"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity."
Before judging Lennon harshly, especially for those who have come across these words for the first time, he later said that he did not approve of that much popularity, and could as easily have said "television is more popular than Jesus now" as "we're"-presumably the Beatles - "more popular, etc." More importantly, he said over and over again that he was talking only about his native country, England, and nowhere else. (In fact, three years later he said, "I'm one of Christ's biggest fans, and if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ's message, then that's what we're here to do." Sadly, his understanding of that message appears to have been terribly muddled.) That he was naive, and honest almost to the point of psychosis, is also to be weighed among other factors, such as having, in cognitive terms, an earliest memory of German planes in the sky over Liverpool, the harsh whistle of falling bombs and ground-shaking explosions while his mother, in a state of panic, rushed him to the closest bomb shelter. Added to an IQ known to have been well above genius level, and a lifetime of artistic endeavor, he was predestined not to be boring. This complicated man died, quite tragically murdered, in 1980, having said the same day that he was a "Zen Christian." He left us confused about his meaning, as always.
The element of truth
The real problem about what John Lennon said in 1966 is not what so many were quick to assume, as expressed in knee jerk reaction. The real problem is the element of truth in what he said. The Beatles were more popular than the Lord Himself among youth in England, as was Frank Sinatra among an older set of Americans, as is television, as are video games, and as are many things of this world to very many people. The eccentric artist spoke all too accurately.
As another man, also named John, wrote centuries earlier about Jesus Christ: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." (John 1:10)
Another problem with John Lennon's statement in 1966, when read in America, was that a thing called religion was still a necessary element of respectability. "Good people" went to the church of their choice, whether or not they believed. It was expected, and not bad for business. But, throughout Europe and England, the decline had set in. The only people going to church anymore were those who went for a reason deeper than mere respectability (as had Lennon himself until, as a teenager, a "bad vicar" of the C of E banned him from coming back to his church because he had laughed during a service).
Post Christian cultures
However, America has become very much like Europe where religion is concerned. Forty percent of American children, according to a Washington Times report last year, are now born out of wedlock. And, the good news for them is that they were spared the ravages of the abortion holocaust to be born at all. Meanwhile, Christianity is constantly growing in Africa, including growth among Continuing Anglicans, even though many African Christians live with persecution. What they have going for them is the joy of their faith and belief that the Holy Spirit is the One who still breathes life into the Church everyday.
About Europe I have written before in Touchstone:*
"We know the story of the Prodigal Son, and its message of repentance and forgiveness. The opening of the story focuses on the beginning of his fall, the waste of his inheritance, by which he is known forever. Prodigality in this case was about extravagance, and the satisfaction of lusts.
"It seems that another kind of prodigality can take hold of people, just as wasteful and disrespectful of a father’s labor. It is the throwing away of a valuable inheritance in return for nothing at all, as if it were, itself, spent on the husks that the swine did eat rather than on something alluring. This kind of prodigality is the waste and ruin of modern Europe."*
And so also of modern America.
But, for those of us living in what may be described as post Christian cultures, we need to see our position in terms of an opportunity. Is it really Christianity that has declined, or is it the respectability of religion? If it is the latter, then perhaps we may become better acquainted with the cross of Christ as a result, just as our persecuted brethren are acquainted with it in a different way. Should we approach the decline of respectable religion as a disaster or as an opportunity? Considering that we are stuck with the decline as a fact on the ground, let us take the opportunity, namely the opportunity for evangelism in terms that cannot help but have authenticity because only genuine and sincere believers bother.
Of course, we have seen the dangers also, that some resist the decline by altering the Christian Faith into something that an unbelieving culture might still treat as respectable. These are the ones who think to create a new and improved Christianity, by their amoral/immoral standards, and by strange doctrines. That, too, we cannot remove from the picture.
The decline is very real, and therefore so is the opportunity.