the values taken for granted in post-Christian cultures were virtually nonexistent. Human equality, gender equality, the fallibility of human government, and charity as an obligation were all unknown in pagan cultures such as ancient Rome. Pre-Christian sexual ethics emphasized the inherent right of the strong to take advantage of the weak. Slavery—contrary to common myths—was widely opposed by early Christians and eventually abolished only through efforts grounded in a Christian worldview. The scientific method itself is rooted in assumptions found only in theistic views and developed only when Christianity became prevalent.
Post-Christian societies claim values derived from Christianity, such as equality and charity, while denying that those ideals are inherently Christian. At the same time, a post-Christian society undermines aspects of the Christian worldview that interfere with its evolving preferences (2 Timothy 4:3). As consequences for those choices mount, it’s common for a post-Christian society to blame prior generations and prior beliefs rather than acknowledge the truth (see Romans 1:21–31).
Superficially, eroding reliance on Christianity makes it easier for a post-Christian society to justify things condemned by a biblical worldview. However, this also dissolves the fundamental basis for positive values that society wants to claim. As a result, post-Christian societies begin to blur—or outright ignore—boundaries regarding human rights or charity. Abortion and “mercy killing” are examples of this perverted upending of ethical ideals.
The loss of transcendent foundations also leaves a post-Christian society struggling to justify its preferred ethics (Jude 1:12–13). Where such a culture used to point to God and the Bible as reasons for certain actions, it now points to some vague version of “just because.” That vacuum cannot last, of course, and so most post-Christian societies begin to replace the authority of God and the Bible with the authority of the state or popular opinion. The concept of moral responsibility takes second place to legality, loopholes, or mob justice (Mark 7:8).
Eventually, a post-Christian society moves from assuming Christian values to ignoring them, to resenting them, to repressing them, and eventually to persecuting them. What was once Christian and is now post-Christian will eventually become anti-Christian. Where any specific culture is in that process is subject to debate. No two cultures are exactly the same. In all cases, believers and skeptics alike ought to recognize the dangers inherent in dissolving Judeo-Christian ethical foundations (Matthew 7:26–27). Restoration is possible (Psalm 80:3; 1 Peter 5:10) but not apart from the Holy Spirit’s intervention (John 16:8; Jude 1:17–23). (Quote source here.)
That last paragraph should give us pause for thought–“a post-Christian society moves from assuming Christian values to ignoring them, to resenting them, to repressing them, and eventually to persecuting them. What was once Christian and is now post-Christian will eventually become anti-Christian…”. And there are definitely large pockets in our society today that are vocally and in nonverbal ways anti-Christian. Cancel-culture comes to mind. There is no debate, just cancellation.
Take a look at these 5 steps listed above and see where we think we are at today in that list:
- Assuming Christian values
- Ignoring Christian values
- Resenting Christian values
- Repressing Christian values
- Persecuting Christian values
If we immerse ourselves in primarily Christian settings, we might perceive we are at #1 or #2; but it doesn’t take long out in the secular world all around us to realize we are much further down on that list, and that includes even in some Christian settings. Jesus described those who come into Christian settings and appear to be Christian but they are not in the Parable of the Weeds (also known and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares) found in Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV):
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
An example in recent history describes one way (and certainly not the only way) that this type of infiltration into the church took place with the intent to weaken the church from within during the Cold War. An article published on November 7, 2019, titled, “The Stasi Spies in Seminary” (Subtitle: Religion played a complicated but key role in the collapse of East Germany),” describes how this infiltration took place in East Germany. The article is written by Elizabeth Braw, author of the book, “God’s Spies: The Stasi’s Cold War Espionage Campaign inside the Church” (2019), Senior Fellow at American Enterprise Institute, columnist at Foreign Policy and Politico Europe, advisory board member at GALLOS Technologies and external consultant at WTW. Braw opens her article with the following information:
East Germany’s Communist government opened the Berlin Wall and thus the country 30+ years ago [ending the Cold War]…. Geopolitics and economics drove this outcome, but East Germany’s religious communities played a complicated, significant and far too often overlooked role.
The Stasi, East Germany’s secret police agency [1950-1990], understood that the country’s congregations presented a major threat to the existing order. Lutherans were East Germany’s largest denomination, and many actively opposed the regime. Undermining them became a thorny task for a ruling class that disdained the brutality of the Soviet Union and its other satellites.
By 1954 the Stasi had built a Soviet-inspired agency to monitor churches, later named Department XX/4. It gradually perfected the art of subversion. The group’s officers came from the proletariat, as most top officials did. The Stasi recruited farmhands and factory workers and sent them to the Potsdam College of Jurisprudence, its officer training school.
To weaken faith communities, the department cultivated believers, including pastors, as spies. They included every rank of East German clergy, from bishops to pastors in training. Among the latter was an East Berliner named Frank Stolt. As a teenager he had watched spy movies and made plans to escape by chatting with Western tourists in East Berlin. When his daring plan failed, the teenager quelled his desire for adventure by working for Department XX/4. His first assignment: Attend pastor college…. (Quote source and complete article available at this link.) The complete story is available in Braw’s book, “God Spies.”
This is just one example from recent history as to how the church is infiltrated from within (and one example of the “wheat and tares” analogy in Jesus’ parable). 2 Peter 2 and Jude 1 in the New Testament also describes how the church is infiltrated from within. Jude makes clear from the opening verses (3-4) what these people are like:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Unfortunately, we rarely see these people for who they are, and what they are trying to do. There is a naivety that seems to engulf Christians in our society today, and a big part of that is because the average Christian sitting in church pews today is biblically illiterate. An article published in 2017 in Christianity Today titled “The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy in our Churches,” cites some astonishing statistics on just how biblically illiterate most Christians sitting in church pews are here in America–for example:
Over 40 percent of the people attending [church] read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day. Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it. (Quote source here.)
If we are living in a post-Christian America, it is because we who call ourselves Christians are part of the problem. We cave to the culture and loves the same things our culture loves (or we blast it as being immoral, etc.) without understanding the basic principles of who we are supposed to be as Christians, and what we should look and act like to the culture all around us (whether the culture accepts us or not). Jesus stated the following in the opening to his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in Matthew 5:3-16:
He [Jesus] said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Anybody can call themselves a Christian. That doesn’t carry much weight anymore, and it doesn’t mean we are Christian, either. Do we try to be “poor in spirit”? Do we mourn? Are we meek? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness (and what does that mean)? Are we merciful to others (all others)? Are we “pure in heart”? Are we peacemakers (even with other Christians who we might not agree with)? Have we been persecuted because of righteousness?
That’s a good place to start if we call ourselves Christians. If we are living in a post-Christian America…
We need to look . . .
In the mirror . . .
And start there . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac ft. Kirk Franklin and Mandisa: