I have been, and always will be, a nerd. In high school, I was the homeschooler sitting in the corner who enjoyed drawing more than socializing. At camp, I was the one dressed in camo instead of designer jeans. And I was that annoying kid who corrected everyone’s pronunciation of names of Star Wars characters. It's pronounced Princess "Lay-a" not "Lee-a."
Needless to say, I was not popular.
That all changed in 2003, the year when all eyes were looking towards December 17th, the day when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would finally grace our theater screens. At that time I was deep into all things Tolkien and thus for that one year I was “popular.” Everyone loved The Lord of the Rings movies, so when my nerdy-ness showed they didn’t laugh or get annoyed. It was actually considered kind of awesome.
But then my social bliss came to an abrupt end. After the final movie came out, it wasn't cool to be a Lord of the Rings fan anymore. Soon I went back to being the kid who sat in the corner with my drawings while wishing for the bygone days of when I was cool.
So why tell you this story of my adolescence? Well, in many ways Christianity is like Lord of the Rings fandom. There have been periods throughout history and all over the world when being a Christian was popular. Even just a few years ago most people in America would have said they go to church on a regular basis and consider themselves a Christian. We've all heard the statistic that roughly 70% of this country is Christian. Yet one has to ask: If that many people are Christians, why is American culture becoming more and more unbiblical?
In a recent study done by Barna Group, it was found that 13% of Generation Z (Those born after 1999, our current teen population) consider themselves atheists. Christianity Today also recently featured an article discussing how Gen Z could be considered a "post-Christian" generation.
How did this happen? How did we go from a quintessentially “Christian” society to an upcoming generation that has very little knowledge or reverence of the Bible and what it says? I would submit that it is because Christianity, much like The Lord of the Rings after 2003, is no longer popular.
Matthew 7:13-14 says, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jesus emphasizes in this teaching that the faithful who choose the difficult way are few. One might ask, “Why do there have to be few? Why can't the way to life be wide?” This speaks to the concept of difficulty and cost.
Catholic Youtuber Brian Holdsworth sums this up perfectly in his video "The Reason Christianity is Dying in the West”. In the video, Brian talks about how we tend to place more value on something that costs us greatly. He talks about this in reference to the Catholic Church, but also as it applies to Christianity in general. He says that, as we try to reduce the cost of being a Christian in order to draw people in, we actually make things worse because we are presenting a religion that isn’t real and doesn’t impact lives. As a result, people don’t value the gospel like they should.
In other words, the way isn’t narrow because there isn’t enough room for everyone; the way is narrow because there is a cost and only those who are committed will stay the course. Yet that cost makes what we pursue all the more valuable and worth the effort.
However, there is a bright side to all of this. When I meet Tolkien fans now and hear them talk about their love of the movies and books, I know they are legitimate fans.
Because it isn't popular to be a Lord of the Rings fan anymore, I know their passion is not fake. The same could be said for Christianity in the next few years.
Yes, if things continue as they are, our churches won't be as full as they used to be. But those who do come will be there because they are passionate and committed to growing the Church, not followers of a watered-down faith.
Yes, our young people will not be attending Bible study in droves, but those who do attend will be truly hungry for the Word and not just following the crowd.
And yes, our culture may continue to decline, but those who stand for truth in the days to come will be the real deal. They won’t stand for Christ because everyone else is doing it. They will stand because they love Jesus. That kind of devotion is unshakable. The removal of popularity makes way for committed followers who, I pray, with God’s help, can usher in a new awakening in our country where the gospel is fresh, powerful, and life-changing.
I realize this analogy of fandom and faith is a bit loose. However, the point I’m trying to make is this: the 70% haven’t really changed, they have just become more honest with us. Just like those who claimed to be hardcore fans when the movies came out were revealed to be crowd followers, watered-down faith (the easy to swallow/popular faith) is not real. Difficulty, instead of ease, forces us to work harder to focus on Christ, and through this tribulation we find perseverance that draws us closer to our true hope (Romans 5:3-5). In the end, it makes us stronger. Those who remain committed when the wave of popularity is gone are proven to be steadfast, refined as silver to bring them to fulfillment (Psalm 66:10-12).
So even though the days of popularity may be gone, let us look forward and not backward. Let us plant our feet and stand firm in the Truth. Because years from now when all the fans and fair-weather followers are gone, I will still love The Lord of the Rings mythology, and I will still follow Christ. No matter what.