Reasons for Hope
A brief essay by Greek scholar, farmer, blogger, and Christian gentleman Dave Black, got me thinking about some signs that God is indeed at work:
1) Though, alas, Christianity is not surging in Europe or the U. S., it is growing globally by leaps and bounds. I recently attended a lecture by Phillip Jenkins, who argues that a tidal wave of Christianity is sweeping the globe. Jenkins says:
The scale of Christian growth is almost unimaginable. Back in 1900, there were about 10 million Christians in Africa, representing about 10 percent of the population. Today there are 360 million, representing just under half the population. That is one of the most important changes in religious history, and I think most of us didn't notice it.
The Bible is alive in Africa and Asia and Latin America. Overwhelmingly, the kind of Christianity is one which is very Bible-centered, which takes the Bible very seriously, takes authority very seriously, both the Old and the New Testament, in a way which I don't think western Christianity has done probably since the Enlightenment.
Jenkins posits that the growth in Christianity will dramatically change the face of Christendom. Though I am leery of some of those potential changes, it is nonetheless heartening to see God's Word being preached around the world and scattering the darkness of superstition and animism.
2) There are signs that, over time, the Christian church may become increasingly orthodox as liberal denominations begin to lose members and clergy. Earlier this year, the Louisville Courier Journal ran an interesting series of articles on the shortage of young pastors in various liberal Protestant denominations. Interestingly, the shortage of young men desiring to enter the ministry is largely a problem confined to "mainline" denominations:
The problem primarily affects "mainline" Protestant denominations — Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others — rather than their more conservative counterparts, such as Southern Baptists and Pentecostals.
The mainline churches, whose tall steeples have stood over town squares from the start of the republic, have other problems as well today — declining memberships and quarrels among liberals, conservatives and moderates.
While our "conservative" churches aren't exactly bursting out the doors, I see some anecdotal signs here in Louisville that conservative churches are gaining adherents and, at least at the church I attend, having a large number of babies. A study by the Glenmerry Research Center confirms my general observations. Look at these figures from the 1990's:
3) If we are blessed by Spirit-led revival, modern means of communication are tools whereby that revival could spread very rapidly.
Among the denominations showing significant growth in the Glenmary study, and outpacing the 5 percent growth recorded among a reported 41,514 SBC churches, were:
* Presbyterian Church in America, with 1,441 churches, up 42.4 percent.
* Christian and Missionary Alliance, with 1,878 churches, up 21.8 percent.
* Evangelical Free Church, with 1,365 churches, up 57.2 percent.
* Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination with 11,880 churches, up 18.5 percent.
* Church of God, another Pentecostal denomination, based in Cleveland, Tenn., with 5,612 churches, up 40.2 percent.
* Conservative Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, numbering 5,471 churches, up 18.6 percent.
Among the denominations continuing in decline during the 1990s:
-- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with 11,106 churches, down 11.6 percent.
-- United Methodist Church, with 35,721 churches, down 6.7 percent.
-- Episcopal Church, with 7,314 churches, down 5.3 percent.
-- United Churches of Christ, with 5,863 churches, down 14.8 percent.
American Baptist Churches USA, another prominent national body, also declined, by 5.7 percent.
Gary North recently wrote an interesting essay discussing the blessings of capitalism. Whether or not I might agree with all of North's claims, it is true that the development of new technologies, communications, and cheap transportation has provided the church with new and inexpensive ways to spread the Gospel and disciple her sheep. In particular, we can now break the educational monopoly, which brings us to another source of hope.
4) The home schooling movement. Recent reports indicate that nearly 1.1 million students were home-schooled in 1999 last year, up 29% from 1999 (and this number is probably low).
5) Religiously conservative Americans are having more children then their secular counterparts. Phillip Longman in the Washington Post writes:
Over the past decade, fertility rates among all major American ethnic groups have either remained low or fallen dramatically. Between 1990 and 2002 fertility declined 14 percent among Mexican Americans and 24 percent among Puerto Ricans. African Americans, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, now have a lower average fertility rate than whites, and they are no longer producing enough children to replace their population. But one big difference in fertility rates remains: Conservative, religiously minded Americans are putting far more of their genes into the future than their liberal, secular counterparts.
Fertility correlates strongly with religious conviction. In the United States, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.
Christianity, properly preached, provides a source of hope. Secularism leads only to despair and civilizational suicide. In Proverbs we are told that without a vision the people die. The Body of Christ needs to get a glimpse of victory, and understand that the war we wage is multigenerational. Even if we don't see the Promised Land, we should purposefully and intentionally bring up our children with the hope that they will, if they maintain faithfulness and obedience to God and His holy Word.