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Whither Christendom?

Jun 20, 2024Reflections

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Nietzsche once remarked, “The Christian resolve to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”

More than a century later, Christopher Hitchens, in his 2007 book God Is Not Great, argued that “religion poisons everything.” 

With such robust opposition to Christianity since the Enlightenment, it’s little wonder that what was once Christendom now appears scorched and shaken. Centuries of religious cynicism have led to a prevailing attitude in the English-speaking world that sees itself as post-truth, post-objectivity, and hence, post-Christian. The flaws of past Christian societies, amplified by modern revisionism, serve as a pretext under which secularist forces undertake their iconoclastic crusade. 

Scripture offers a vivid image of God as one who removes what may be shaken so that the unshakeable may remain (Hebrews 12:27). This compels us to question whether Christendom has truly perished amid the visible upheaval of the West’s Christian consensus. 

The enduring nature of Christ’s reign yields a resounding “no” to this query. The nations of this world belong to Jesus (Psalm 2:8), and we must consider the world and its cultures through this lens. Consider just three observations to guide us in this way. 

First, an honest engagement with Scripture calls us to wake from the spell of secularism. Recent centuries have lulled us into the notion that a neutral society, ordered without reference to God, is possible. This notion is manifestly untenable. Neutrality, it seems, was always a myth; without Christ, chaos abounds. 

Interestingly, the concept of secularism itself stems from Christian thought. The Latin term saeculum evokes the notion of “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), marked by sin and imperfection, distinct from the forthcoming age of righteousness and eternal life. This understanding that the earthly realm must assume a specific, imperfect form in the current age is inherently Christian; non-Christian philosophies typically lean towards an endless cyclical history (Buddhism) or utopian visions (Darwinism, Marxism). Rather than cede the world to systems arrayed against Christ’s authority, we must recognize that we live in a saeculum in which Christ reigns from heaven and continues to build his church among the nations. 

Second, the concept of “the next Christendom,” as Philip Jenkins and others describe, points to the explosive growth of Christianity in the global South. According to the World Christian Database: 

  • The Christian population in Africa has increased from 120 million in 1970 to an estimated 688 million by mid-2024, with projections of reaching 1.25 billion by 2050. 
  • Latin America’s Christian numbers have risen from 291 million in 1970 to 649 million in mid-2024, expected to hit 779 million by 2050. 
  • Asia has seen its Christian populace grow from 96 million in 1970 to an estimated 390 million in mid-2024, with forecasts suggesting a rise to nearly 589 million by 2050. 

Even as the Christian consensus recedes in the Western, developed world, a geographical shift rather than an extinguishment of Christianity’s global influence is evident. 

Finally, consider the words of prominent atheist Richard Dawkins from an April interview with Britain’s LBC News: “I call myself a cultural Christian. I’m not a believer, but I love hymns and Christmas carols, and I sort of feel at home in the Christian ethos. . . . We [in the U.K.] are a ‘Christian country’ in that sense.” Once the Christian faith impacts a culture, it leaves an indelible mark. Critiquing Christianity on moral grounds inevitably relies upon Christianity’s own philosophical capital, as atheist historian Tom Holland pointed out in his social media reply to Dawkins: “[S]ecularism & Dawkins’ own brand of evangelical atheism are both expressions of a specifically Christian culture—as Dawkins himself, sitting on the branch he’s been sawing through and gazing nervously at the ground far below, seems to have begun to realise.” Like fish unaware they’re wet, even the staunchest opponents of Christianity remain under the influence of its pervasive ethos. 

“[T]he kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever”REVELATION 11:15

As the foundations of Christian influence in the West seem to waver—and likely will continue to—let us remember that he who sits in the heavens laughs (Psalm 2:4). Despite temporary setbacks, “[t]he kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). 

Author: Alex Kocman | Originally Posted at: https://abwe.org/blog/whither-christendom/

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