This is the second installment of reflections on the data from a fascinating research project conducted by Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center. Last time, I highlighted the simple fact that the Christian worldview is rare—only 6% of Americans fall into a group that systematically holds to biblical doctrines.
Why is this number so small? And why do so many people class themselves Christians—even evangelicals—if they don’t believe what Christians believe? In this article, I am going to share a hypothesis regarding why this is.
Question: Why do people call themselves evangelical Christians, but don’t believe what Christians believe?
Hypothesis: Many Christians have faulty understandings of the Bible and those faulty understandings allow for erosion of biblical beliefs.
The biblical worldview cannot long survive without the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is what makes the biblical worldview biblical. It will not work to teach biblical worldview without a foundation of the Bible. It will not work to teach biblical ethics without a robust engagement with the Bible. And yet, this is something that certainly happens. And, it happens in Christian schools. But before we get to that, let’s focus on the issue at large.
Let me put it like this: Scripture is not the mine where we find the gold; Scripture is the gold!
B. C. Newton explains it like this, “We can subtly treat Scripture as our primary source of many for understanding God’s special revelation to humanity rather than viewing Scripture as God’s special revelation to humanity.” The Bible is not only a record of God’s voice and God’s teachings. It is God’s voice. It is God’s teaching.
I am fascinated by the report from ACU’s Cultural Research Center that many people self-identified as “evangelical Christians,” but that those in that group do not believe what evangelicals believe. Bebbington’s clear definition of what it means to be evangelical is well-accepted and well-known. Evangelical Christians prioritize the teaching and authority of the Bible, are centered on the saving work of Jesus on the cross, are passionate about conversation by grace through faith, and are actively pursuing transformation through evangelism and service.
So in this survey we learn that many in the group that calls themselves evangelical Christians don’t hold to evangelical beliefs. About 40% deny the first commitment of evangelicals (the authority, accuracy, and reliability of the Bible as the Word of God) and about 40% believe that doing good works saves you (denying the second and third commitments of evangelicals). Additionally, about 75% say that “having faith matters more than which faith you have.”
Thomas Kidd, well-known Christian historian, explains where we stand with the confusion:
“There are good reasons for churches to continue to describe themselves as ‘evangelical,’ if by that term they are referencing their historic commitment to the Bible’s authority, the necessity of spiritual conversion, and the felt presence of God in daily life, but pastors in particular should realize that the meaning they attach to evangelical may not be the same as that of some in their congregation.”
Kidd’s point here is that while the classic definition of evangelicalism still exists, many people have replaced that definition with an alternate concept. And, the survey shows that the new, replacement view has a lower, less-central view of the Bible and less accurate views of what the Bible teaches about truth and salvation.
Back to my hypothesis, I believe that this has happened, in part, because Christian institutions have emphasized Christian truths that have been mined from the Bible rather than the Bible itself. People’s minds are populated with Christian words and Christian categories. However, the house has been removed from its foundation and it is crumbling. This hypothesis obviously relates directly to what happens in Christian schools.
Teaching biblical worldview in place of Bible will lead to failure. In addition, teaching Bible without the practical application of biblical worldview will lead to failure. But the biblical worldview must stem from robust engagement with the text of Scripture itself. The next post will more closely consider how Christians schools can rise to the occasion and meet this challenge. We can be a part of the solution.