Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Religious Pluralism: from within the church

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released their findings on Monday from a recent survey revealing some interesting statistics on religion in America. The interview was conducted on 35,000 Americans age 18 and older from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007. Now I'm not sure what the past surveys have found, but it seems that Protestant Christianity is suffering pretty intensely by biblical standards. As you can see from this chart, an astonishing 66% of confessional Protestant Christians believe that there is more than one way to God, which means that only 34% believe otherwise. Of course, I'm quite certain the right hand column pretty much highlights why a person takes this view.

Another statistic comes from a section in the 18 page report on the Authority of Scripture (found here):

"More than six-in-ten Americans (63%), including majorities of many religious traditions, view their religion’s sacred texts as the word of God. This belief tends to be most common among Christians. More than eight-in-ten Jehovah’s Witnesses (92%), Mormons(91%) and members of evangelical (88%) and historically black (84%) Protestant churches view the Bible as the word of God, as do majorities of Catholics (62%), mainline Protestants (61%) and Orthodox Christians (59%)."

Now, from this number we can gather that at least the majority of Evangelicals have a high view of Scripture; that is, they feel the Bible is the Word of God. The problem is, this statistic doesn't seem to match up with the one listed in the above chart. 88% of the people in this survey believe the Bible to be the Word of God, yet more than half believe one can enter eternal life [with God] outside of their own religion. Strikes me as odd when Jesus himself expresses the very opposite in John 14:6. So much for a high view of Scripture.

Now I suppose we must take into account that while 35,000+ people were surveyed only 19,000 were Protestant Christians, which of course cannot speak for the greater Christian community. Not to mention the focus on the survey was religion and not Christianity. But this must still make us think about who these people are that are identifying themselves as followers of Christ. And I think the findings are definitely something that the evangelical church should take seriously.

Seeing the statistics reminded me of the article by David Wells called The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church, which you can find here. In the article Wells mentions some similar statistics that were just as astounding. Wells noted that he believes the main reason for the decline in western Christianity was due to a lack of theological character. In his words, "It is not that theological beliefs are denied, but that they have little cash value." Unfortunately I think this poll might be an indicator that we're moving beyond the cash value stage into outright denial. For any professing Christian to say he or she believes that there is more than one way to God is simply denying the very foundation which they "supposedly" uphold. I have to wonder, the people being surveyed are wither attending churches where the unadulterated Gospel is being preached and simply ignoring (rejecting) most of it; or the church in which they attend (if they attend) lacks any manifest adherence to the Scriptures. Based on my experience, I assume the latter.

So what we have here is nothing other than religious pluralism from within the church. I'll bet if each of the Christians in the survey were asked the same questions by their Pastor there might be a different outcome; then again, maybe not. I guess this just validates the notion that there will be tares amongst the wheat until the end. But what do we do about it? How can we as Evangelicals curve the statistics? Seems to me that the answer is the same in which Wells noted 15 years ago...

"If we do no recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage again to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, we will lose our right to call ourselves Protestants, we will lose our capacity to be the people of God, and we will set ourselves on a path that leads right into the old discredited liberal Protestantism."

We might be on our way.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like it might be time to implement some sort of lengthy discipleship program as a requirement prior to becoming a church member. When I say discipleship, I'm not talking about the cookies and cream variety. I'm speaking of a serious study of the Scriptures along with mentoring.

The findings of this survey are an indictment against "Sunday Schools" and other programs in the (American) church.

Randy Stuck said...

There seems to be a general attitude of apathy in the church today and it makes me wonder whether these statistics are going to get worse before they are able to galvanize the church into action.