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Some Brief Thoughts on the Pew Survey on Christianity in America

Pew has a survey on the state of Christianity in America. There really is no good news for Christianity in it. The religion is on the decline in every part of the country. Whether rich or poor, black or white or hispanic, college educated or without a degree, regardless of region of the country Christianity is declining.

Millennials will be the first generation that is predominately atheist or agnostic.

It is important to note that it is very likely that the number of self-described evangelicals already does exceed and certainly will exceed the number of actual church going Christians in the country too. Evangelical is rapidly becoming an ethnic identifier of someone who loves Jesus, but doesn’t really have a relationship with him.

Parents have a lot to do with the faith of their children and to the extent Baby Boomers identify as Christian but have a deeply shallow faith, their millennial children do too. More interestingly, when you dig into data on church decline in this country, it turns out that actual orthodox Bible believing churches are experiencing less of a decline than their mainline counterparts. It really is true that the last Episcopalian and probably the last of the PCUSA has already been born.

The Southern Baptists, PCA, and other denominations that believe in the inerrant word of God will continue, if in reduced numbers.

Therein lies both a problem and a path forward. Many Bible believing churches that practice expository preacher are practicing shallow faith. It is increasingly common to encounter Christians with no concept of church doctrine. They do not recognize or understand the necessity of belief in the trinity and will argue that since the word isn’t in the Bible that they don’t have to believe it.

The doctrines of the church are falling by the wayside as even some orthodox churches transition their scriptural exposition to self-help messages and pastors who engage in exposition of the Bible leave the deep waters out of sermons.

One of the major problems in Christianity today is the church that uses Sunday service not to recharge the Christian, but lure in the unconverted. These churches deliver shallow sermons that might avoid being off-putting to new believers, but don’t nourish the souls of the believers. If church is a hospital for the wounded saint, more care needs to go into the church’s nursing.

Concurrently, a lot of evangelical churches have ceded the social gospel to the left. The Bible is full of admonitions to take care of those in the church community and to seek the welfare of the local community and a lot of evangelical churches have gotten really bad at doing that. When local communities fall on hard times, even local churches willingly step aside for the government to help. Churches need to do a better job of being parts of their whole community and step up even more to be a part of their internal community.

Hard times are coming to the American church. As those in power are less likely to appreciate or even understand the faith, they will begin structuring society differently. Churches need to build stronger communities within and need to strengthen and deepen the faith and understanding of their congregants.

As an aside, this is a big bonus for seminaries like RTS and Southern that do not cut corners and insist on scholarly depth. The practical preacher needs to become a real scholar and teacher who can help his flock understand the nuances of their faith. That is going to matter more and more as the world becomes more tempting and the faith looks more absurd.

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