Another Post-Christianity Post- Continuing Commentary from Al Mohler on Christianity in American Culture

April 30, 2009

A few weeks back I made this post sharing a recent Newsweek article about trends of Christian identification in the contemporary American society and SBTS President Al Mohler’s commentary on it.  Last Monday Al Mohler was back at it again, this time engaging an article that appeared in USA Today authored by Boston University professor Dr. Stephen Prothero criticizing the claims of the earlier Newsweek piece.  As Mohler shares, Prothero’s viewpoint was that “almost all the warnings about an increasingly secular America are overblown and mistaken,” to which Mohler wishes to add some clarification.

You can check out Mohler’s response here (or listen to the radio program at this link), but what the basic debate boils down to is how we define ‘Christianity’ and what it means to be a ‘Christian’.  On side we have Prothero who’s argument is simply, “If it says it’s a duck it’s a duck,” whereas Mohler stands on the other side saying, “If it says it’s a duck but looks like a cow and barks like a dog, it’s probably not a duck.”  Okay, well, maybe Mohler said it more elegantly when he stated that,

[M]y concern is that of a Christian theologian committed to the Gospel of Christ as the only message that saves sinners. Professor Prothero writes from a different perspective, at least professionally, and his concern is the fact that America sure looks Christian to non-Christians.

Here’s the deal.  Sure, 75-ish% of Americans call themselves Christian, but anecdotally and statistically informed observers know that there is a large disconnect between the nominal Christianity of our culture and the true Christianity of the Bible.  Just the fact that we are having divisions within the church over whether homosexuality is classified as sinful or if the words of the Bible are the inerrant, unchanging revelation of God points to the confusion inside Christianity, so how much more is this amplified outside of the church?

Honestly, it takes great self-denial to believe that America is not being increasingly secularized.  Prothero remarks that we are Christian as a nation because Christmas is a national holiday and Passover isn’t, but surely this is the opposite of proof for his argument.  The mythologizing of Christmas more than anything puts on display the fact that something which was once meaningful to a group of people for religious purposes has now become meaningful to a group of people (maybe the same group, maybe not) as a tradition of the secular culture.  The presence of Jesus does not make it Christian.  If that’s our criterion than we would have to say that South Park is a Christian cartoon and that Kanye West is a Gospel singer.  If Jesus is presented outside of the realm of Scriptural truth then he is nothing more than Santa or the Easter Bunny– a cultural construct which belongs to the pantheon of myths that we tell as a shared history of our country.  This is not Christianity, at least not in any way which makes sense for an intelligent man like Prothero to call it such. 

One wonders what the attractiveness is for people like Prothero to argue that true Christian belief is not on the decline?  Is it because Christianity as they know/practice looks no different than the majority of Americans know/practice it, and so admitting that this worldview is more secular than biblical means admitting that at best their interpretation on God’s word is wrong, and at worst that they are not really “Christians” at all?  I think this has a large part to do with it.  Please hear me, I do not know Dr. Prothero one bit and do not mean to stand in judgment of his heart on the issue.  I am simply arguing that it might be the case that some people have trouble seeing the post-Christian turn because the category by which they have chosen to label their self “Christian” is not a biblical category to begin with.

Regardless of the commentators, as people whose lives are focused upon the absolute truth of God as revealed in Scripture, there is no way for us to deny that post-Christianity and the rapid secularization of American culture are realities we must face.  To make a difference for Christ and bring the gospel forth in this climate it is important to develop our evangelism and missiology in a way which understands the specific challenges of a post-Christian context.  That is my desire, and something I have sought to do here on this blog, but this is not just the work of those “called into ministry.”  Every Christian has an obligation to upholding right doctrine and living in such a way that the glory of God is manifest in all that we do.  It is not easy, yet in light of what led us into it in the first place, we must elevate the importance of not watering down our theology or caving in to the sinful desires set to hinder our witness.

The mission fields are not just in the mountains of Peru or the plains of Africa anymore.  Our own country, the United States, as well as Canada and most of Western Europe are just as lost and in need of people to answer the call, saying “Send me into the post-Christian chaos.”