An Opportunity for Spiritual Renewal
- Friday, March 20, 2009
By now you've likely heard the headlines about the extensive research by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) describing the significant decline of religion and the rise in secularism in America.
A summary of the study by USA Today (Cathy Grossman) states, "The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely."
Experts agree that the cultural influence of Christianity is sliding as more people are describing themselves as non-religious (now at 15%). The Washington Post commented, "The only group that grew in every U.S. state since the 2001 survey was people saying they had ‘no' religion."
Mark Silk, researcher and expert on public values, helped supervise the survey. In the Washington Post he noted, "The survey substantiated several general trends already identified by sociologists: the slipping importance of denominations in America, the growing number of people who say they have ‘no' religion and the increase in religious minorities including Muslims, Mormons and such movements as Wicca and paganism."
Another Washington Post writer (Michele Boorstein) noted, "The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped dramatically over the past two decades, and those who do are increasingly identifying themselves without traditional denomination labels."
Of course, you can read the articles and watch the news stories on your own.
The Concurrent Disappearance of Truth
At this same time The Barna Research Group released another study of the "Biblical Worldview" of Americans, finding that only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview (to see Barna's definition of this and the details of his study, go to www.Barna.org - "Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years"). Among "born again Christians", fewer than one out of every five (19%) had such an outlook on life. Among the "Mosaic Generation" (ages 18 to 23) "less than one-half of one percent has a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults."
An obvious question is: "What do we do about this?" Let me weigh in with a few thoughts.
A Few Misguided Responses
There may be a few instinctive reactions that we all feel. I would not recommend the following:
Panic - While this negative news may be cause for concern, we are assured that God is still on the throne, truth ultimately triumphs over error, and light still dispels darkness. We know from history that these trends could be dramatically reversed by another spiritual awakening in our nation.
Anger - Pointing a hostile finger at atheistic writers, the government, other religions, or the anti-religious sentiment in the media as the cause of this decline is irresponsible. (Whenever we point a finger we have three pointing back at us - and our thumb pointing heavenward, reminding us of our personal accountability to God!) If anything, we must be angry at our own failure to demonstrate the glory of the gospel in ways that positively transform the culture.
Resolve - Another dose of fleshly cleverness, additional new and novel methods and mere human resolve is not in order. We have more education, money, technology, methodology, and refined technique today than at any other time in the history of the church, yet the impact of our best efforts are yielding disappointing results. We are reminded of God's clear word that it is "not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," (Zech. 4:6).
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