Yesterday, I read two reports that should remind us what are the most important issues are today. The first survey (conducted by Barna Group) addresses Christians in general (does not specify evangelicals, Protestant, Catholic, etc.), and the second addresses teenagers (conducted by LifeWay research). Let’s begin with the adults.
The article reports, “Less Americans embrace a traditional view of God and Bible reading is becoming less popular, a new study revealed.” The study, conducted in January 2007, breaks down accordingly:
- 66% of Americans believe that God is best described as “the all-powerful, all-knowing perfect Creator of the universe who rules the world today”
- 45% believe that “the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches”
- 37% strongly disagree that Jesus sinned
- 29% have greater reluctance to explain their faith to other people
- 27% have a willingness to reject good works as a means to personal salvation
- 24% strongly reject the idea that Satan is not a real spiritual being
Now I don’t want to provide too much commentary and make this a really long post, but notice that 2/3 of Americans do not disagree that Jesus sinned, and 7 out of 10 believe that good works are essential to personal salvation. That enough should inform us why theology matters in our evangelistic practices! Now let’s look at what the survey said about what they do:
- 83% of Americans identified as Christians
- 49% of them described themselves as absolutely committed to Christianity
- 83% saying they prayed in the last week
- 43% attending a church service
- 20% participating in a small group
- 41% said they read the Bible outside of church worship services in a typical week
Again, while 83% consider themselves Christians, (1) only 49% describe themselves as “absolutely committed to Christianity”, (2) 43% regularly attend a church service, and (3) 41% read their Bible outside of church worship services. Could it be that perhaps the reason that only 41% don’t read their Bible is because 55% don’t believe it is “accurate”? Could it be that the reason why there is a 40% difference between those who call themselves Christians and those who attend church regularly is because that 40% (if not more) are unregenerate?
The conclusion of David Kinnaman who directed the study said:
“While an overwhelming majority the nation’s population claim they are Christian, only half of the adults can name one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and most Americans do not know the first book in the Bible (Genesis).” . . . “[Christians] lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith. Millions of Americans say they are personally committed to Jesus Christ, but they believe he sinned while on earth. Many believers claim to trust what the Bible teaches, but they reject the notion of a real spiritual adversary or they feel that faith-sharing activities are optional. Millions feel personally committed to God, but they are renegotiating the definition of that deity.”
Now let’s look at teenagers. This study took place during January and February 2007 with a sample of 1,000 teenagers (12-19 years old). Like the previous survey, LifeWay begins with what teenagers believe and later addresses what they practice (or not practice).
What teenagers believe:
- 69% of teens believe heaven exists
- 53% Jesus Christ’s death for their sins as the reason they will go to heaven
- 27% trust in their own kindness to others
- 26% trust in their religiosity as their means to get to heaven
Again, like the adults, teenagers who believe they are going to heaven do not understand salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In the end, they attribute their salvation to something they have done and not resting in the finished work of Christ.
What teenagers practice (in last 30 days):
- 54% have attended a church or religious service
- 20% attended Sunday School
- 39% respondents said they had prayed regularly
- 14% said they had read the Bible
This survey looks even more alarming as less than half who attend church do not attend a Bible study or Sunday School. Even worse, of the 53% who say they are going to heaven because of Jesus dying for them, only 14% have read their Bible in the last month. Where are teenagers getting the idea that their salvation is a product of good works?
“The central theme of Christianity is the person and work of Jesus Christ -– His death and resurrection,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, adding, “It is surprising that only about half the teenagers who attended a Christian church in the last month are depending solely on the grace of Jesus Christ to get to heaven.”
If there is one thing we can learn from this is that American Christianity by and large is biblically illiterate, theologically ignorant, and ecclesiologically unfaithful. That is, professing Christianity. I suspect that such nominal Christianity does not exist where your throat is sliced for reading the Bible on Easter Sunday or when your tongue is cut out for speaking the name of Jesus. God help us to bring gravitas to what it means to be Christian in America.