THE RESURGENCE OF INTELLIGENT FAITH
Last week the Barna Research Group came out with statistical projections for 2014. This research and the research of others is astounding.
The first trend listed amongst others was that “the role of ‘church’ generates both more skeptics and stronger apologists.” They show that “The rising resistance to faith institutions is evidenced in the newer language used to discuss spirituality today. When it comes to matters of the soul, disclaimers are emerging as the new faith identifiers. Today, there are those who self-describe as ‘spiritual, but not religious’—individuals who like to associate with what they perceive as the positive elements of spirituality but not the negative associations of organized religion. Or consider the rise of the ‘Nones’—the much-discussed adults who are religiously unaffiliated and who don’t want to use any conventional label for their religious faith. And in many places, the prefix ‘post-’ is being attached to matters of faith. Post-Christian. Post-denominational. Post-evangelical. Post-religious.”
This may seem surprising to you. As I’ve done other research I have come across many other statistics that demonstrate the need for Christian apologetics in our time:
- The percentage of those who claim no religion has risen to 40%
- The largest families in America are Muslim and Mormon (our future leaders and culture shapers being their children)
- The fastest growing religion in America is Islam
- Christianity is in sharp decline
- 4% of Americans have an orthodox biblical worldview
- 9% of Christians have an orthodox Christian worldview
- 51% of pastors have an orthodox biblical worldview
- 34% of adults believe in moral absolutes (and the percentage drops considerably with younger people)
- 50% of people believe in the accuracy of the Bible
- 27% of adults believe Satan is a real force
- 8 million twenty-somethings alive today will no longer attend church by the time they turn 30
- The Church is becoming less theologically literate
These numbers can be overwhelming, and they should be, but there is a new dawn rising in the midst of all of these trends. Barna also reports that the top reason people join or leave a church is the depth of teaching. If it is deep and orthodox people will choose that church (39%), while they tend to leave churches that they see as theologically inaccurate (63%).
“There has been a resurgence in Christian apologetics as a direct result of the challenges Christianity has faced in the form of militant atheism in college classrooms, on the Internet, and in TV documentaries and best-selling books,” says Lee Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and most recently the author of The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ.
Dinesh D’Souza, who wrote What’s So Great About Christianity? (CT, March 2008), says the New Atheists are raising new types of questions requiring “21st-century apologetics.”
“The apologetics of the 1970s and ’80s are useful if you are teaching in a church camp, but it’s not that relevant to the claims the New Atheists are making, which are very different,” D’Souza says. “The New Atheists are really surfing the waves of 9/11, equating Islamic radicalism with Christianity.”
“It wasn’t too many years ago that scholars were writing off apologetics because we live in a postmodern world where young people are not supposed to be interested in things like the historical Jesus,” Strobel says. “The biggest shock is that among people who communicated to me that they had found faith in Christ through apologetics, the single biggest group was 16- to 24-year-olds.”
If you go to any Christian apologetics conference, you will see thousands of students there who are hungry for understanding their faith and how to defend it. I believe that this resurgence in apologetics is long over due and is a direct result of the leaders of the “New Atheism” with their militant approach as evangelists of doubt with a bent to abolish all religion – especially Christianity.
Many schools, such as Biola University, Liberty University, Houston Baptist University, and others are seeing a surge of students who are enrolling in programs in philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. For the past many years the Church has made its focus more and more on style and emotion (trying to be cool and focus more on an existential approach), and we can see that those who are growing up in that atmosphere are beginning to reject it in search for something deeper. Not only do they see that they need to take ownership of their faith and understand it, they see that in order to effectively communicate the gospel, we need to be speaking the language of our time.
Afterall, we wouldn’t go to China thinking that we don’t need to learn Chinese in order to share the gospel. We wouldn’t just say, “I’ll give them the gospel and that’s enough.” No, we would learn the language for the sake of the gospel in order to effectively communicate it. Christianity is being pressed on its intellectual integrity, and we are called, as Christians, to be able to give a defense for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), to be able to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and “to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We are called to have childlike faith, not childish faith. Does this mean that a person must be an “intellectual?” By no means. It means that we are called to understand our faith, understand our culture, and communicate the beauty and credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world.