Much has been written and discussed about this year’s Pew
Research Center poll, America’s
Changing Religious Landscape, and I’ve
also weighed in on the findings. The percentage of adults (ages 18 and
older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight
percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. When
statistics like these are released, it’s tempting to panic and respond without
properly examining the trends. The devil is always in the details, however, and
a careful analysis of the data ought to energize rather than discourage us. Opportunities
abound, and the
case for Christianity is more important than ever.
While more and more people say they no longer identify as
Christians, the ranks of atheists and agnostics are not growing in equal percentages.
During the same seven year span, as Christian affiliation dropped by 7.8%,
those claiming an atheist affiliation only grew by 1.5%. So where did all the
Christians go? They went to the ranks of those claiming no affiliation with any established Christian denomination or belief
system (a category affectionately called, “the nones”). Importantly, those who no longer claim a Christian attachment,
have not yet jumped in with the atheists or agnostics. They haven’t even jumped
in with other religious groups (such as Jewish, Muslim or other believers). This
is an important reality for all of us who seek to make the case for
Christianity. We sometimes mistakenly think our culture is becoming more and
more atheistic. It isn’t. Instead, it’s
simply becoming less and less Christian.
People are not nearly as resistant to the existence of God
as the more liberal, atheistic media would like us to believe. In fact, 92.9%
of the country rejects atheism and is open to the existence of God in one form
or another. We are a country of theists, even though we might be divided on
which form of theism (or deism) is true. That’s why the case for Christianity
is more important than ever.
Those who believe in the existence of God, yet reject Christianity,
can still be reached for Christ. I sometimes think this group of “nones” has rejected
their experience in the Church rather
than their belief in Jesus. That may
simply be a reflection of the sad, non-evidential nature of the Church rather
than a reflection of the strong evidential nature of Christianity. Some of
those who have left our ranks may never have heard anything about the evidence
supporting the Christian worldview in all the years they were attending church
with us. My own anecdotal experience, as I speak at churches around the country,
supports this uncomfortable hypothesis. Most churches are still uninterested in
making the case for Christianity, while more and more Christians want to know why Christianity is true.
Now is the time to make the case for the reliability
of the New Testament, the historicity
of Jesus and the reasonable
inference of the Resurrection. People are still hovering in the “nones”
category, open to the existence of God, but skeptical of their past experience
in Christianity. Now is the time to show them a new way forward and a
reasonable path to belief. The reasonable, evidential case for Christianity is
more important than ever.