Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians


This piece I post not without some trepidation. I throw it out into the blogosphere nevertheless. For what it is worth.

I was listening to a podcast this morning by an atheist, turned Christian apologist, who commented that an “overwhelming number” of American Christians do not know what scripture says about key issues, including salvation. The comment stood out to me, so I googled it.

I found a Lifeway article that doesn’t focus on Christians, per se, but on Americans generally[1]. (We’re supposedly a Christian nation, right?) The article focused not on the content, but on how much of the Bible people have read. While the article didn’t focus on people who call themselves Christians, it began to paint the picture.

A whopping 53% of the people polled had read no more than “several passages” or “a few stories”. Twenty three percent (23%) had read no more than “only a few sentences”, and ten percent (10%) of the people polled hadn’t read a single word of the Bible.

I am not completely surprised, though I would love to see the percentage of those people who have a strong opinion about what the Bible says.

About fifteen percent (15%) of the people polled said they had read “at least half” of the Bible. Another twelve percent (12%) said they had read “almost all of it. Only twenty percent (20%) of the people polled said they had read all of the Bible, but only nine percent (9%) had read all of it more than once.

Clearly, we are not very Bible literate as a nation, though we have strong opinions on what we think the Bible says. That goes for people who have strong positive opinions and strong negative opinions.

Interestingly, I found an article written by a well-known atheist that suggests most Christians don’t understand the fundamentals of their faith.[2] He concludes, “This survey shows that a lot of people take on a particular religious label, not because they have a full understanding of what that faith believes, but for other more superficial reasons. Maybe their parents raised them in it. Maybe they were led to that religion by a friend. Maybe they attended a service and found it welcoming and inspiring.” Anecdotally, I see some truth in that statement.

It’s not just atheists making that observation. An article by the Barna Group, a Christian organization, finds that most churchgoers have “never heard of” the Great Commission.[3] Another article commenting on a similar survey concludes that most Americans are heretics and claims the results show that even “those who wear Christianity on their sleeve” … “Christmas-treed the survey, espousing all kinds of unorthodox views”.[4]

I found many articles by Christian leaders expressing concern about Bible illiteracy among people who consider themselves Christians (calling it a big problem[5], a scandal[6] a crisis[7] and an epidemic[8]), so it seems there truly are an “overwhelming number” of American Christians who do not know what scripture says about key issues – to circle back to where I started. And, where do I get off this feedback loop?

Continue reading “Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians”

Putting the American Church into Perspective

Our perspective should be colored by God’s global and eternal purposes, not by the smaller, immediate “world” that we know.


A recent article in Relevant Magazine online, Report: 8 in 10 Evangelicals Live in Asia, Africa and South America, was there to greet me this morning when I opened Facebook. The article title, and the concluding statement put things into perspective:

“[T]hese figures … underline an important point about the vast racial and ethnic diversity of the evangelical strain of Christianity — a diversity often neglected in American conversations about faith.”

Evangelicals make up a little over 25% of the Christians in the world, and only 14% of the Evangelicals in the world live in the United States (993 million of 660 million evangelicals worldwide).

Let that sink in.

Let’s take another step back. Let’s gain a little perspective. Let’s look at American Evangelical Christianity for a moment from the larger perspective of the world.

More Evangelicals live in China and India, taken together, than in the United States (66 million and 28 million totaling 94 million). Almost one-third (32%) of all Evangelicals in the world live in Asia (213 million). Another 28% of Evangelicals live in Africa (185 million), doubling the number of Evangelicals in the United States! More Evangelicals live now in South America (123 million) that the United States.

These numbers show that American Evangelical Christianity is dwarfed by the number of Evangelicals worldwide, and the gap is widening.

A Christianity Today article in 2016 observed that Iran has the fastest growing evangelical church in the world. (Which country has the fastest-growing church in the world?) A 2019 article by a missions organization reports that Afghanistan has the second fastest Tgrowing church in the world. (You’ll Be Surprised Where Christianity Is Growing – And Where It Is Not) A 2018 article in the Houston Chronicle article reporting on the results of a conference at Rice University indicates that Christians in China are estimated to exceed the number of Christians in the US by the year 2030. (China, officially atheist, could have more Christians than the U.S. by 2030)

What does all of this mean for us?

Continue reading “Putting the American Church into Perspective”

The End of White Christian America?


The headline reads: White Christian America ended in the 2010s.[1] As a white evangelical (and male), the first reaction to such a headline, I admit, is to cringe. We hear so much about the white privilege, white evangelicals and white Christians, generally.

It gets old for me. But, if this time really spells the end of “white Christian America”, however that might actually be defined, then so be it.  truth is truth. Reality is reality.

Of course, the headline in the NY Times in 1966 that God is Dead[2] proved to be a bit exaggerated. Thus, I don’t necessarily concede that white Christian America ended in the 2010s. I am skeptical of statistics and statisticians. I am skeptical of sweeping statements. I am skeptical of the biases that inform the conclusions we reach.

Further, the statement implies that we can identify white Christian America (and agree on a definition). I don’t identify, myself, with the stereotypes that appear to be informing the article. My wife and I decided to live in a city and allow our children to go to public school in which white folks like us are minorities. We made that decision for the sake of giving them experience with diversity. We embrace diversity.

On that basis alone, I think we defy the view of “white Christians” that inform the article. More than that: I feel that we are not alone. I feel that most of the white Christians I know view the world more like me than the article suggests. Personally, I don’t think racial considerations are as much a factor as the statisticians and pundits who use them assert, nor do I associate white and Christian.

“White Christian” Europe is a ghost of what it was. Europe and Canada are decidedly “post-Christian”, and the United States is following. Meanwhile, Christianity in Latin and South America is growing at a record pace, as is Christianity in China and Iran, even amidst the oppression and persecution. Jesus was a Middle Eastern “man of color”, and most Christians in the world are non-white.

Still, the numbers in the United States tell a story. I am not sure we are very good at reading and understanding the story they tell. I would argue that the story these numbers tell is more about a seismic shift in the predominant worldviews that drive societal change in the United States than a racial divide – not that there is no racial divide.

Though I am skeptical about the story this article tells, the numbers suggest that something is going on. Some shift has occurred over the last decade or two that is revealed in these numbers, and it is a shift away from a politically conservative, Christian position (white, black or brown).

The predominantly white, evangelical movement that has rallied around Trump as a political savior is a last ditch, desperate and ill-conceived (in my opinion) attempt at clinging to a position of societal influence. It’s an attempt to exert human wisdom and strength into a flawed human system. I am not sure how much of that effort is inspired by faith in the sovereignty of God and how much it is inspired by the will of man.

Yes, God establishes authorities, like Donald Trump, and that means God establishes the authority of other leaders, like Barack Obama (or any other leader, for that matter).[3] If we believe God establishes any authority, we have to believe He establishes all of them (even the ones we don’t like, the ones that we feel are a threat to us). We can’t say with any degree of integrity that God only establishes certain authorities that we favor, and not others.

Frankly, we need to reconsider how to interpret Romans 13 on that score, starting with the fact that Paul spoke those words to the Romans who suffered greatly under a harsh and hostile Roman world that worshiped Caesar and put to death those who would not bow down to him. It can’t mean what we popularly think it means in the United States.

We also need to be careful about putting our confidence in kings. Our confidence should be grounded in God, alone. God established Saul as king when the people wanted a king (like the other nations), but that wasn’t actually a blessing; it was actually a rejection of reliance on God.[4]

God gave the people what they wanted, though they were actually rejecting God in the process. God used that circumstance, as He uses all things, to accomplish His purposes, of course. But that doesn’t mean that the people who supported having a king were on the right side of that equation.

We have to remember that our end game isn’t in this world, but in the life to come. If the numbers and the trends they reveal suggest anything, they suggest that we will need an eternal perspective all the more as we lose hold of our significance among the powers and influences of this modern US world.

And if the world hates us (for the right reasons – because we are God’s people, not necessarily because we have power or privilege), we shouldn’t be surprised. The world hated Jesus too. Our best response isn’t to cling to worldly power, but to die on the cross that God has shaped for us.

God is strong in our weakness. In this time in which Christians seem to be losing our foothold in the national power structure, we need to look to God for our strength. That isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion. That’s where we should be looking for our strength in all circumstances. It’s easier, though, to lean on God’s strength when we are weak.

And, assuming that is the case, it’s going to easier for us to lean on God. Not necessarily because we want to, or because that is our natural inclination (because it isn’t), but because we will have no other choice. And if that is the case, then so be it.

I won’t rue the end of white America, though I would glad trade the white part for the Christian part. The white part will continue to color. It’s inevitable, and frankly I think for the best in a world that is increasingly global and diverse. Every tribe and tongue is represented in Revelations, so why would Christians do anything but applaud the increasing diversity of the United States?

As for Christian, I would gladly lose cultural (American) Christianity for real spiritual renewal.  Maybe God is stripping away the impurities to expose the gold. If that is the case, we have a long way to go, and the fire is going to get hotter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] White Christian America ended in the 2010s, by Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and the author of “The End of White Christian America,” which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. His forthcoming book is “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity”, published at NBCnews.com Dec. 27, 2019.

[2] God is dead, and religion dying, remembered by James Finn in the New York Times April 19, 1970

[3] For an excellent expose on the way we cite Romans 13 to support our own bias, see Misusing Romans 13 To Embrace Theocracy, by Stephen Mattson at sojo.net December 10, 2019.

[4] See Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted? at Navigatingbyfaith.com November 17, 2019.

Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?


Paul, speaking to the Christians in Rome, penned these words that echo today on the minds of people who seek to do God’s will: “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Lest we gloss over the historical context, Paul wrote these words from a Roman prison cell. He wrote them not knowing that he would never live free again. He would remain a prisoner until his public execution at the hand of those same Roman authorities established by God.

Not that Paul would have said anything different if he had known his fate. I don’t believe knowledge of his future would have influenced him to say anything different. In the same letter to the Romans, Paul said, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

I have heard many people recite the verse in Romans 13 in support of supporting Donald Trump. Many of those same people would not have given that verse much consideration during the Obama presidency. The Scripture didn’t change.

Many people who have championed Trump for President, and Trump as President, have claimed that God wanted Trump to be President. Like Daniel in the Persian palace, Trump is God’s man in the White House.

I have been skeptical of that claim. Not that it couldn’t be true. It’s that I don’t see the fruit.

I admit that I had to be cautious in my skepticism as I read the story of a fireman, Mark Taylor, who prophesied that Trump would be President dating back to 2011. This was an entire term before Trump became president. Those prophetic words echoed in the back of my mind as the election results slowly revealed a Trump victory in 2016 to the shock and chagrin of the nation’s newscasters on live television.

(I note that the same man who claimed God told him Trump would be president, claimed he would defeat Obama in 2012. He was wrong about the timing. He has also claimed a number of things that have not occurred. “Taylor’s other prophecies have proven to be less than accurate. The Guardian reported that he said a ‘red tsunami’ would solidify Republicans’ hold on Congress, and that he predicted former President Barack Obama would be arrested for treason. Taylor also says Trump will release evidence of cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”)

Paula White, who is now an adviser to Trump in the White House, said after he was elected, “Trump had ‘been raised up by God’ and added, ‘It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.’” Of course, she would have been just as right if she were speaking of Barack Obama four years earlier.

I wondered then, as I do now: does Trump’s victory mean that we (believers) won too? Did God give us what He wanted? Or did God give us what we wanted?

Continue reading “Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?”

Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom

Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel.

In a discussion with Canadians, Krish Kandiah and Tom Newman, on the unbelievable Podcast with Justin Brierley (Agnostic ‘trying on’ church talks to a Christian – Tom Newman & Krish Kandiah), the conversation turned to the fact that Christians are a minority in Canadian and British society. The agnostic, Tom Newman, who experimented with Christianity in a podcast, commented about the value Christians bring to society, observing that Christians are particularly motivated to do good things. This led to an interesting dialogue.

Krish Kandiah, a pastor, observed that that the temptation of Christians as minorities in society is to go private, turn inward and become cloistered. That, however, he commented, is not the instruction from Jesus.  Jesus says you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel. So, Krish Kandiah says,

“It becomes the obligation of the Christian minority to serve and bless the majority.”

What a difficult statement for an American Christian to hear! It almost doesn’t register. Did he really just say that?

It’s no coincidence that the interviewees were Canadian, and the host was British. Canada and Great Britain are decidedly post-Christian. The United States is heading that way too, though we don’t like to admit it. (Interestingly, Christianity is growing in other parts of the world like Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Muslim world, and Oceania, while remaining stable or declining in Anglo America and Europe.)

I think about these things in the context of the cultural wars that are raging in the United States. Christians are desperately fighting to hold on to a Christian consensus that was once known as the “moral majority”, but Christians have been losing ground. American society is incrementally moving the other way.

How do we deal with that? In the classic American Christian way, I wonder, “What would Jesus do?” More poignantly, what is God saying to us, American Christians, in this day and age?

Continue reading “Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom”

Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot

The views of Christians around the world provide a counterbalance to unique bent of American Christianity.


I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts school I attended. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college. I didn’t exactly compartmentalize the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.

I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.

I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong. I was more focused on following Jesus than pursuing a career. I worked a number of different jobs over the six years I spent in NH, and got married and had two children there.

This was the time of the rise of the Moral Majority. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the motto, and people were proud of it. Politics crept into my faith. I even rubbed shoulders with churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society.

Then I felt called to go in a different and went to law school. That brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. Not that the change of scenery was overly influential, but law school challenged my thinking to the core. It’s designed to do that.

I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law. It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and a standing of 2nd in my graduating class.

I was not as adept at reconciling the political and cultural influences that crept into my faith under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law. They exposed and challenged under the harsh light of scrutiny, as was my biblical faith.

Years would go by before I reached a point of resolution.  My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage did not. The dynamic church I went to long ago disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.

Continue reading “Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot”

For the Shame of the Gospel

We have gotten away from the pure and simple message of the cross, that Jesus came to die for sinners and give them salvation.


We live in interesting times. We have taken for granted for a long time in the United States that we are a Christian nation. Christians are fighting through political means and social media to convince this country of those origins and to hold on to them. This is a fight that began in my memory back in the 80’s, and maybe even before that.

In my opinion, we have moved past those Christian origins. Perhaps, the minute we had to start fighting to preserve that legacy we had already lost the fight. I am not sure we will ever go back, short of a revival orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

Current attitudes in popular culture and among the intellectual elite in the US view the Christian heritage negatively, to the extent that people admit we have a Christian heritage. People view Christians as privileged, wielding power and oppressors. This is the cultural Marxist dialectic that has been playing out since at least the 70’s and maybe before that. We are losing the cultural war.

The positive connotation that went with the word, Christian, in our past has been replaced with a negative. This has largely happened in my lifetime.

Christians have not always deserved the positive connotation that unquestioningly followed the reference, Christian, in the past. Neither do Christians deserve the negative assumption that is evident today. While people may have previously distinguished the errors and failures as departures from the actual message of Christianity, that “nuance” (not that it is very nuanced) is largely lost today. Moderns increasingly equate Christians with those errors and failures. The exceptions have swallowed the rule.

We (Christians) need to be mindful in this realization that we can be guilty of the same failure to recognize the distinctions and nuances in “others” as well. Most Muslims, for instance, are not terrorists. Most feminists, gays, transgender people and others who do not see the world as we do are just trying to find meaning and purpose, healing from their pain and happiness in life. They aren’t the enemy. They are people Jesus died for.

But, I digress.

Christians are the most oppressed religious group in the world today, but you wouldn’t know it in the United States. It isn’t the kind of news that gets published (often) or that anyone wants to hear. It doesn’t fit the current narrative on Christianity that has developed in the west.

It may be that people don’t want to hear it because Christians have had it pretty easy. Christians in the US are viewed as the reigning social oligarchy. The consensus that has building for some time is that Christianity needs to be toppled from it privileged position.

Indeed, Christianity has enjoyed a long and enduring influence in the west, and especially in the US, unlike most other areas of the world, but Christians are now on the defensive as the “others” renounce allegiance and demand recompense. It seems to defy common understanding in the United States to consider Christians an oppressed group.

That privilege doesn’t exist in most other parts of the world where, ironically, Christianity is now growing fastest. While the Church in the US is losing ground rapidly to “the nones”, Christianity is growing fastest and gaining ground most in countries in which the environment is harshest and most hostile to the message of Jesus.

Maybe this is a reflection of the difference between the Gospel of Jesus and the institution of the Church – the difference between the simple message of the Gospel and the burdensome structure of religion. Just as “others” no longer understand the difference between the Gospel message and the errors and failures of the Church, equating and conflating the two, the Church in the US has largely lost its way, no longer shining like a bright light on the hill Jesus intended.

The vestiges of Christian power and influence are evident everywhere, but it is a blighted and obsolescent infrastructure that is crumbling and washing away. The cultural momentum that is gaining steam threatens to displace it altogether from its place of position in the social commonwealth. The current oligarchs in that marketplace of ideas threaten to oust the Christian voice and banish it from the public square.

As I survey the voices I hear, what I see that is being opposed is the voice of Christian power and influence. It isn’t so much the Gospel, but all the infrastructure that has been built up around it, that people are opposing. People don’t (very often) object to the simple message of the Gospel, They don’t even know or appreciate what it is! The message of the Gospel is effectively hidden behind the more public scaffolding of the Church.

Continue reading “For the Shame of the Gospel”