Blogger Trevin Wax, at his Kingdom People blog (one of the Gospel Coalition website blogs), has some interesting excerpts of a recent forum at which NYC pastor Tim Keller spoke on the increasing polarization of attitudes towards Christianity in American society:
In a recent forum, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” Tim Keller predicted moderate growth of conservative evangelicalism even as the culture at large has grown more secular. In these remarks, he explains why these trends are leading to increasing polarization:
When I say “growing moderately,” I mean that the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion is in the middle. The devout numbers have not actually gone down that much. It depends on how you read them. But basically, they are not in freefall by any means.
You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.
Keller sees the middle as having once leaned toward nominal Christianity, out of a sense of respect, tradition, or for social reasons. He says:
It used to be that the devout and the mushy middle ”” nominal Christians, people that would identify as Christians, people who would come to church sporadically, people who certainly respect the Bible and Christianity ”” the devout and the mushy middle together was a super majority of people who just created a kind of “Christian-y” sort of culture.
The mushy middle used to be more identified with the devout. Now it’s more identified with the secular. That’s all.
What does this mean for conservative Christians? Keller uses the analogy of an umbrella:
So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth. I spoke on Friday morning to the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.
What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.