Christians Who Aren’t Christians
“America is a Christian nation.” The loudest voices in the media and on the Internet tell us that’s a lie, even though eighty percent of Americans self-identify as Christian. Still, it seems those loud voices might not be so wrong.
According to the latest Barna poll conducted every ten years since 1991, while eight in ten Americans call themselves Christians, nearly one third of that number have not attended church in the last six months, except for weddings and funerals, and more than half of them don’t attend church on a weekly basis. (See the link above.)
Other markers point to a growing gap between what Americans say about religion, and what they do. Only 22% of the “Christians” in America volunteer at church. Less than half (46%) read their Bibles regularly, or believe it “is accurate in all the principles it teaches” (43%).
What’s going on?
A recent article at Relevant discusses one interesting theory: blame it on the Internet.
Josh McDowell offered that theory in a talk he gave in July at the Billy Graham Center in Asheville, N.C.. According to Relevant, the atheist blogosphere seized on McDowell’s point to assert that Christianity is incapable of surviving in a truly free marketplace of ideas. This is nonsense, of course. (Do these people really believe they could prevail in a debate with Kierkegaard, Chesterton, or Lewis?) But there is another explanation, and it may indeed have something to do with the Internet.
At the risk of stating the obvious, Christians have always had a forum for the free discussion of their faith, to wit: the church. On the other hand, atheists have always been considered somewhat subversive, and have never had a similar locale where they could congregate for mutual support . . . until the Internet. Now, with on-line chat rooms, forums, and the like, for perhaps the first time in the history of the human race unbelievers can exchange ideas and proselytize as freely as believers. Even a superficial search of the Internet reveals that they have seized this opportunity aggressively.
According to the Relevant article: “While Christianity enjoys a robust online presence, the edge still seems to belong to its unbelievers. ChristianForums.com, online since 1998, boasts a quarter-million members. But with an Alexa ranking of almost 12,000 in the U.S. and only 68,000 unique page views per month, it lags behind the most popular forums for the irreligious. The web’s largest atheist forum is a subcommunity of the social media site Reddit, launched in 2005. Its Alexa traffic ranking puts it in the top 50 sites in the United States with 2 million unique visitors per month, many of those to its “Atheist” subcommunity of 154,000. The Christian “subreddit,” a devoted group comprised largely of recovering evangelicals with a zeitgeist-oriented view of Scripture, enjoys less than a tenth of the atheists’ readership.”
The Internet, of course, is the news and information medium of choice for younger Americans, so it stands to reason that any group which dominates it will have a significant impact on their thinking. In other words, one reason for the decline in Christian behavior noted by the Barna Group over the last twenty years might be the fact that Americans who grew up in that timeframe have been bombarded by atheist ideas within a context that makes those ideas seem cool, which Christian ideas remain what they have always been: hopelessly uncool.
This, we believe, leads to another important point. Even as it uncovered the disturbing migration away from fellowship and Bible study among “Christians” in America, the Barna poll revealed one telling shift in the opposite direction.
According to the report: “The percentage of self-identified Christians who meet the “born again” criteria – that is, those who contend they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today, and who also believe they will enter Heaven solely because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior – jumped by seven percentage points, to 48%.”
We wonder if what we’re seeing here is an increase in societal pressure about faith. Before, if there was any pressure to make a decision about Jesus Christ it came only from the church. Now it comes also from atheists and secular humanists throughout the news and entertainment media, especially the Internet. Passive, apathetic, merely cultural “Christians” have nowhere to hide, so they are being forced to make a real decision, one way or the other. American is fast dividing into those who have finally admitted what was already true (they don’t actually have any faith at all) and those who understand and truly mean it when they call themselves “Christians.”
We think that’s a good thing. No one is more completely lost than an unbeliever who believes they’re saved. At least this way there is hope, because once the pretending and the apathy is cleared away, Christianity does indeed prevail in an honest exchange of ideas.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)