Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Americanisation of Christianity

There’s no doubt about it, the world is becoming more Americanised. American products and entertainments are invading our countries, our towns and our homes. We watch American movies and television products. We eat American food and drink American drinks. Our teenagers dress like Americans and think like Americans. Here in Australia, we almost seem to be more American than Australian at times.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this Americanisation of the world is extending into religion. The fastest growing church is the Pentecostal church – which so happens to be the most American. We read American Christian books. We watch American Christian TV programs. Pastors are influenced by American teachings. And much of what Christians say or think or pass on come from American sources.

Now I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that everything that comes from America is bad. Many of the books I love have been written by American authors. And most, if not all, of the movies I love were produced in Hollywood. My two favourite bands are Bon Jovi and Switchfoot; both of them American. I drink Diet Coke as if I’d die of thirst without it. Let’s face it. One of the reasons why Americanisation is so successful is they know how to produce some good stuff. Or maybe they just produce so much stuff that some of it has to be good.

I like American products. I just don’t like Americanisation. When it comes to Americanisation of religion, I think there are some very real dangers.

Firstly, Americans – by definition – live in America. They are shaped by American culture and they speak to people who are shaped by that same culture. Admittedly, here in Australia, that translates pretty well. Our lifestyle and culture is very similar to America. But even here, there are differences. For instance, when it comes to evangelising, what works in America wouldn’t necessarily work in Australia. We don’t see things in quite the same way.

The second danger is that, when we read the same views in book after book and hear them on TV program after TV program, we may begin to think that there is a strong biblical basis for these views. Whereas, in fact, they are really only products of the American culture. We find the same views because the people are all influenced by the country they live in. American thinking is not necessarily Christian thinking.

Thirdly, when the bulk of our information about the Christian faith comes from the one country, it gives us a very narrow view of Christianity. Because our writers and speakers all live in America – and quite often are themselves influenced by other American theologians – they can have a very similar message. Basically, they say almost the same thing. Now I tend to search out books that have something new and fresh to say. But I remember when I first became a Christian, every single book I picked up seemed to talk about the same things in the same way. For a while I stopped reading Christian books. Why bother? I had heard it all before.

There’s not much we can do about the Americanisation of religion. They produce more books because they can. They have the resources to do more television programs. And even if I could, I’m not sure I would want to stop it. Maybe some of the books that wouldn’t make it to Australia would be those books that I really enjoy.

However, I challenge you to let yourselves be influenced by non-American sources. Read books written by other writers. Research Christians in other countries. Don’t let yourself believe that the American view of Christianity is the gospel truth.

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