Who is an American Christian

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We often watch the television quiz show Jeopardy! at our house. We like to see how quick people are with their thumbs and how smart they are. It is also an opportunity to get some low-risk information about how smart we are.

Whenever a biblical category comes up, we go into full alert mode. If ever I’d be willing to subject myself to that kind of pressure with the world watching, it seems, at least hypothetically, that this would be a category in which I could hold my own. Usually that turns out to be true, but sometimes I am amazed by what I don’t know about the Bible. Some weeks ago host Alex Trebek was posing questions about what the next book of the Bible would be if thinking alphabetically. For example, what would come after Exodus? Ummmm?

For a number of years we have been alerted to the concern that we Christians are becoming less biblically literate. It seems that what Christian homes and churches accomplished in earlier decades is no longer happening. Anymore, ordinary folks among us can’t list the Ten Commandments or even half of them.

And if you are becoming judgmental at this moment, take a break and see how long it takes you to list the Decalogue. Can you still quote the 23rd Psalm? How fast do you think you can find the book of Hezekiah? If you think that wouldn’t be a problem, I got you!

The Barna Group conducted over 5,000 nonproprietary interviews in our nation over the past year and discovered some data, published Dec. 13, 2010, on their Web site, that ought to concern us more than just a little: “Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach oriented.”

I would have hoped otherwise, with the current emphasis on the imperative of viewing local churches in the U.S. as mission outposts. The research demonstrated that “growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.” Teenagers, for example, say that faith is significant to them, but that it falls behind the priorities of education, career, friendships and travel.

Another alarming discovery was that “the postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian church.” For whatever reasons, American believers are increasingly hesitant to make choices and hold convictions that would make others label them as judgmental or intolerant. Standing up for what is right no matter the cost appears to be waning.

Equally alarming is the conclusion that “the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.” In recent history, Christianity has been viewed as measurable added value in our culture. These days, “Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added.” The narrative that follows points out that the problem is not with the substance of the faith but with the private and public implementation of the faith. That sounds all too familiar. When it comes to walking the talk, have we come off the rails?

One more. The results showed that “the Christian church is becoming less theologically literate.” My sense is that this has the potential to create double jeopardy. Not knowing is a predictable gateway to not being and to not doing.

What do you think should be done about these realities? And who do you think should do it? Is it the responsibility of the various Boards of Faith and Life among us? Or is it a local church problem? Or is it moms and dads? Or will it take a village?

CL Archives
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at editor@usmb.org.

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