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  • Writer's pictureLES HENSON

The Decline of Western Christianity

Les Henson

As God's people living in Australia at the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in an environment that is decidedly anti-Christian in its values, presuppositions and ideas. It is a world that is clearly post-Christian. Christianity is no longer at the centre of what is happening in the world today. Instead, it is on the periphery of things that appear to matter in society. The church and God's people rarely seem to engage the world in any meaningful way. Instead, we are isolated and cut off from the world. Many Christian people live fragmented, almost schizophrenic lives. What they do on Sunday seems to have very little meaning or relevance for what they do during the rest of the week.

Now I understand that what I have stated is somewhat of a generalisation and that generalisations are generally untrue. However, there is enough truth in this generalisation that we should be gravely concerned. The fact is that God's people in Western society have not always been so marginalised, nor so disengaged from the action. There was a period in Western civilisation when the church was at the centre of the action and world engaging. In the nineteenth century in the wake of the evangelical revival, Christian men and women were at the centre of reform in almost every area of life – slavery, prisons, education, trade unions, etc.

Until recently, Christian ethics and morality were foundational to the Western nations. However, the ideologies came out of the Enlightenment; namely, secularism, materialism, humanism, rationalism, pluralism, naturalism, existentialism, nihilism and hedonism have chipped away at our Western Christian heritage until it is no longer accepted in the public arena. Likewise, the liberalism and fundamentalist debate of the 20s and the resultant social gospel debate of the 30s has so weakened Western Christianity as a united front that it has been unable to combat the pressure of the enlightenment ideologies. To add to this, modern methods of evangelism have resulted in easy believe-ism have also damaged the church's ability to withstand outside pressures. More recently, the growth of postmodernism as a secular reaction to and a by-product of the Enlightenment as finally put to rest the idea of Christendom. Thus, we have entered the post-Christian era where the church and God's people have moved to the periphery of a society that mostly sees us as irrelevant. Consequently, it is now time to re-adventure with God and discover new creative ways of engaging society and communicating the gospel. The periphery is always an excellent place to start anew in doing mission, particularly in this post-everything world.

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