Friday, February 18, 2011

The Dilemma

However, if the broader appeal of conservative sexual morality emblazoned on the evangelical banner continues to wane (as it is likely to do because of generational succession), the evangelical movement may face a dilemma familiar to American evangelicals a century ago, a dilemma encapsulated in the differences between fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism over how much to accomodate religious views to modernity. Continuing to sound the public trumpet of conservative personal morality may be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it may mean saving fewer souls now than it did a generation ago.
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 132.
I picked up Putnam & Campbell's book on American religion this past week. So far I have enjoyed its insights and research. Their work is done from a social scientist perspective with research, statistics, and hard-hitting questions. Too often the church and Christians live with their heads in the sand, and it is critical to ask questions and seek answers on issues that exist within the American Christian culture. The book (thus far) has done an excellent job at bringing those issues to the forefront of discussion.

One of the first things the authors do is to take a look at how religion was impacted from the 1950's through the long 60's, 70's & 80's swing, and then the 90's & 00's backlash. There were clear statistical patterns during these timeframes. The 50's saw a rise in being a part of religious traditions while the 60's were a rejection of that culture. The 70's and then 80's saw a rise in the religious right and attempted take back of culture, while the 90's through today saw a relapse as people tired of religion and politics mixing. Facts are stubborn things - and analysis shows these patterns to be true. Church attendance & religious participation is dictated by the overall cultural feelings of the time. A large portion of the American population allow their religious participation to be based upon cultural tendencies.

So what does the church do? Does the church accomodate their viewpoints in order to mesh better with their surrounding society? Or does the church continue to try to be the "shining city upon a hill" to the decaying moralistic community engulfed around it? If choosing to stick to certain moralistic standards causes more people to avoid the church - is that acceptable collateral damage? Which battles does the church choose to fight...which battles does the church choose to remain silent on...which battles does the church give into...? As American society moves foward this becomes the central pressing issue on the church.