Does American Christianity Need a Revival?
Lots of attention has been paid recently to the impromptu revival going on at Asbury University in Kentucky. What began as an ordinary chapel service on February 8 has continued for weeks and has drawn people to the small Kentucky town from all over the nation and world.
Why Asbury? Why now? Who knows, but according to many who have traveled there to experience it, God’s spirit is alive and well. We have seen images on the news of people singing, praying, repenting, recommitting their lives to Christ, and drawing together in the spirit of community.
Is North American Christianity in need of a similar revival? Many would say yes. The tumultuous years of the pandemic, political upheaval, racial tension, and ongoing secularization got many people out of the practice of worshipping together and nurturing their soul. Many have returned but certainly not all. Commercial real estate brokers in towns like Nashville continue to gobble up former church buildings that are no longer being used.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, Tim Keller argues that American culture is one of the most individualistic in the world. In quoting sociologist Robert Bellah, Keller says, “American culture elevates the interests of the individual over those of family, community, and nation. For two centuries, America’s religious devotion counterbalanced this individualism with denunciations of self-centeredness and calls to love your neighbor.” However, it is now a major concern that as America has become more secular, we are experiencing more “social fragmentation, economic inequality, family breakdown, and other dysfunctions.” When we look at the headlines, it certainly appears that this is happening.
Keller speaks first-hand as somebody who entered a large secular city (New York) years ago and managed to plant and grow a large multi-site church. He outlines five things that need to happen for the church to experience revival.
First, the church must learn how to speak compellingly to non-Christian people. “Stealing sheep” and swapping members with other churches will not reverse the trend. The church needs to find ways to reach the “nones,” those with no religious affiliation.
Secondly, the church must find a way to unite righteousness and justice. Many African American churches do this well. Too many churches emphasize one over the other.
Third, the church must learn to embrace the global and multiethnic character of Christianity. The faith is growing rapidly among minorities and in third-world countries. This must be recognized and processed.
Fourth, the North American church must strike a balance between innovation and conservation. The church cannot just adopt the beliefs of the culture, but at the same time, must innovate to reach younger generations.
Fifth, the church must show that life is much greater and more mysterious than what can be described by “naturalistic” explanations. The postmodern mindset of truth being relevant and up for grabs has led to unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and meaninglessness. Rising individualism and loneliness have led to an erosion of family, community, and shared values in our nation. This has become a major problem.
Whether you agree with all of Keller’s points or even just a few, the time for revival is now. The American church can no longer be complacent and insular. Keller says, “The breakdown of neighborhoods and communities means that, more and more, our lives are run by faceless, massive bureaucracies and inhuman technologies aimed solely at economic efficiency. In contrast, Christianity offers grace and covenant.” A world plagued by individualism, addiction, and loneliness is longing for an authentic place to belong.
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