I was reminded this week of an article that appeared last December in the Guardian, entitled “Is 2008 the year the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ debate resonates?” The article concluded with this line:

While the government hopes festive spending will help deliver us out of economic gloom, the church is hoping the credit crunch will deliver us from the commercialisation of Christmas into the arms of God. Who’s your money on?

Looking back over the six months that have transpired since Christmas, the evidence as to whether or not the credit crunch has delivered us into the arms of God is doubtful at best. In fact, an article appeared last week in The Economist entitled Church Attendance In Recessions: No Rush For Pews. What caught my eye was this:

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama famously claimed that blue-collar workers in Pennsylvania clung to religion because of bitterness over lost jobs. Americans are now truly fearful, as unemployment has mounted and house prices fallen. Yet the theory that church attendance grows in times of economic crisis seems to be a myth.

The article goes on to quote Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, as saying “to guess that attendance would increase [in recessions] is a common-sense assumption with no basis in data.”

The prediction alluded to in the Guardian article has been made every time we experience a massive downturn in the economy – that the economic crisis will lead to a massive revival in Christian faith, and unfortunately, as the Economist article points out, the two have not necessarily translated.

This same prediction was widely declared during the Great Depression. But noted writer and Christian thinker Thornton Wilder said that if a true revival is to take place, then we must find “new and persuasive words to replace defaced and degraded ones” (hat tip to Dr. Paul Zahl). What Mr. Wilder was saying is that we have to reclaim the core concepts of Christianity from the kitschy phrases and concepts that have infiltrated and replaced our understanding of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and why it matters.

But I would argue the point a little differently than Mr. Wilder. I would assert that, rather than coming up with new and persuasive words, we need to reclaim the old words of our faith and a real understanding of their meaning. We don’t need to rethink what we believe, we simply need to rediscover it.