COMMENTARY | Immediately after the Pew Forum released new findings about the current state of American Protestantism, writers and thinkers took to their blogs to warn us not to put too much stock in the so-called shift, at least not for the reasons we might think.
“…Many will likely trumpet this as a huge shift. It’s not. This is simply the natural progression of what is taking place in our context,” said LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer of the research, which states that for the first time in history, Protestants are not a majority in the United States. Rather, the 48% that claim to be Protestants are a plurality at the top of a list of choices that also includes Catholic (22%), Mormon (2%), Orthodox (2%) and “Other Faith” (6%). That means nearly 20% of Americans aren’t affiliated with any faith, the highest percentage ever in Pew Center polling.
“A big part of what is happening is that the ‘Nominals’…are shifting and becoming the ‘Nones,'” Stetzer wrote. “This makes sense, as the cultural currency (in other words, the value a society places on identifying as a Christian) is decreasing. And thus, we see a movement away from Christian identity as a cultural value.”
Stetzer identifies these three main points from the research:
1. “On a growing basis, identifying oneself as a Christian is not a means to societal advancement but can actually be a means to societal rejection.”
2. What he calls the “squishy middle,” or nominalism, is going away. Southern Seminary’s Russell Moore also blogged about this following the Pew Center’s research. “Most of the old-line Protestant denominations are captive to every theological fad that has blown through their divinity schools in the past thirty years-from crypto-Marxist liberation ideologies to sexual identity politics to a neo-pagan vision of God—complete with gender neutralized liturgies.
“What we should pay attention to instead may be the fresh wind of orthodox Christianity whistling through the leaves-especially throughout the third world, and in some unlikely places in North America, as well. Sometimes animists, Buddhists, and body-pierced Starbucks employees are more fertile ground for the gospel than the confirmed Episcopalian at the helm of the Rotary Club.”
3. “It is still a vast overstatement to see this as a collapse of the Christian faith in North America,” Stetzer wrote. “The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here – and for action.”
That action must take shape as a willingness to seize opportunities explain exactly what a Christian is, Stetzer said. “…As society moves away from Christian identification, let’s meet them on the road and say, ‘We did not believe in that expression of Christianity anyway. Let me tell you about Jesus and how he changes everything.'”