James Davison Hunter in his book “To Change The World” focuses his attention on the inability of American Christianity to have an impact on modern culture due to its fragmentation. He spends the first portion of the book listing research and opinion to establish that culture is not changed on an individual basis. Cultural change happens from the top-down, instead of from the bottom-up, which is what is commonly proposed.

“I argued that the potential for world-changing is greatest when networks of elites in overlapping fields of culture and overlapping spheres of social life come together with their varied resources and act in common purpose. Is there a possibility of finding common purpose in American Christianity today?” (page 91)

He argues that American Christianity lacks the necessary solidarity to actually engage and change culture and the world.

“Different people will have different opinions on the matter. Politics has been a realm that has generated some defensive unity among some parts of the Christian community. For example, family law and edge-of-life issues have been sources of political solidarity among conservative Catholics, Evangelicals, and the Reformed. Social justice issues have been the source of political solidarity among their progressive counterparts. Yet apart from politics in these areas, fragmentation seems to be a much more prominent tendency. Clearly there are ways in which the history of Christianity can be told through the history of its divisions and this has not abated in our time. Insofar as Christianity has aspires to maintain certain continuities through time, fragmentation is as much of a challenge as it has ever been.” (page 92)

He then identifies some of the areas that American Christianity has been weakened by the prevailing culture.

“A second matter in this regard, concerns the strong indications that for all the deep belief, the genuine piety, the heroic faith, and the good intention one finds all across American Christianity today, large swaths have been captured by the spirit of the age…Consumerism, individualism, the therapeutic and managerial ideologies have gone far to undermine the authority of the Christian movement and its traditions. The problem is especially acute among the young, where, as Christian Smith observes, a ‘moralistic, therapeutic deism’ has triumphed over historical creedal faith and practice.”(page 92)

He finishes off this startling assessment with this.

One can debate the degree to which fragmentation and acculturation have some to characterize American Christianity but even the most optimistic assessment would lead one to conclude that Christianity in America is only marginalized as a culture but it is also a very weak culture. For all of the vitality and all the good intention among Christian believers, the whole(in terms of its influence in the larger political economy of cultural production) is significantly less than the sum of its parts. And thus the idea that American Christianity could influence the larger culture in ways that are healthy and humane is, for the time being, doubtful.” (page 92)

This is quite a scathing indictment on the current state of American Christianity. I am one of the often guilty members who chooses to focus on the differences present between believers. This does nothing to change the weakened status of the movement as a whole. We must do better!

While the focus of this series of quotes is on the American church only. I would be very interested to hear from readers outside the US to see if this is noticeable to you in your local church.