Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Preying On My Mind
by Paul Walker

I remember reading a few years ago some statistics about Church attendance in Western nations. If I remember rightly, the most "churchgoing" country is, unsurprisingly, the United States of America. The country in which fewest people attend church is Holland.

These facts have preyed on my mind ever since. A selective comparison between the United States and Holland makes interesting reading.

  • Holland has fewer people below the poverty line and a smaller gap between rich and poor than the United States.

  • Healthcare is available to all in Holland, regardless of wealth. In the USA the rich have a substantial advantage when it comes to medical attention.

  • The Dutch have a low rate of violent crime, treat their criminals humanely, and have got rid of the death penalty. In America many states retain the death penalty, violent crime is rife and the prison system tends to be harsh and authoritarian.

  • I am not sure when the last time was that Holland declared war on another country. In contrast, the USA has the largest army per head of population in the Western world and has already invaded two countries in the first three years of this century.

These few contrasts leave me wondering whether there is any benefit at all in churchgoing.

It can�t have escaped notice that the only leader in the world who publicly proclaims a fully-fledged experience of conversion to Christianity, who leads his cabinet in regular prayers, and who claims to be a born-again Christian is the President of the United States.

History tells a similar story. Bavaria was once the most religious part of Germany. And yet it was there that the Nazi movement was born. Fascism developed most vigorously in the three predominantly Roman Catholic countries of the west - Italy, Spain and Portugal.

In Britain a decline in churchgoing has coincided with the growth of the welfare state, the abolition of the death penalty, the growth in equality of the sexes and an end to discrimination against homosexuals.

As churchgoing declines in the West it is grows elsewhere. Church attendance is rising in many countries of the so-called "developing world" - mainly in those evangelised by missionaries in Asia, Africa and South America. Yet it is often in these countries that crime, bribery, nepotism, and State-sponsored terror most oppress their citizens. By contrast, Western countries where people have largely ceased going to church are relatively free, peaceful and safe.

Arguments can be made against all the above. However, perhaps Christians need to ask if there is a genuine problem. Are we right to hope that the leaders of the nations will turn to Christ? Or would we do better to pray for the opposite?

Thinking about these things has made me question most of all our current obsession with evangelism. Jesus, I believe, was interested in healing people and in developing a sense of community among those who had been battered by the power structures of his time. He proclaimed a kingdom which he thought could be established in this world.

For me, if the Church has a role at all it is to first of all build this kingdom - and not primarily to attract new members.

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