So I read a an article recently about the results from some data collected by the American Bible Society over the last four years.
Among the results are a definite decline in the esteem of the Bible by millennials:
“– Although 79 percent of adults believe the Bible is sacred literature, only 64 percent of millennials do.
– 19 percent of millennials believe no literature is sacred, compared to just 13 percent of all adults.
– Exactly half of adults overall believe the Bible “contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life,” but that number is just 35 percent for millennials.
– Half of adults believe the Bible has too little influence in society, but only 30 percent of millennials agree.
– 39 percent of millennials never read the Bible outside of church, compared to 26 percent of all adults.
The survey also found that since 2011, antagonism toward the Bible has risen from 11 percent to 19 percent and those who consider themselves “Bible-friendly” dropped from 45 percent to 37 percent.”
Now that’s concerning, but I think not totally unexpected, or terrible.
Indulge me for a moment and consider that it often seems easier for sinful hard hearts who are under- or un-exposed to the gospel to be radically changed by it, compared to those who are in a sense inoculated to God, the gospel and the Bible by exposure to it in believing families, in churches, and culturally, and reject it. This goes much more so for those who are exposed to watered down/(borderline) heretical, deeply hypocritical, or religious/cultural Christianity who are familiar with ‘information’ about Jesus, but are turned off by seeing lives unchanged by it.
Add to this the constant creep of modern and postmodern thought, values and ideology into more and more of society generally, and the somewhat self-evident drift predicted in scripture towards a more and more sinful society, and declining numbers of mellennials believing is not surprising at all.
What is much more “concerning” to me is the ‘former’ set of statistics, those for adults as a whole, not just the millennial subset.
If these are true, then that is amazing news! Joyous, fantastic even. If half of all Americans believe the Bible is all they need for a meaningful life, then we can to a degree give up the institutional church focus evangelism in this country, rely on the laypeople to do it, and concentrate most of our resources overseas.
But, I don’t think this is true. And it reveals a bigger problem – people are saying things, even thinking they believe them to be true, but are not living evidence of what they are claiming to believe. Like Jesus says in Matthew 7, they are saying “Lord, Lord” but don’t know Him. I see this among “evangelicals” who claim to represent Jesus and want to defend Biblical morality, but will then act decidedly unlovely, unmercifully, unChrist-like when criticising eachother and others.
We can see this in attitudes towards the economically poor, both the believing and unbelieving, at home and overseas. We will probably always differ amongst ourselves about how to run an economy and fairly distribute wealth. Some will see welfare as a good thing if it’s run efficiently, either via government, charitable organisations, or personal generosity. Some won’t. No biggie. But when we harass and vilify the poor for being poor, call everyone lazy who hasn’t a job, and judge some deserving of aid and some not, based on perceived notions of non-laziness or validity to be in the country, we respect men rather than God, judging others rather than loving. God loved us before we loved Him, when we didn’t want to love Him, when we directly chose to be sinful.
It occurred to me the other day – people who want to kick out illegal immigrants and cry for them taking jobs from “hardworking Americans” have no issue with my taking those same jobs, because I am here legally. I’m not ‘for’ illegal immigration, but your choice to ‘love me’ by not hating or working against my earning a living and dwelling in peace here, and not want the same for others betrays an attitude that is decidedly unloving towards those who are here, might have been born here. Economic and immigration policy aside, upholding the law by deporting people is one thing, laudable, but to enforce laws rigidly and uncompassionately, deporting indiscriminately and without warning is hardly loving. Especially when these attitudes are firmly set against Hispanic illegal immigrants, whereas those (such as I) who are white, and here legally or illegally if I overstay my visa, receive much more lenient and forgiving treatment.
Forgive me for rambling into politics for a little, but it’s serious. Christians on both sides of politics will lambaste, publicly insult and embarrass those even in their own parties, in the run up to choosing candidates in elections, then ‘love’ them when they run against the other side, and turn that hostility and hate against those they are running against. This isn’t just inconsistent, insincere, self-serving and shallow, it mocks the concept of us loving one another even within the church. It says we are more concerned about politics and secondary issues than we are about truly loving eachother and obeying Him. Christians from Jesus’ time, under Rome, would think we’ve lost focus, or simply lost our minds.
Politically or otherwise, the church on the whole hasn’t seemed keen to loudly distance themselves from or criticise those claiming Christ yet expressing hate towards homosexuals, picketing their weddings and funerals (I’m thinking of the infamous Westboro people here). Yet when those same people picket a soldier’s funeral, it’s a travesty? Who and what are we loving here? Lost sinners, God, or militarism, war, and nation?
We could look at any number of other things – fighting for the place of the Ten Commandments displayed in public, and against the teaching of evolution in schools, yet being okay with imprisoning disproportionate numbers of non-Caucasians, and better schooling for the Caucasian and wealthy, the immigration issue, the declining commitment to morality among claimed Christians, and see a much greater commitment to “our rights” than to righteousness, love, and justice.
We may give money to the poor, but would run from an encounter and opportunity to befriend and love them.
We fight on paper (voting for laws and such) that protect ethnic and sexual minorities from discrimination, in theory equally funding schools, desiring them in our churches, but don’t associate with them socially or seek them to sit with us in pews on Sunday.
We’ll see a public fight for the rights of women overseas not to be forced to completely coverup, and to get education and employment, but esteem immodesty and sexualisation of women and children at home, pay them less, and fight their right to wear the same clothes we defend their right not to wear overseas.
We’ll give to the poor and seek clean water and adequate housing, sanitation and education for those overseas, while ignoring those at home, and on our streets.
We’ll desire religious freedom overseas, while wanting to limit religious freedom at home in protecting people’s ‘rights’ – or we’ll fight for religious freedom for ourselves, but not for those we disagree with.
What this tells me is that it would be wonderful if those statistics were true, but I think they reflect much more of a preference, and a desire for a moral-ish society than a belief in God and the Bible. And that complete with a claim, even a belief of the veracity of that claim, to believe and desire the Bible to be highly esteemed and influential in our lives and society, is dangerous. That kind of complacency is scary on an individual level, and horrifying on a societal level that leaves a focus towards “non-Christian” nations rather than our neighbours who claim to believe in the Bible, but are in absolute rebellion against God.
I say we, because I see elements of some of these in myself at times, which, frankly, sucks. I’m working through some of these questions and issues too. We’re all hypocrites one way or another and always will be – that’s why we need Jesus, and not the Law. But when it’s en masse, and that masse is okay with it…we need God to help us.
We are sometimes far more concerned with how others see us, than how He sees us. We want to be seen as pro-this and anti-that, theologically, ideologically (anyone against socialised healthcare, or welfare?), politically, to the point where this becomes more important than actually being loving and serving others, as He has called us to. When my allegiance to a political party trumps my compassion for the poor, or concern for honesty and truth, there’s an issue. A big one. When I want America to protect it’s reputation and avenge the deaths of its citizens over loving those in other nations, especially those who kill us, there’s an issue. When I would seek full punishment for drink driving, but leniency for my son making an immature adolescent error of judgement, there’s an issue. When I’m so anti-homosexuality and Islam, that I can’t befriend and love those people, in spite of their sinfulness (as He has loved us) then there’s an issue.
What is at stake is not just our reputation, but His reputation, and that of His bride – the church. Reading the Bible, you see His Name – that is, His reputation mentioned over and again. Things are done, for the glory of His name, that He should be highly esteemed, not us. Not only is how other Christians think of us of lesser importance, but what unbelievers think of us, and by direct extension, of Him, is of greater importance, with how He thinks of us of greatest importance. That’s why Corinthians tells us not to sue other Christians, to settle things out of court, and out of the public eye, that’s why they will know Jesus was real and from God by our love for one another (John 13).
To wit, our reputation, individually and corporately is much less significant to our reality – how we really think, believe, and behave – how He thinks of us. How I live, how I love my wife, how I treat my children, what I say and do when I’m at work, what I think about and do when I’m home alone, privately and in publicly, my mental and actual behaviour – how I live – that is critical. If our hearts are right, continually confessing and repenting of sin, our reputation, the church’s reputation and His reputation, with flow from that. And we shouldn’t fear a negative reputation when it is achieved in a loving and righteous manner.
I would love for those statistics to be true, but fear they are not. They may be real statistics, but they represent real responses to surveys and such, and I believe those responses are not entirely true.