If you read any survey of what Americans believe, you have to understand that faith in God and the validity of New Testament Christianity is in decline. We have pointed out before, that when pollsters ask people about their religious faith, almost one-fourth of all Americans respond with “none.” When we separate those numbers by age group, the picture is even more dismal with young adults largely rejecting Jesus as the son of God. We should be concerned about the future of faith in America.
The two primary sources of the decline in church membership are pluralism and the complete rejection of the Bible as God’s one authoritative guide. Most churches have not taught the evidence for God and the validity of the Bible. Most young people have not seen an example of Christian living in the lives of their parents or religious leaders. We can either sit back and watch congregations die with the older people of faith, or we can roll up our sleeves and do something.
This situation is not new. When the people of Jesus day saw that following Jesus required some commitment, most of them left. In John 6:35-69 people rejected Jesus as having come down from heaven. Later in the Temple, they wondered at the wisdom of Christ’s teaching. In John 7:16-18 Jesus told the people, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” He then referred to the evidence seen in what people do: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” We must find some method of answering people’s doubts about God and showing them that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). That is what the future of faith in America must be about.
We can no longer rely on inherited faith to build faith-filled adults. Young people being dragged to church three times a week is not going to do the job. There has been too much hypocrisy, bickering, and inconsistency in churches for young people to blindly accept what their parents and grandparents believed. We can no longer rely on talented speakers and youth leaders to emotionally stampede young people into becoming active, dynamic Christians. There are too many speakers with conflicting views for modern adults to respond to emotional pleas at worship services, youth rallies, camps, or lectureships.
The war for the minds of 21st-century adults is going to be won or lost on the battlefield of evidence. That was true in the days of Jesus and the church in the first century. We have a tremendous advantage over those who lived in the first century. Quantum mechanics has opened the door for us to understand how gravity, electric charge, and matter/energy were created. The complexity, wisdom, and design of the formation of electric charge and the wave nature of gravity show that the cause of these things must be outside the realm of the physical world. Quantum mechanics leads us to dimensions beyond our own, which is the concept the Bible has always given us about God.
In today’s world, we see the results of following systems other than the biblical pattern. When people follow other guidelines as to how to live their lives, the result is inevitably disastrous. When people who call themselves Christians fail to follow what Jesus taught, the result is also disastrous. If we study the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and compare it to all other ways of life, we see the truthfulness of Jesus statement, “By their fruit ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). The future of America depends on the future of faith in America.
Scientific knowledge of the world around us continues to amaze us. Rather than presenting God as a magician who zaps things into existence by tricks and illusions beyond our understanding, we must show people that what God does make sense and many of God’s methods are within our ability to understand. People have had enough of mystic explanations and magic tricks. If they are going to commit themselves to discipleship, it must be clear and logical both in purpose and in methodology.
The church has the capacity to present this message. Young people respond to evidence that doesn’t depend on tradition or blind, mystic faith. When 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason of the faith that is within you” it includes not just the ancient shepherd in the hills of Judea, but also the educated engineer living in 2018. Today, the fields are ripe unto harvest (John 4:35), but our outreach must change with changing needs. The future of faith in America depends on it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018