How do we “bend the curve” in the trend away from Christianity?


#1

I have done a lot of study of survey’s that show the declining trend towards Christianity, replaced by “Unaffiliated.” For the last 50 years, the biggest losses were in the Catholic and Mainstream Protestant groups. However, those have leveled out and in the last 5 years the big losses are among Evangelicals, especially among young people who were raised Christian. According to the data, many believe “Christianity is anti-science.”

It seems to me that if we don’t stop this trend, Christianity will become increasingly irrelevant. Some people say that each generation of young people has this tendency to drift away, but they come back, especially when they start having children. However, while maybe a little of that will happen this time it’s a much deeper issue. Young people are learning about evolution and science in school - especially college. It’s clear to them (unless they go to a Christian school) that mainstream science is not only not buying ‘young-earth creationism’ or even ‘old-earth creationism,’ but they look pretty foolish promoting that. Growing numbers are leaving the faith.

So how do we ‘bend the curve’ away from these losses? We need to show these young people that it is not an ‘either or’ situation - there are increasing numbers of Christians who believe in evolution and Christianity or other approaches that do not insist on rejecting evolution. BioLogos is certainly a great site for that. But even more, I think that they need to be able to find social connections with others who share those kinds of beliefs. But there are not many Christian college groups for them. Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and most other evangelical groups cannot promote evolutionary creationism without alienating their giving base. I think there needs to be groups where they can meet, socialize, encourage each other, deepen their faith, form friendships, and maybe even find romantic relationships.

Personally, I am determined to do what I can. I have just completed a new website, scienceandfaith.org that is designed to help people who are searching for truth, regardless of what background they come from. It’s a site that you can suggest to others who are looking for more complete unbiased information that allows them to figure it out on their own. I’d love to connect with others who want to help in this kind of effort (which could include posting blogs or even collaborating/partnering in the effort) or maybe can help in the development of the types of groups that I mentioned.

What do you think about this? Perhaps you have other ideas for bending the curve?


ID Censors Their Own
(James McKay) #2

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we need to be much more outspoken about the need for honesty and integrity in how we, as Christians, approach science and handle scientific evidence.

We need to frame the debate in those terms as well. If you try to argue for evolution or an ancient earth, you’ll just get the shutters up. Argue for honesty and integrity, and you’ll get an agreement, at least in principle. Then show them what honesty and integrity means in practice, and give some examples of where it fails. Such as the reporting of the RATE project, for example.

We need to forcefully make the point that we need to get the Travis Perkins sawmill out of our own eyes before we can take the plank out of the “evolutionists’” eyes.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

This is one of those curious phrases that contains the seeds of its own contradiction (given what Christianity is supposed to be). Think of it this way. If somebody was in a burning house, would the arrival of firetrucks at the scene be a matter of irrelevance to them? It could be, if the fire had already been put out, all people and property safe, and they really don’t want any expensive water damage or broken doors added to their woes). That would indeed be a happy circumstance! Everybody (including the first responders themselves!) would wish that their presence at a scene had been reduced to a matter of irrelevance, and be happy if it actually had become unnecessary.

So bring this to Christianity. We are a lost and broken people, slaves to sin, and in desperate need of God’s saving grace through Christ. The only way this could ever be irrelevant would be if it weren’t true. But even if true, people (especially rich or self-sufficient people) may think it irrelevant if they have sufficiently drugged themselves with their materialist opiates so as to temporarily suspend any intelligent self-reflection about their abject slavery. But in the end, the only way Christ can be irrelevant is if we’re wrong about him being God visiting us in the flesh and saving us from our sin. And if we are wrong on that, then any irrelevance would itself become … irrelevant.

I know … numbers and polls can be worrisome. I hear you. Keep in mind though, Christ followers have thrived as minority (even tiny fringe) groups to the mainstream. In fact some might say that it has been political power and wealth that has proven the more seductive enemy to our faith. If people are falling away, it may be cause to wonder how committed they were in the first place. And whatever changes are coming, whether through establishments or despite them, we of all people have the greatest cause for hope in the future, because we know that God’s hand is always in it. May we able to do joyful work in that hope, as well as resting in it. Unless the Lord builds the house, they that labor do so in vain. And one could also add … if the Lord is the one building a house, any that oppose it, multitudes though they be, oppose it in vain.


(Jon) #4

We need to pay attention to the surveys explaining why young people leave. Anti-science rhetoric from YECs and other creationists like IDers is just one reason. There are others.


#5

Sound right to me.


#6

Yeah, I agree. I’ve done quite a bit of research into those studies. Some of the things things you alluded to, we can’t realistically expect to impact, but when students are transitioning to college, they are ready for change. If they feel that Christianity isn’t confined to certain beliefs that are very contrary to science, they can make the efforts to move towards a new kind of Christianity - not so based on culture, tradition, and the like and more based a dynamic relationship and the type of small groups I mentioned, which are which I think is what church is supposed to be.


(Jon) #7

The Barna Group has a wealth of important data on this issue.


#8

Yes, they do a lot of important surveys.


(Christy Hemphill) #9

If you look closely at Barna group questions though, it becomes easy to see why they are getting such seemingly disturbing numbers when they survey millennials or any other generation that more closely identifies with a postmodern worldview, because many of their questions are really biased to modern categories and vocabulary. Read between the lines of the following paragraph to see what they are calling “orthodox.” I don’t have the source at the moment, but one time I went through and read a whole survey and was annoyed. I wouldn’t count as having a biblical worldview by Barna standards because the way they talk about truth and the way they characterize the Bible is off-putting to me in its black and whiteness. And I’m Gen X, not even a millennial, so I can only imagine they would have even more problem with the wordings.

"When it comes to Scripture, practicing Christian Millennials—self-identified Christians who attend church at least once a month and who describe their religious faith as very important to their life—are quite orthodox and continue to hold the Bible in very high regard. In fact, nearly all of them believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life (96%). The same proportion claim the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God (96%). Among these young adults, a plurality say, “The Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word” (46%); an additional four in 10 agree it is divinely inspired and has no errors, though “some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal” (39%); and 11% say the Bible is the inspired word of God, “but has some factual or historical errors.” https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/687-millennials-and-the-bible-3-surprising-insights#.VyAtcfkrLIU


(Jon) #10

Yes I understand what you’re saying here, but if we talk about their research into why young people leave, we have the young people giving their own reasons. I’m less interested in their assessments of the extent to which other Christians are “orthodox” as measured by the Barna standard of “orthodoxy”.

As for these results…

"When it comes to Scripture, practicing Christian Millennials—self-identified Christians who attend church at least once a month and who describe their religious faith as very important to their life—are quite orthodox and continue to hold the Bible in very high regard. In fact, nearly all of them believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life (96%). The same proportion claim the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God (96%). Among these young adults, a plurality say, “The Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word” (46%); an additional four in 10 agree it is divinely inspired and has no errors, though “some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal” (39%); and 11% say the Bible is the inspired word of God, “but has some factual or historical errors.”

…what I see here is a lot of young people being set up for a future collision between reality and their religious beliefs.


#11

Mervin,
Well spoken, but the fact is that we are losing sizable portions of younger generations and I think unnecessarily. While there are things that we can’t do much about, I feel that we have a chance with a fair amount of young people who are in transition. My efforts have been listed, but surely there is more that can be done. I see too many people who care about giving their children or every advantage they can muster, but they don’t seem very concerned about their spiritual in regard to helping prepare them for the science issues that will come up. Maybe they feel powerless or maybe they are too stuck in their traditions or maybe they horse is mostly out of the barn before they realize it. To be sure, some parents really don’t have that strong of beliefs themselves and so it doesn’t mean much to them or their children.

Young Christians today have not had much opportunity to hear about BioLogos and other options (including my site). It would be great if there were efforts to help spread the word on campuses. And there could be more promotion on the college campuses. Those things would be good steps,that could make a difference with some - but without campus groups where they can be with like-minded fellow students, I don’t think it will make that make much of a difference in the long run. I think the STEAM efforts mentioned on BioLogos is making some efforts in that direction, but I think there really needs to be a national group that takes this on.

Maybe it seems like there’s not much most of the people here can do, but I suspect that most of us could do some things, if we cared about it much…


(Christy Hemphill) #12

I guess all I’m saying is that they may be the only/primary ones providing valuable survey data, but I don’t really trust their analysis of it. I’d rather read someone else telling me what it means for the future of the church.


(Christy Hemphill) #13

Did you see this post on Chris’s blog: http://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/learning-from-young-people-about-science-and-faith-an-interview-with-andy-root

Andy Root and Dan Kimball are pretty big names.


(Jon) #14

Well at least they’re providing the data, so others can analyze it. Regardless of their views of the data, I think it’s an unavoidable conclusion that young people are leaving the church and that church environments are largely to blame, rather than external factors. Several other studies from independent sources have said the same.


#15

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

Amen to that, Doug. I didn’t mean my response to be any sort of discouragement for the work you are already doing. BTW, you may have been too modest to provide an actual link to your new site, but I’m not. It looks very good --what I’ve seen of it so far in my short perusal.

And maybe this is in there somewhere and I just didn’t find it; but do you think you’ll be making a place for comments? I know that doing so inevitably means you’ll attract lots of trolls, but one doesn’t initiate valuable community fellowship without rubbing elbows with everybody. Not that you need to have that as a prerequisite for good work. It does open up all sorts of potential problems as I’m sure moderators around here could elaborate. I look forward to reading more deeply into your material soon.


#17

Marvin,
Thanks for your comments. Actually I kind of thought I had provided a post, but clearly did not. Thanks for yours and I will spell it out again: www.scienceandfaith.org.

And there is a page, called “Join Us” where people can comment. And while I’m not prepared to have a moderated discussion or non-moderated posts, I am interested in having others’ posts (even those who espouse views that are not necessarily mine) when it doesn’t hurt the quality of the site.


#18

@Christy, @Jonathan_Burke
I really appreciate the information you each have provided. I had seen the earlier Barna study and I actually read the book, You Lost Me and used some of the key reasons for youth leaving active Christianity in the 2nd screen of my home page. I agree that reading through the lines it seems rather slanted towards a very conservative evangelical view. Also, for the most part, they did not survey much from today’s generation of 15-25 year olds, even though this is the time of the biggest losses among evangelicals. I did not know about the 2014 Barna study. It seems to be saying that those millennials who continue to be active in the faith have a ‘high view’ of scripture, but nevertheless about half do not believe that the Bible should be taken literally word for word and 39% make allowances for symbolism in the Bible. Unfortunately, it did not seem to show anything about ‘lapsed’ Christians or even those who attend church less than once a month - a very important group, it seems to me.

I also fascinated by the Andy Root link, and went to his website where I’m reading his white paper. He and the STEAM group seem to acknowledge and are concerned about the fact that churches and youth ministers are not inclined to bring the science and faith reconciliation approach that is represented by BioLogos into their youth ministries in a significant way. That is why I think there has to be a new national college ministry which isn’t tied to traditional Christian donors. In order for that to happen, there would need to be a significant amount of us (and likely the Templeton Foundation) to back them.

I would greatly appreciate you checking out scienceandfaith.org and letting me know what you think.


#19

Mistaken duplicate entry…


#20

I agree with this completely. I have noticed that the pushback shrinks substantially when I bring up what honest scholarly research and reporting looks like. It also helps to point out propaganda techniques/inflammatory language/false dichotomies. I was very surprised at how this makes a dent where scientific argumentation doesn’t.

That opens the conversation up a bit. Then, the next big step is to discuss the theological underpinnings. Only then, it seems, does the opportunity to delve into the science present itself.