January 28, 2016

American Christianity In 2020: The Erosion Of Conviction

In my essay “What Do Americans Believe About The Bible?” I summarized how Americans view the Bible and identified the trends of belief. If we pull together current research on this topic, we can make a judgment of the trends through 2020. It would appear that by 2020, approximately 26 percent of Americans will continue to believe the Bible is the word of god, word for word. This number compares with the 40 percent of Americans who claimed to share this conviction in 1980. About 47 percent of Americans will believe the Bible’s message was inspired by God, or the Bible should not be taken literally, up from 45% in 1980. The percentage of Americans who believe the Bible is a collection of folklore and fables is projected to increase from 10% in 1980 to 23% in 2020. Four or five percent of the respondents usually decline to answer.

Given the unrelenting assault on Christianity by the Liberal Establishment, these projections are probably optimistic. Although an economic depression, or a threat to national security, could encourage Americans to seek a closer bond with Christian theology, the long term cultural trend is to embrace liberal secular beliefs.

By 2020 we can project that roughly 73% of Americans will identify themselves as espousing a Christian theology. But the depth of conviction will decline. At least twelve percent of Americans will embrace the teachings of a secular theology, such as Liberalism. Twenty seven percent of Americans will believe daily prayer is not important, and a final judgment day will never happen. Twenty three percent of Americans will doubt the existence of God, and 34% will no longer have “old fashioned” ideas about family and marriage.

Among Americans who identify themselves as Christians in 2020, 34% will claim they attend church every week, 61% will believe in an all-powerful God, 27% will believe the Bible is totally accurate, and 55% will believe faith is important. Women will be more likely to go to Church than men by more than 4:1.

But these numbers may be optimistic. Christianity is under an unrelenting assault from the proponents of Liberal theology. Whereas in 1980, 1990, 2000 and even 2007 it was socially correct to identify oneself with Christian beliefs, daily prayer, and Bible study, going forward there will be less pressure to do so. If so, we can expect a more pronounced decline in the perceived need to project a Christian identity.

The decline of traditional belief is especially noticeable among Americans 18 to 29 years old. By 2020, 64% of the people in this age group will believe existing theology is irrelevant in the 21st century and – absent any credible alternative - will abandon conventional religious theology. It would appear 41% will doubt the existence of God. On the other hand, given the right message, over 75% would embrace the spiritual. Our desire to understand our place in the Cosmos appears to be a fundamental trait of human character.

And so there is the challenge. How do we create a Christian theology that is relevant to the 21st century American? Should we simply assume that as they age, they will eventually come back to a Christian faith? Statistics suggest many will become “born again”. But is that enough?

What would Christ do?

Would he abandon non-believers? Would he ignore the accumulation of human knowledge? Or would he seek to deliver God’s message in terms that are harmonious with the spiritual yearning of a 21st century population?

Note 1. Historical data from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2007; Pew American Values Survey 2012; Barna Group  Omnipoll 2011 vs. 1991; and various Gallup polls.

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