Facing cultural storms
Six trends that are rapidly reshaping the lives of American Christians
John S. Dickerson is a journalist-turned-pastor and the author of a new book, Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World (Zondervan, 2018). He should not be confused with the John F. Dickerson who co-hosts CBS This Morning, but F is the rare fair reporter in big-time media and S is also an excellent writer.
Five years ago, I praised John S. Dickerson’s first book, The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker, 2013), and quoted his good pastoral advice: “When someone is addicted to alcohol, pornography, marijuana, or illicit heterosexual sex, we tell them (if we are scripturally sound) they need Christ’s power to overcome that lifestyle. When someone from those same tribes comes to Christ, we expect them to be drawn to their former way of life. We expect that learning to walk with Christ will include some stumbles, falls, and retreats into those old entrenched patterns.”
He applied that to the LGBT debate: “A person must come to Christ, and then Christ can free them from their slavery. … Many evangelicals swap the cart and the horse—expecting homosexual unbelievers to overcome their behavior without the power of the cross or the Holy Spirit. … No matter what tribe an unbeliever belongs to, we should lovingly expect them to act like pagans until they come to Christ. … As with any tribe, don’t focus on changing behavior. Focus on changing relationship to God through Christ. … Don’t be surprised when you are hated and misunderstood about this issue. You will be.”
Now Dickerson argues that six trends are reshaping American culture. “My goal in stressing them is not to frighten anyone,” he says. “Rather, I believe God has called and appointed us into this precise moment in history, so that we can do great things for His Church and His Kingdom.” Here’s his summary of what we face. —Marvin Olasky
1. The decline of Christianity in the United States and Europe
Christians are dying faster than they are being replaced in the United States and dozens of other countries. Pew Research has also found that millions of Americans “switch away” from Christianity every decade, abandoning the faith of their childhood to identify as agnostic or non-religious: 2 in 3 young people brought up as Christians are disengaging from their faith between the ages of 18 and 29.
Additionally, the national way of thinking in the United States continues moving away from Christianity. This is why some researchers are using the term “post-Christian” to describe the United States and the West. The term does not mean no Christians remain, but rather that the cultural center has moved away from Christianity. At today’s rates, Christianity is on track to decrease as a percentage and in influence in the United States during the next 30 years.
2. The drift toward socialism within the United States
In the 2016 primaries, more young Americans voted for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders than for both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump combined. That was a quiet, almost unrecognized turning point in U.S. history—and an indication of the future electorate. Harvard researchers have documented that millennial Americans prefer socialism to capitalism. This preference for socialism is a first in U.S. history, and it is increasing with each younger generation.
The shift toward socialist candidates could begin as soon as 2020—the first presidential election in which millennials will eclipse baby boomers to become the largest voting bloc, though predicting the timing of this shift is impossible. Presently, boomer and older Americans are acting as a cultural dam, holding back a tide of social change. As boomer and older Americans pass away, this trend toward socialism is on course to accelerate because its opposition will be dying.
Presently, boomer and older Americans are acting as a cultural dam, holding back a tide of social change.
Socialism is just one feature on the emerging value set held by young Americans. This new value set is on track to displace the traditional American value set, reshaping society and law in the United States.
3. The civil war of ideologies in the United States
The majority of millennial and younger Americans view reality through a different lens than their boomer parents and grandparents. In my research, I titled these two distinct worldviews as the “truth-based” worldview and the “post-truth” worldview. (I am intentionally painting in broad strokes here and oversimplifying many nuances in generational beliefs.)
Many of the social and political divisions we are experiencing today in the United States trace back to this foundational difference in worldviews or ideologies. For example, post-truth thinkers do not root their argument in reason, but rather in emotion. A post-truth thinker defines what is right and even what is constitutional by a floating scaffolding of morals held by peers—rather than by any fact or written standard.
The post-truth way of thinking (or ideology) is already embraced by a slight majority of Americans, but it is overwhelmingly embraced by younger Americans. As such, the post-truth view is on course to redefine U.S. morals, elections and culture during the next decades.
4. The decline of whites in the American population
Any mention of this might sound racist to some, but a fourth demographic fact interplays with the first three: The number of whites is decreasing in Great Britain, Germany, and France, and now the United States is following suit. In the United States, this decline has less to do with immigration than some might assume. It is primarily the result of declining births by young white Americans—who are increasingly non-religious, increasingly aborting pregnancies, and waiting longer to have fewer children, if they have children at all.
In Europe, this trend of domestic population decline has fueled the continent’s need for immigrants from Muslim countries. Many European nations now need these immigrants to work in their factories, staff their retirement homes, and fuel their economies. The West’s domestic population changes correlate with two primary factors: the legalization of abortion and the cultural turn away from Christianity.
The West’s domestic population changes correlate with two primary factors: the legalization of abortion and the cultural turn away from Christianity.
Beyond the United States, other world trends are also in play. I will mention two of them here. These once-a-century changes in the world order are set to occur during the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.
5. The rapid rise of Islam
Pew Research shows that Islam is the fastest growing ideology in the world today—by a long shot. Islam is already the second-largest ideology in the world, but its growth is accelerating aggressively. This year, the number of babies born into Muslim homes will exceed the entire standing population of Russia. If recent growth continues, Islam is on pace to grow by 73 percent during the next 30 years, at which time 1 in 3 people in the world will be a Muslim.
By 2050, there could be 6.7 Muslims in the world for every one American. If the past is any indication, Islam will also continue establishing theocratic governments, which will leverage rising economies, armies, and increasing technology toward Muslim ideologies. Emerging examples of this include the vast militaries and Islamic policies of governments in Turkey (80 million people), Pakistan (193 million people), and Indonesia (261 million people), among others.
6. The reshuffling of global economies and military might
Price Waterhouse Coopers economic research projects that China is on course to overtake the United States and become the world’s largest economy by about 2030. China’s overtaking of the U.S. economy will be the first in a reshuffling at the top of the global order. One Harvard researcher found that when a No. 2 economy overtakes a No. 1 economy, as China will soon do, it has led to war 75 percent of the time, or 12 out of the 16 times that such a swap occurred during the last 500 years.
After China’s rise, India will then eventually overtake the United States to become the No. 2 economy, and the United States will drop to third place. By 2050, Indonesia could become the fourth largest economy in the world. These rising powers are nations with massive populations and many leaders who hold to strict interpretations of rigid ideologies, including forced Communism, fundamentalist Hinduism, and fundamentalist Islam.
Young Americans may not realize the implications of such a shuffle, but the order of global economies affects everything from reserve currencies to stock markets, trade language, global values, international allies, and world peace.
This new order of emerging superpowers will reorient the global posture because the center of power and societal values will shift away from the post–World War II “Western” nations. In what future historians may view as poetic irony, young Americans are increasingly being taught that all belief systems are equal and can coexist without conflict. And yet, they will inherit a world in which the largest, most powerful nations each believe their own ideology to be exclusive and superior. Increasingly in these societies, dissidents are jailed, Christian churches are burned, and American values like freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not exist.
Young Americans are increasingly being taught that all belief systems are equal and can coexist without conflict. And yet, they will inherit a world in which the largest, most powerful nations each believe their own ideology to be exclusive and superior.
Each of the global trends above has far-reaching ramifications. At today’s rate of change, we may be the last generation in the United States to experience the benefits of living in the world’s No. 1 economy, with the world’s most powerful military and with the economic stability that results from having the world’s preferred reserve currency.
Barring some radical change of trajectory, these trends are on course to reshape the United States and the world during the next 30 years. Acknowledging these trends forces us to choose where we will plant our hope. The book of Hebrews tells Christians that we have “a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.” These changes will present us with opportunities to move our feet of faith and to embrace our highest identity as citizens of heaven.
As Christians, we must push ourselves to think Biblically, behave as Kingdom citizens, and respond with faith in Christ, Who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Scripture describes the “sons of Issachar” as leaders who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” God has given us everything we need to be similar leaders today—if we will draw wisdom from His written Word and guidance from His indwelling Spirit.
Christians can and should develop Biblical understandings of grace and truth before the cultural storms—so if crisis crashes into our lives, we can rely on Scriptural principles rather than on human emotions. A.W. Tozer once wrote, “A scared world needs a fearless church.” We can be that fearless church if we properly anchor ourselves in God’s Word,
We can be a generation of Christians who understand where our society is headed. We can then respond with Biblical faith in God’s sovereignty and in Christ’s future return. May we prepare our children and grandchildren to love their neighbors and to thrive for Christ in this changing world.
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