Do you know some people well who, at one time were committed active Christians, but who have now, for whatever reason, either stopped believing all together, or have dropped out of any church involvement?
If you were to ask them why, what do you think they might say?
Luther’s stand of course was not at all related to whether he believed in God or not. Within the Christendom world in which he lived that was virtually a non-question. His ‘here I stand’ was on a particular interpretation of what the Bible said about salvation – how someone is put right with God.
But in our increasingly post-Christendom European context, to say ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’ is, I suggest, to proclaim and live out a public faith in a culture that views being into church, God and all that sort of stuff as unusual, private, irrelevant, if not outright weird and even dangerous.
BTW, Steve Holmes has a nice post on the day to day realities of living in post-Christendom Britain.
Anyway, this brings me to a very special meeting with three friends I had recently. We were all at London School of Theology (LBC in those days) and (gulp) started our degree course 25 years ago this September. We hung out a lot together over those 3 years but this meeting was the first time all 4 of us were together since we graduated.
We had great craic in a hugely enjoyable day. Here we are – looking exactly as we were in 1986. I didn’t have hair then either 😉 From the left, Eric Harmer is pastor of Barton Evangelical Church in Canterbury; Darrell Jackson is Director of NOVA Research Institute linked to Redcliffe College and Arthur Magahy, with his wife Nicky who was also at college with us, are Mission Trainers at IMC in Birmingham, the training centre for BMS World Missions.
My interest here isn’t so much in what we are doing now, but a conversation that came up that day. We got round to talking about the challenges of ‘continuing to stand’ over the years through good and bad times, through joys and disappointments.
And we recalled lots of students at college in those years. Many are, to use Paul’s phrase, ‘pressing on’ and continuing to ‘run the race’.
But more than a few, for whatever reasons, are no longer doing so. These weren’t nominal believers but people who were active and committed enough to go off to study theology full-time at an evangelical college.
It seems to me that this would be a significant topic for some field research. I know the general church stats in the UK and Europe are of significant decline, but much of that can be attributed to the decline of Christendom and the fall off of large numbers of nominal members of denominations.
But what of decline and loss within active evangelicalism? What’s your experience and interpretation of this reality? For it is just as much if not more a local church issue as one for theological colleges.
Is it a subject that we don’t like to talk about too much? Pastorally sensitive? Theologically problematic? To be expected given the spiritual battle that the Christian life represents?
And is there an irony here that while evangelicals are mission people who expend great energy, prayer, creativity and money on evangelism and church planting, relatively little is said or done about the significant numbers of former evangelicals quietly walking away from church life and/or faith altogether?
Comments, as ever, welcome.