Tuesday, 07 July 2015 15:48

Not Called to the Middle

Written by  Bob Crittendon
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Pew Research has released a massive new study on religious affiliation that has been opening eyes since its release in May. The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey included some 35,000 respondents.

The summary on the Pew website highlights what might be considered the “lead story” on the results: While the U.S. is still home to more Christians than any other country in the world and just over 7-out-of-10 Americans identify with some branch of the Christian faith, the survey shows that the percentage of adults 18 and up who identify themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly 8 percent since 2007 - from 78.4% then to 70.6% now.  This drop in the Christian category is primarily among mainline Protestants and Catholics.


Another of the headlines is that the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion has risen - from 16.1 to 22.8 percent. Those identifying with non-Christian faiths rose from 4.7 to 5.9 over the last 7 years, with the most significant growth among Muslims and Hindus.


There have been quite a few stories related to the survey, and I want to highlight some analysis.  Christianity Today offered an extensive article on its website.  It makes note of the stability of evangelicals, recognizing that over the last 7 years, about one in 4 adults have identified with that category, losing less than one percent of their share of the population and preserving their status as the nation’s largest religious group.  All in all, there are more evangelicals in America today than 2007, adding more than 2 million people to their ranks, while so-called mainline churches lost 5 million people.


CT also noted the popularity of the “evangelical” label.  It notes that Christians are more likely to consider themselves “born-again” or evangelical. Half of self-identified Christians described themselves this way in 2014, up from 44 percent in 2007. This includes 72 percent of those in historically black Protestant churches, up from 67 percent in 2007.


Those are just some of the many findings of the survey.  What is its significance?


First of all, we can be reminded that the life of a disciple is a life of distinction, and we can be challenged to live out our faith in a culture that doesn’t seem to embrace Christianity as it once did.  In Luke 14:26-27, we see that even though the crowds were following Him, Jesus issued the call to a more devoted life: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (NKJV)


We can also see that these results indicate opportunity - to reach out to those identified as not being affiliated with any religion and to demonstrate and communicate the love of Christ and the truth of the gospel.


According to a Baptist Press article, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said: “The results of the survey communicate growing evidence that the greatest need in America is a spiritual awakening,” adding, “The time is now and the hour is urgent; our churches in this nation must come together in clear agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer for the next Great Awakening and to reach America and the World for Christ.”


One of those distinct areas of opportunity is within the so-called Millennial generation.  There is also the reminder that those who have children, teens, even young adults, in their families can be motivated to share their faith principles.


A polarization is taking place, and there is the indication of a decline in the middle - those identifying as “born-again” Christians are on the rise, plus there are more “nones.”


Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research points out in a Christianity Today piece that:


Christianity isn’t dying and no research says it is; the statistics about Christians in America are simply starting to show a clearer picture of what American Christianity is becoming—less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture.


For example, the cultural cost of calling yourself “Christian” is starting to outweigh the cultural benefit, so those who do not identify as a “Christian” according to their convictions are starting to identify as “nones” because it’s more culturally savvy.


Perhaps this survey can communicate to us that none of us should be counted in the “nominal” category - the Bible doesn’t teach a cultural Christianity that emphasizes blending in; no, Biblical Christianity calls us to stand out, to be different, and perhaps even to face suffering because of our faith.  We are not called to go along, but to go into the world and make a difference.




Last modified on Monday, 13 July 2015 15:52
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