The problem of nominal Christianity for evangelical churches was discussed at a recent Lausanne Movement conference.
Lars Dahle, a theology and journalism professor in Norway, who participated in a March 2018 Lausanne Movement conference in Rome that analyzed nominal Christianity, admitted in an interview with Evangelical Focus that the challenges begin by even trying to define the term.
“To define that was actually not as easy as it might sound. There was a growing understanding among all of us [at the conference] that this is a very complex reality, and we wanted to be fair in how we represent other people. We also wanted to be realistic, knowing that this is not just about everyone else, but also about our own church traditions within the evangelical contexts,” Dahle shared.
“And even, if I may add, something about the personal challenging dimension: to what extent do I and each one of us have an authentic life, living out the gospel, being close to Christ?”
The professor said that the five days of discussion at the Lausanne Movement’s Global Consultation conference were intense, but at the end, managed to come up with one definition of the term: “People who identify with a Christian church, or the Christian faith, but are in contradiction with basic Christian principles, with respect to becoming a Christian, Christian faith, Christian beliefs, church involvement and daily life.”
Dahle argued that one of the big problems with nominal Christianity has to do with just how much confusion there is in the church today over controversial topics.
“We wanted to be realistic about the fact that there is a lot of moral confusion going on in the name of the Christian church. One area would obviously be sexual morality: the move away from a truly biblical holistic understanding of sexuality is very obvious in many churches. And of course that has legitimized — in many people’s eyes — a new view of sexuality, because the church seems to be behind it, at least some parts of the church,” he said.
“We also mentioned prosperity theology, which is really one of the most challenging aspects in the global South at the moment for the evangelical church. There are so many local, regional churches booming, flourishing, promising heaven on earth, with a real lack of humility and integrity.”
Other topics discussed in the far-ranging interview include the decline of Christian numbers throughout the Western world; especially in Europe, as well as mistakes and damage that the church has made in spreading Christianity, such as through colonialism in Africa.
Many others, including Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas, have also warned about the pitfalls of nominal Christianity.
While looking at falling church attendances in America, in a March 2016 op-ed shared with The Christian Post, he warned that “nominal Christianity — professing Christian beliefs without committing to a church — actually makes matters worse.”
He pointed to the General Social Survey at the time, which showed that the rate of frequent church attendance has been falling over the last 40 years.
“Adherence to conservative religious beliefs without attending church regularly is associated with worse family outcomes, whereas combining adherence with regular attendance is associated with better family outcomes,” the report warned at the time.
“This may explain why single parenthood is high in Arkansas, with its many nominal Baptists, and low in Utah, with its many active Mormons.”