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Conventional Thinking: Is ‘Default Christianity’ dying?

According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Study from The Pew Research Center, approximately 70 percent of American adults still claim to be Christian, while 78 percent of Oklahomans do.

Those numbers sound really high, especially when you look at the family breakdown and moral chaos surrounding American culture. The devil’s in the details when it comes to a survey like this though.

When you look into specific beliefs surrounding Christianity—such as if heaven and hell are real, if the Scriptures are inspired by God and authoritative and even how often people pray— those larger numbers get smaller very quickly.

In other words, in the abstract, many people still consider themselves Christians. But if you’re talking about the particulars of the Faith, as well as the everyday implications of being a follower of Jesus Christ, you get far fewer people.

In America, cultural Christianity, or “Default Christianity,” whereby people believe that they are simply “born Christian” and claim that affiliation all their lives, still persists. Yet the numbers appear to be changing in some key areas.

For example, we see concerns when we look at the rise in number of people who are willing to claim no religious affiliation whatsoever (22 percent) called “Nones.” These survey results are now almost three years old, so the numbers of “Nones” are as high, if not higher, today.

What if cultural Christianity continues to decline and die? Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, would tell us the death of cultural Christianity is not all bad.

He said, “Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering… For much of the 20th century, especially in the South and parts of the Midwest… (Bible-Belt Christianity) meant seeing churchgoing as a way to be seen as a good parent, a good neighbor and a regular person. It took courage to be an atheist, because explicit unbelief meant social marginalization. Rising rates of secularization, along with individualism, means that those days are over—and good riddance to them.”

Moore said that there are some negative consequences to the slow death of Default Christianity. He said, “This means some bad things for the American social compact. In the Bible Belt of, say, the 1940s, there were people who didn’t, for example, divorce, even though they wanted out of their marriages. In many of these cases, the motive wasn’t obedience to Jesus’ command on marriage but instead because they knew that a divorce would marginalize them from their communities… Now, to be sure, that kept some children in intact families. But that’s hardly revival.”

Moore’s point is simple: “Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists.” Yes, the rise of secularization is happening and is alarming, but we can view it as a call to mission instead of a moment to panic.

After all, in real Christianity, we have on our side the truth of Scripture, the promises of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Armed with these, we advance onward into the lost world, knowing, if God is for us, who can stand against us? If Default Christianity shrinks and dies, while secularization temporarily grows like a weed, so be it. Our urgent mission to reach the lost with the Gospel remains.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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