☞ The number of Christians in America (and one should add, elsewhere in the western world as well) is declining. This article proffers an explanation for this, using storytelling — or the use of convincing and relevant narratives — as a reason for the decline.

“These reasons for this movement [more Americans have no religious affiliation] are complex, but I want to suggest two that are critical. First the great cultural shift toward narrative rather than static concepts has left a lot of our religious language sounding irrelevant to the ways people construct their self-understanding. Many, too many, Christian churches don’t have a story to tell. They are communities of doctrines, ideologies, or even relationships whose origins are obscure and that are going nowhere.

The second critical problem is that in an age of narrative identities even those churches with a story offer one that is simply too narrow, to exclusive, to provide a realm in which a modern young person can locate his or her own complex experience.

The fundamental narrative framework of much mainline Christianity is that of conversion: from false religion to true Christianity, from personal sinfulness to redeemed holiness, from callous indifference to real commitment, from irrelevant old ways of thinking to contemporary relevance. When one joins a church one is joining a community of the converted, and joining in the story of converting the rest of the world.

But do these narratives of conversion provide a narrative framework within which younger Americans can find their own story? Generations that are comfortable drawing on many religious traditions to formulate a spiritual path can scarcely identify with the false religion/true Christianity narrative that has been central to Protestantism for 4 centuries. And at least conventional ideas of sinfulness and holiness related to culture-bound standards of moral purity seem passé. Albert Outler pointed out decades ago that the line in a 1970′s pop song characterized our age: “I don’t care what’s wrong or right, help me make it through the night.”

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