Summing up their research in 2010, the Barna group finds six “megathemes”. I will list each one below with a few thoughts from my perspective as a campus minister on a secular university campus.
1. The Christian Church is Becoming Less Theologically Literate
What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans–especially young adults… As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.
CSF at Penn State Berks consists of students coming from a wide spectrum of Christian churches. It is not surprising that the students vary in terms of their understanding of the Bible. Most of the students who make it a point to get involved at CSF do seem to have at least some understanding of Biblical truth. I suspect this simply shows that of all the students who grew up in churches, those who take the time to get involved in a campus ministry are those who are already more interested in it while still at home.
I wonder what the solution to this lack of understanding of basic Christian theology is? Part of the problem is that students have a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. They expect the Bible to be a sort of answer book so that whatever problem they have, there is a verse (or two or three) with a solution. Thus, understanding the Bible becomes knowing where to look for solutions to my problems. The focus is on me and my problems.
Yet this is not what the Bible is. Ultimately, the Bible presents a different way of looking at the world; it is a story of creation, fall, redemption and re-creation. As we understand the Bible it is as if we put on Bible-colored glasses that help us see the world from a Jesus-perspective rather than our cultural (or human, or sinful) perspective. Then when we face a problem the Bible is not a mere answer book. Instead our understanding the Bible forms us into the kind of person who makes the right decision.
This understanding takes time. It is not easy. But it is the difference between following the rules and being a disciple of Jesus.
When I think of CSF at Penn State Berks, there are a lot of students who desire to have a better understanding of their faith. Perhaps this group of Christians is a smaller number in our contemporary society then it used to be (at least, that is what the Barna research shows). But maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe we are in a time akin to Elijah’s time when it seemed like everyone had turned away. Then on the mountain God tells Elijah that there is a remnant of 7000 who have not owed to the false god Baal (1 Kings 19:18).
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago…As young adults have children, the prospect of them seeking a Christian church is diminishing–especially given the absence of faith talk in their conversations with the people they most trust. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance.
Again, my context in campus ministry colors my view here. I work with a small community of Christians who are surrounded by their peers: they live with them, eat with them, study with them. If you are a member of CSF, practically everyone on campus knows it. I am under no assumption that all the Christians on campus are a part of CSF. Yet I do believe that if you take the time while in college to be part of a group like CSF, you are already more inclined to reach out to your friends and share your faith.
Also, talking about the deeper issues of like such as religion is part of what the college experience is about. I would imagine there are conversations that are more common and accepted on campus then on the job.
I think part of the issue that Barna is discussing is that one of the major taboos in our culture is to tell someone else you think they are wrong…about anything…ever. We are very much live and let live. I would say we define true friendship as someone who affirms me in whatever decision I make. As such ideas continue to infiltrate the church we wonder how we could tell people Jesus is the unique only way to God as it implies other ways are wrong.
Perhaps, as I said above, we need to get smaller before we get bigger.
I will discuss the other four themes in a future post…