EDUCATION & Least educated are most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated … those with a graduate level education are almost always the group that is the most likely to be religiously affiliated.

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 4/19/19.

…the bar graph below displays the percentage of each educational group that identifies as a religious “none” (atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular).

Educational attainment serves as a very good proxy for economic prosperity and provides a solid test of secularization theory. Note that each of the six waves of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study contain between 30,000 and 65,000 respondents.

The results are unambiguous: those with the least amount of education are consistently the most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated. The far right bar in the graph, indicating those with a graduate level education are almost always the group that is the most likely to be religiously affiliated.

If one would like to argue that education is related to secularization, there is no evidence to support that conclusion to be found here.

However, there is a more specific way to approach this problem. The above graph lumps the entire sample into six education categories with little regard for whether they obtained their high school diploma in 1968 to 2008.

If secularization was a constantly accelerating process, we would expect to see younger people with graduate degrees unaffiliate at higher rates than their older counterparts with high levels of education. In order to test this, I broke the CCES 2018 sample into birth cohorts, which are created based on five year intervals.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/is-religious-decline-inevitable-in-united-states.html

ECONOMIC PROSPERITY & The more economic prosperity a nation enjoys, the fewer citizens of that country say that religion is very important.

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 4/19/19.

…The horizontal axis provides a good proxy for economic prosperity (gross national product per capita), while the vertical axis represents the overall level of religiosity in a nation.

The conclusion from this graph is clear: the more economic prosperity a nation enjoys, the fewer citizens of that country say that religion is very important. There are a few outliers, however. China is in the bottom left portion of the graph, which means that based on the country’s economic output it should be more religious than it currently is, with the same occurring in Hungary.

Obviously, both of those countries have a history that is closely associated with communism, which is the likely cause of their low levels of religiosity. On the other hand, the United States is clearly an outlier on this graph. It ranks as the most economically prosperous country in the dataset, but if it were going to be in the middle of the trend line, the overall level of religiosity should be very close to zero.

Instead, just over half of Americans think that religion is very important. The United States clearly bucks the trend of secularization when looked at from this angle.

There are two possible thoughts that emerge from this. One is that secularization is coming to the United States, it’s just moving a little slower. The other is that somehow the U.S. is different and is the exception to secularization. Recent data on America’s religious behaviors can help us understand what is really occurring.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/is-religious-decline-inevitable-in-united-states.html

ONE WAY & “Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.” -Walter Martin

Read more here … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/one-path-evangelism-scandalizing-exclusivity-of-jesus.html

ONE WAY & The Scandalizing Exclusivity of Jesus #ChristianityToday

by John C. Richards, 5/12/17.

In today’s culture, claims of exclusivity are met with the resistance of a tired toddler pushing back a plate of broccoli. This is especially true of religious claims. Religious pluralism is more palatable for Western society and this worldview rules the day.

Pluralism posits that there is more than one valid religion and that no single religion has a monopoly on truth. It asserts that there are many paths up the same mountain. Ultimately, so the claim goes, we’ll all meet at the top in our respective spiritual journeys.

When it comes to religion, the word exclusive is synonymous with bigot. Even worse, Christians who communicate the exclusivity of their faith are castigated and dismissed.

When a religion claims to have the market cornered on divine inspiration, its disconcerting. Our culture is more comfortable with the blind men and the elephant analogy—where each religion represents a blind man touching a different part of an elephant, never having the whole picture. This analogy positions those who take the pluralist position as having the full view of the “elephant.” Ironically, this position leads to its own truth claims. In fact, the pluralism perspective finds itself steeped in the same intolerance and exclusivity that it despises and rejects. We know the truth…and it is found in a little bit of every religion. Embrace it. Live it.

Sharing the Exclusive Jesus

Anyone who thinks differently is closed-minded. And Christianity finds itself in the dead center of religious critics’ bullseyes. Why so much antagonism toward the Christian faith? It may stem from the words of Christ. Perhaps the nine most disorientating words in Scripture are found in Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus makes a no-doubt statement about His position and role in God’s redemptive story. “I’m the only shot you’ve got,” he is essentially saying. We like choices, but when it comes to our redemption, Jesus doesn’t give us any. The gospel is an exclusive message in an inclusive world. And we’re called to share that exclusive Jesus with others. Truth and exclusivity are not mutually exclusive. As Walter Martin notes in his seminal work The Kingdom of Cults, “Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.”

How might Christians best communicate this exclusivity in our religiously pluralistic context?

First, we must embrace the scandal of the gospel. The gospel is scandalous. There’s no getting around it. In fact, Paul talks about this scandal in his letter to the Corinthian church. He uses the Greek word that we derive the English word scandal from in writing to the Corinthian church. He writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block [Greek scandalize] to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Every Christian must embrace this truth to effectively witness to others. The gospel will offend. There’s no need to apologize about that or deviate from sharing the gospel in its entirety.

Because of the scandalous nature of the gospel, some of our faith conversations with others won’t go so well. And that’s okay. Or role in the process is the plant and water gospel seeds, trusting God with the results (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).

Second, we must serve the gospel on a full platter. Truth is always best served with a side of grace. Our culture grants exclusivity where it sees value. Apologetics—a systematic defense of one’s faith—isn’t about winning an argument; it’s about winning hearts. If that’s the case, then asserting Jesus’ exclusivity might begin at the head, but it should always end at the heart. Our goal should always be to look for winsome ways to share the scandalizing truth of the gospel with a broken and hurting world.

Start with listening. The old axiom is true. There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Listen carefully to people’s reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. Listen attentively—without formulating your response in your head as they speak. Only then will you respond with the grace necessary to share the gospel effectively.

The Beauty of Jesus’ Exclusivity

Ultimately, our role in sharing the gospel is showing the beauty of Jesus’ exclusivity…

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/one-path-evangelism-scandalizing-exclusivity-of-jesus.html

SLAVERY & Comparing the Wesleys’ experiences w/ slavery (resulting in them being against slavery) to George Whitefield’s experiences (resulting in his owning slaves to support [sic] ministry).

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As a Wesley scholar I have appreciated the differences between John and Charles Wesley and their colleague George Whitfield. One of these differences is their attitudes towards slavery.

Here’s a story about on how John and Charles Wesley came to feel so strongly against slavery. Read this short daily devotional from my recent book Enthusiast.life – Finding a Faith That Fills.

Historian Peter Choi argues that the Wesleys looked on the spiritual (Choi would say utopian) side of an issue, while Whitefield looked on the pragmatic side.  This can be a warning for leaders today.

  1. First, read this excerpt (immediately below or click here > BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – ENTHUSIAST Day 26 Human Trafficking ) on the Wesleys’ view of slavery.
  2. Then read the second article (further below) that reviews Whitefield’s perspective.

Week 6, Day 1 – Christians Have a Duty to Stand Up Against Human Trafficking

by Bob Whitesel, 2017, excerpted from Enthusiast.life – Finding a Faith That Fills, pp. 189-194.

Charles watched in horror as a child was given “a slave of its own age to tyrannize over, to beat and abuse out of sport… a common practice.” The youth’s haughtiness and condescension to his human gift sickened Charles. “One Colonel Lynch is universally know to have cut off a poor Negro’s legs,” wrote Charles, “and to kill several of them every year by his barbarities.” Charles described how another slave owner boasted of whipping a female slave until she appeared dead. Then after summoning a doctor who revived her, the slave owner whipped her again and concluded by pouring hot sealing wax upon her.

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Read more at Enthusiast.life

 

Such were the experiences the Wesleys encountered while on their church planting expedition to Georgia (Week 2, Day 1). Charles summarized their abhorrence: “It were endless to recount all the shocking instances of diabolical cruelty which these men (as they called themselves) daily produce upon their fellow-creatures; and that on the most trivial occasions.” 

In response, John infused into the emerging method a process to address, not ignore, such controversial topics.

 

Lesson 1: Begin by examining a controversial topic through a Biblical lens.

John concluded that the Bible did not condone slavery and neither should Christians who follow the Scriptures. He cited Paul’s writings to a similar era (Eph. 6:9, Col. 4:1) as well as Paul’s declaration that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28). John then wrote powerful books decrying the practice, including: “Thoughts About Slavery” and “A Serious Address to the People of England with Regard to the State of the Nation.”

Lesson 2: Love of money, and not the love of God, is behind many heinous sins

While the Wesleys were in Georgia, the colony did not permit slavery. Soon Georgia permitted slavery because of perceived economic gain. John never stopped pointing out that the worship of money was behind this, writing: “But at length (in Georgia) the voice of those villains prevailed who sell their country and their God for gold, who laugh that human nature and compassion, and who defy all religion, but that getting money. It is certainly our duty to do all in our power to check this growing evil.”

Lesson 3: Abused and molested people are every Christian’s brothers and sisters

The “faith of a son/daughter” meant these abused and molested people were God’s children too … and every Christian’s brothers and sisters.  Not only would John work to see slavery ended, but at the same time he would work to get the Good News to them. It was a two-pronged approach: a political effort to end slavery and a spiritual effort to provide slaves with Biblical teaching.  

Lesson 4: Take your message to where those who need it assemble

Slaves were captured in Africa and resold to American shippers in the English city of Bristol. Bristol was one of the centers of Methodism. The city’s first preaching house was positioned in the market area, nearby to where slaves would be bought and sold. The presence of this preaching house allowed the message to be heard among both the oppressors and those oppressed.

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Exhibit from The New Room, Bristol UK (first Wesleyan preaching house built adjacent to the slave market)

Lesson 5: Do all in your power to check a growing evil

John ensured that the emerging method had rules against such abhorrent behavior, such as owning slaves. John declared the owning of slaves was cause for expulsion from the method. However, in America where slavery was often legal, some in the Methodist movement distanced themselves from Wesley and his stance. In his book, “Calm Address to our American Colonies,” John argued that the wild nature of America’s frontier did not allow Christians to bend or break God’s laws.

One week before John died, he wrote his last letter. It was addressed to anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce, whom Wesley encouraged to fight on, saying, “O be not weary in well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery the vilest that ever saw the sun shall vanish before it.” Today, human trafficking in the form of sexual exploitation, forced labor, etc. continues, but we must not grow weary in opposing it.

Application of the Lessons

For personal devotion, read the questions, meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lessons 1-5) Ask yourself, “Are there any moral issues which intimidate me and on which I remain silent, though the Word of God calls me to address it?”  Write a paragraph about what you will do to address it with each of these steps:

  • Begin by examining a controversial topic through a Biblical lens
  • Love of money, and not the love of God, is behind the sin
  • Needy people are my brothers and sisters
  • Take your message to where those who need it assemble
  • We should “do all in our power to check this growing evil”

Now, compare the faith that filled John and Charles Wesley to that of their colleague George Whitfield as reflected in this article below.

Did George Whitefield Serve Two Masters?

by Rick Kennedy, Christianity Today, 2/22/19.

… Peter Choi’s biography, George Whitefield: Evangelist for God and Empire, explores various ways that Whitefield’s zeal for good works not only put him on a pedestal but also entangled him in a war against Catholicism and the promotion of race-based slavery. By exposing less-than-uplifting facts about Whitefield, the book illuminates unhealthy aspects of 18th-century evangelicalism’s intimate relationship with the British Empire.

… Choi describes how missionary zeal, Christian philanthropy, utopian social engineering, and bold military strategy came together in the creation of Georgia. In England, he observes, the founding trustees of Georgia “fanned the flames of euphoria in the early 1730s by hiring publicists to write about their cause across the empire.” Freedom, racial equality before God, respect for Native American rights, and all the rights and privileges of republican government were to flourish in a new colony named for King George II, leader of the Protestant world. As young men, the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield were swept up in the euphoria and traveled to Georgia as celebrity missionaries.

John Wesley went there unprepared, inspired by ideals too high to achieve. He then allowed himself to be distracted by romantic love before devoting time to evangelism among Native Americans. In Wesley’s failure, Choi sees the heights of British utopianism (a perspective he shares with the historian Geordan Hammond, author of John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity).

Whitefield, on the other hand, arrived in Georgia well prepared and without utopian delusions. Choi points out that the Georgia frontier offered Whitefield the freedom to experiment with his calling to preach about the “new birth.” It “represented a strategic location where he was free to nurture a form of religion that was experimental and entrepreneurial.” In Whitefield’s pragmatism, Choi sees the seeds of both his success and his failure. The evangelist established a philanthropic institution (the Bethesda orphanage), but he was not committed to upholding Georgia’s anti-slavery ideals, and he neglected the Georgia Trustees’ call for evangelistic work among Native Americans.

Bethesda-Orphanage-Georgia-founded-by-George-Whitefield-Internet-ArchiveThe orphanage was key to Whitefield’s role as “evangelist for God and Empire.” Established near Savannah, Georgia, it began as a hybrid of a trade school and a plantation. As Choi explains, “It mixed moral and religious goals with imperial and mercantile aims.” The orphans served as both laborers and students. Money was needed, which prompted Whitefield to become a traveling revivalist and fundraiser all at once. In this role, he sparked and gave direction to a transatlantic Great Awakening.

Fundraising for the orphanage was highly successful, but the flow of money eventually slowed when the revivals began to wane. Unwanted orphans were numerous when Georgia was growing fast, but their numbers also went into decline. At a time when Whitefield should have downsized his orphanage, he aspired to grow it into a university along the lines of the pietist institution that flourished at the time in Halle, Germany. Choi carefully follows Whitfield into Dickensian situations in which the preacher forcibly removed “prospective orphans” from their siblings and/or guardians.

Never an abolitionist, Whitefield bought a plantation in North Carolina and became a slave owner as a means to help fund his plans for Bethesda. Economic exigencies spurred his increasingly ardent calls for the Georgia Trustees to lift their ban on slavery. The economy of Georgia, he declared, would be strengthened by abandoning the colony’s anti-slavery ideals. “If any one person can be credited with responsibility for the introduction of black slavery in Georgia,” Choi writes, it should be Whitefield.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/february-web-only/george-whitefield-peter-choi-evangelist-god-empire.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Do 47 Percent of Christian Millennials Think Evangelism Is Wrong? – Part 1 #RickRichardson

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My friend and colleague Dr. Rich Richardson of Wheaton College has penned an excellent analysis of recent data regarding the millennial generation’s uncomfortable relationship with conversion and spiritual transformation. To understand their quandary, read this important article.

by Rick Richardson, Christianity Today, 3/13/19.

…So it’s not surprising that a new statistic is making the rounds on social media and in church board rooms across the United States. A new research study out of Barna found that “47% of Millennial practicing Christians think it is wrong to share one’s beliefs with a person of another faith in hopes that the person will come to share one’s beliefs.”

Moreover, 40 percent of practicing Millennial Christians believe that “if someone disagrees with you, they are judging you.” More concerning, these are not nominal or cultural Christians that we can dismiss as not the real deal. These are “practicing Millennial Christians” by which Barna means they, “identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.”

While the first stat is garnering the majority of the headlines, the combined message is that many young Christians hold a clearly negative view of evangelism.

Yet with this statistic—like every startling number that reinforces a bias or stirs up controversy—we need to look beyond the number to consider the causes and our reactions. Barna has given the church a much-needed wake-up call to the state of evangelism in the church, particularly among its younger adults. However, it is up to us to interpret what this means and to chart a pathway forward to greater gospel effectiveness.

Over the course of two articles, I want to do just this. In Part Two, I’m going to outline four principles of evangelism that we need to drill down on in light of the fact that many young believers have strong reservations. But first, I want to explore the Barna study itself and provide some greater context and clarity.

Millennial attitudes toward evangelism are complex

While many of the articles responding to the Barna study focused on the 47 percent, it is crucial to note that other findings in the same study seem to contradict or at minimum offer a more complex picture of millennial evangelism. Delving deeper into the study, three statistics jump out that should give academics, pastors, and everyday Christians pause in jumping to a conclusion.

1 – Millennial practicing Christians feel as strongly as other generations that being a witness is part of faith, at a rate of 96 percent

2 – Millennial practicing Christians feel just about as strongly that the best thing that could ever happen to others is to come to know Jesus, at a rate of 94 percent.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/march/47-christian-millennials-think-evangelism-wrong-part-1.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Statistics on the Decline in Conversions in Churches.

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, Christianity Today, 3/6/19.

…Church conversions

The lack of growth in worship attendance in most churches is matched by a lack of new commitments to Christ last year.

Fifty-four percent of pastors say fewer than 10 people indicated a new commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior in 2018, including 8 percent who had none.

In some ways, however, those numbers mask deeper evangelistic issues. When evaluating churches based on the number of conversions per 100 attendees, 67 percent had fewer than 10 per 100 people attending their church. Around a third (35%) had fewer than five new commitments for every 100 people attending their worship services.

Forty-six percent of smaller churches (fewer than 50 in worship services) say they had 10 conversions or more for every 100 in attendance, while only 18 percent of churches 250 and above meet that benchmark.

While there are no major differences between evangelical and mainline churches in terms of new converts, denominational differences do exist.

A majority of Pentecostal pastors (57%) say they saw 10 or more new commitments to Christ in their church last year per 100 attendees. The next closest denominations are Lutherans (39%), Holiness (38%), and Baptists (35%).

A quarter of Methodist (25%) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (23%) say they had 10 or more new commitments to Jesus in 2018 per 100 attendees. Half of Methodist pastors (50%) had fewer than five new commitments last year.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/lifeway-research-church-growth-attendance-size.html