In my last post I claimed that there are three kinds of American Christians – the Moralistic Therapeutic Deist (the majority), the Professional, and the Die-Hard, and that in about twenty years the second two kinds will be the only ones left.
Of course when I say there are three kinds of Christians I don’t really mean that there are three and only three kinds of Christians, that would be ridiculous. It is a hyperbolic statement intended to describe trends and expose dangers.
But the three trends I outlined do exist: most ordinary Christians see God as a therapeutic tool for their personal journey to niceness. Moralistic Therapeutic Deists will not be Christians for very long; the church is shrinking. Church leadership tends towards liberalism in both politics and religion, while church membership tends to be conservative in both.
The result will be (and in some places already is) intense bickering between the leadership class and the pew-sitting class about who is to blame for the shrinking church, when in reality it is the very nature of contemporary American culture and education to render people shallow and spineless and therefore incapable of being Christian.
Whatever shall we do?
One obvious thing is to keep politics in its place. Politics is the art of making prudential decisions about how to manage this passing world, it is relative and has to be kept that way. Professional Christians need to stop acting like the whole reason Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead was to establish a Universal Healthcare System and the Die-Hards need to stop thinking that the Geniuses of the Republican Party care about anything other than counting their money. Nations and political systems come and go, some are more humane than others and can command a degree of loyalty, but they all pass away.
The second is to recognize that while Die-Hards and Professionals both have their flaws there are broader social forces behind the phenomena of the incredible shrinking church. As I said above, the shallow and spineless humans who make such excellent consumers make for poor Christians. The real project for the church in the 21st century will be creating forms of community that help create people with depth of mind and character. I doubt those institutions will look much like those of the 19th and 20th centuries, huge brick and mortar affairs staffed by Professional Christians. They will not look like the community substitutes of the early 21st century either – they will not be virtual or purely spontaneous.