Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 21, 2008

Deep Trouble

American Christianity is in deep trouble. Evidence? A recent study by the Barna Group shows that only “3% of non-Christians ages 16-29 have any positive impression of evangelicals .” (Click here to read The Tennessean’s coverage of this study.)

Can you imagine if you were running a company and only 3% of the key youth demographic had a favorable impression of your product? I suspect even Exxon/Mobile fares better than that.  What 16-29 year olds think is very important because it indicates future trends – what the overall culture will be like in a decade or so. Granted, the negative impression is specifically of “evangelicals” so perhaps other streams of Christianity would come out better in the same survey, but somehow I doubt it would be much better.

Evangelicals think they have an image/marketing problem, so they keep trying new strategies for selling the same old message. (The emergent church movement is one example.) I don’t think they’ve defined the problem correctly.

Here’s my take on what the problem is:

For most of the last couple of centuries the prominent message of American Christianity has been something like this: “your sins have caused God to hate you; but if you will say you’re sorry, and really mean it, and truly believe that Jesus is a real person then God will start loving you and not torture you in fire forever.”

Since this is not the gospel and is not an accurate, biblical picture of who God is, most normal human beings reject such a message of conditional love and angry vengeance.

The message we should be giving people is this: “God the Father loves you and has already made you his child through his Son Jesus; believe this amazing good news about your true identity – the good news that the Holy Spirit has been telling you all your life.” (Rom. 5:18, 6:8; Eph. 1:5; Col. 1:20)

This is the good news which we were created to receive and believe and when it is announced people believe it and embrace it because it is the fundamental truth of our human existence.

My guess is that American Christianity’s deep trouble will get worse before it gets better. While mainstream evangelicalism continues offering the same old distorted gospel in new ways with continually diminishing returns, the neo-reformation will keep growing in quiet, out of the way places. When the mega-churches have collapsed and their building sites have been sold off to build shopping centers and Christian TV and Radio have vanished from the airwaves then, and probably only then, will the truth of the gospel finally begin to turn the world upside down again.

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