Ross Douthat had an interesting op-ed and book review in Sunday’s edition of the NYTs. Quoted in part:
Thanks in part to this bunker mentality, American Christianity has become what [James Davison Hunter author of To Change the World] calls a “weak culture” — one that mobilizes but doesn’t convert, alienates rather than seduces, and looks backward toward a lost past instead of forward to a vibrant future. In spite of their numerical strength and reserves of social capital, he argues, the Christian churches are mainly influential only in the “peripheral areas” of our common life. In the commanding heights of culture, Christianity punches way below its weight.
… . But both books come around to a similar argument: this month’s ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.
Full editorial here. The authors of these books, which I haven’t read, attribute the waning influence of institutional Christianity to the 1960s cultural revolution and the politicization of Christianity in the “culture wars.” While these certainly played roles in how Americans view church, I believe that over the past century the academic and cultural elite’s cozy relations with humanist and materialist worldviews (e.g. Communism and “amoeba to man” evolutionary dogma), assaults in academic Christology (e.g. the Jesus Seminar and “modern” liberal theology), and rampant consumerism played more prominently in marginalizing the church and pushing the West toward a post-Christian culture.