The words on page 74-75 of Kinnaman & Lyon’s book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … and Why It Matters, jump off the page at me every time I read them:
The opportunities that outsiders have to hear about Christ and know Christians are nothing short of astounding [in the United States]. For nearly two decades, the Barna team has been exploring church participation among American teenagers. We consistently find that the vast majority of teenagers nationwide will spend a significant amount of their teen years participating in a Christian congregation. Most teenagers in America enter adulthood considering themselves to be Christians and saying they have made a personal committment to Christ. But with a decade, most of these young people will have left the church and will have placed emotional connection to Christianity on the shelf. For most of them, their faith was merely skin deep. This leads to the sobering finding that the vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals.
In spite of the fact that many of them are currently disconnected from a church, most Americans, including two-thirds of all adult Mosaics and Busters (65 percent), tell us that they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point in their life. This is slightly lower than the percent of older adults who have made such a commitment (73 percent). This is an amazing fact about our culture. The vast majority of Americans, regardless of age, assert they have already made a significant decision to follow Christ!
Of course, this raises the question of the depth of their faith. If that many Americans have made a decision to follow Jesus, our culture and our world would be revolutionized if they simply lived that faith. It is easy to embrace a costless form of Christianity in America today, and we have probably contributed to that by giving people a superficial understanding of the gospel and focusing only on their decision to convert.
At Barna, we employ dozens of tools to assess the depth of a person’s faith. Let me suggest one for our discussion: a biblical worldview. A person with a biblical worldview experiences, interprets, and responds to reality in light of the Bible’s principles. What Scripture teaches is the primary grid for making decisions and interacting with the world. For the purposes of our research, we investigate a biblical worldview based on eight elements.
A person with a biblical worldview believes that …
- Jesus Christ lived a sinless life.
- God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules today.
- Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned.
- Satan is real.
- A Christian has a responsiblity to share his or her faith in Christ with other people.
- The Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.
- Unchanging moral truth exists.
- Such moral truth is defined by the Bible.
In our research, we have found that people who embrace these eight components live a substantially different faith from other Americans – indeed, from other believers. What we believe influences our choices.
Getting back to the issue of spiritual depth, if two-thirds of young adults have made a commitment to Jesus before, how many do you think possess a biblical worldview? Our research shows only 3 percent of Busters and Mosaics embrace these eight elements. That is just one out of every twenty-two young adults who have made a committment to Christ. (Although older adults are more likely to have such a perspective, it is also a small slice – only 9 percent – who do).
This means that out of ninety-five million Americans who are ages eighteen to forty-one, about sixty million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important; however, only about three million of them have a biblical worldview.
Wow – those numbers are shocking!
Quantifiable research done over the course of many years including hundreds of thousands of interviews has enlightened us to this: the vast majority of young adults living in America today who claim to be following Jesus don’t have a grasp of the most basic Christian doctrines.
The eight elements listed do not comprehensively paint a picture of a disciple of Christ, but they do represent many of the basics.
After reading UnChristian for the first time a couple of years ago, I set a goal to do my best to make sure those learning from me adopt a biblical worldview. Meeting this goal takes intentionality. Before I simply assumed most people who’d been part of my church for a while (barring brand new Christians) understood the basics. I’ve since learned it’s a mistake to assume too much – one I doubt I’ll make again anytime soon.
I’m interested in hearing from others …
Do these numbers shock you? Are any of these eight topics ever tackled at your church? Have any of you come up with a teaching strategy to instill a biblical worldview in others? What’s missing from this list that needs to be added?
Love to hear your thoughts.