Post-Christendom

July 29, 2007

This is the title of a book I have just been reading. The author, Stuart Murray, looks particularly at the scene in the UK and Europe, where the Christian church was dominant for hundreds of years but where now hardly anyone goes to church. Christendom is over and the church has to learn to operate from the margins instead of the centre, says Murray.

Some of the points that flow from this in this book are:

  • we should see the “conversion” of emperor Constantine and his favouring of the church as a tragedy, not a blessing, that led the church away from its real nature and mission through a doomed alliance with empire.
  • we should forget about longing for revival and instead seek for survival as we enter a totally new environment.
  • we should gracefully surrender our level of influence over governement and law.
  • we should learn from marginal and persecuted Christian groups of the past, e.g. the Anabaptists and even Pelagius (who comes out here as the goody against Augustine, whose emphasis on grace led to a lower standard of discipleship).
  • post-Christendom evangelism should be more like Jesus, e.g. “invite rather than pressurise and intrigue rather than overwhelm” (p314).

Clearly this is a book for the west rather than the developing world where Christians have been marginal and where the church is growing apace. I recommend it for a thought-provoking read.

But I have one problem. Every society has a religious base which determines its moral convictions and thus its laws. For western society, that base has been some form of Christianity. Now for Christianity to function in this “religious” role inevitably distorts it. But if society removes this base, what will take its place? Currently in Australia we are seeing a shift to a more secular humanist base, which was supposed to be religiously neutral and tolerant, but the fruit of this is already troublesome and is being challenged by more radical alternatives like Islam. So I’m not fully convinced we should forget about revival.

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2 Responses to “Post-Christendom”

  1. Markk said

    This author probably has some good points, but it seems he is arguing we should throw in the towel because of mistakes made in the past. Why? And isn’t that an abrogation of our responsibility as Christians? Why do we have to accept that our numbers shall be few forever?

    In modern times, many countries have had a strong Christian influence rise from almost nothing and not through the influence of the state, but through evangelism. South Korea in particular comes to mind.

    In countries where Christians are few, it would be futile to try and control the machinery of government. But surely believers have as much right as anyone else to have a say in proportion to their numbers.

  2. Jon newton said

    Fair comments, Mark. I think the main strength of his argument is that Christianity loses its power when it becomes too tied up with the state and political issues.

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