In 2008, about 50 million people in America checked the “Religious None” box. Ten million of those are ardent atheists. This means that the rest of these 40 million people aren’t really sure what they believe. The nones account for more than More than Charismatic, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Mormons and Muslims put together. You (hopefully) have friends, neighbors and coworkers that fall into this category.
People like David Noise, author of Unbeliever Nation, are on a campaign to claim the nones for the secularist camp.
Evangelicals aren’t the only people on mission.
What are You Doing About “Secularized” Faith?
But you don’t have to check the “none” box to be influenced by secular thinking. Many people are skeptical about cardinal Christian doctrines such as the incarnation, resurrection, and the Trinity. This may be surprising as the incarnation and the resurrection represent the two biggest holiday celebrations in Christianity.The Trinity, of course, gets at the very heart of God.
As our country fragments, different religious groups are isolated from one another more and more. Evangelicals are seen as militant and uninterested in genuine dialog. They often treat doubt as the eighth deadly sin. But the reality is that many Christians are struggling with the very same doubts.
The notion that God became a sinless baby seems like a fairy tale.
The idea that Jesus beat death is almost sic-fi
The Trinity, well that’s not even rational.
Closing our eyes to rising secularity and skepticism about Christianity won’t do. Mounding up evidence and demanding a personal verdict isn’t enough. We, too, have to take up the mission, but not as we have in the past.
Instead of treating doubt like the enemy, we will need to befriend those who doubt. Climb into their story. Empathize with their church perpetrated wounds. See the incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity from their perspective. And respond to skeptical perspectives with sympathetic dialog.
How Should People of Faith Respond to People of Unfaith?
The most recent survey I read pointed out that the “nones” have jumped to one quarter of the population. If this secularized segment of the population continues to grow at the same clip, the largest religion in the U.S. will be no religion at all.
Over a third of the population no longer attends religious services. This means church services are not enough. We need a witnessing church not just a ‘worshipping’ church. A people confident in the self-authenticating gospel of Jesus who live out its implications in an authentic way. People who don’t just argue others into submission, but submit their own failures in faith.
Our response has to include sympathy and strategy, cultural discernment and confidence in the gospel. We need a whole new line of resources, communication, church forms, and most of all winsome Christlike people to remain faithful to the mission of Jesus.
An Example Response
My friends at Moving Works have produced several shorts that explore the implausibility of the resurrection through narrative with a Terrance Malik, Tree-of-Life feel. If you like it, feel free to use it. You might consider screening the whole 40 minute film in a local theater and hosting a Q&A afterwards. Or host a discussion group over the shorts/chapters in a coffeeshop, home, or church. Invite your friends and learn how to sympathize with doubt and re-celebrate faith in the risen Christ.
I’ve also written a short book to engage unfaith in the resurrection. It’s meant to be read in an afternoon. Study guides and stuff are available. I’m working on two new projects that deal with the implausibly of the incarnation and the Trinity.
More resources are emerging, but we need much more in the form of conversation groups, video, art, and imaginative missional endeavors. You can’t out imagine the Trinity, so let’s move forward prayerfully and winsomely to love religious nones. They aren’t just numbers; they are our neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Each one has a story worth hearing, and once we’ve heard it, we can tell the gospel story in a more loving and understanding way.
I’m reading through Kevin Vanhoozer’s Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine, and there’s a tweet on every page. So, instead of loading up people’s twitter feeds, I thought it would be more merciful to list out some quotes here.
A brief set up. Vanhoozer is helping us see how doctrine must be done, which is good for the ivory tower preachers, theologians, & bookish types. When Jesus said to “observe all I have commanded,” he was saying more than “take notes” (xiii). And yet, desire for God, without doctrine, is blind (xiv). Doctrine gives direction for bearing faithful witness, for speaking understanding” (1). How, then, does doctrine speak? Through the church, of course, for good or for ill, depending on you.
Here are a string of quotes that articulate the church’s glorious responsibility to live our doctrine as a theatre of the gospel in and for the world:
The church is ultimately a triune production, a theater of the gospel wherein we begin to see how God in Christ is “reconciling the world to himself.”
The church is not only the “people of the book” but also “the (lived) interpretation of the book.”
Doctrine serves as a finishing school for disciples by helping them to view their lives as Christ did his, as caught up in the area drama of redemption.
The church is the place where Christ rules by his word, which dwells in disciples’ hearts.
The church is not an empty space but a peopled place where God exhibits his gospel.
The church is the public revelation of the mystery of salvation.
The evangelical church finds itself in danger of being indoctrinated by culture rather than by Scripture.
The argument in the present book is that the church is a theater of the gospel in which disciples stage previews of the coming kingdom of God.
Imagination is biblical reasoning in its Sunday best, lost in wonder at the creativity of the Creator.
There is nothing more authentic that being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the prototype of true humanity.
A very interesting reflection on what constitutes a city–organism or structure? This approach from physicists is intriguing, and looks like a promising series from The Atlantic.