The State Of Christianity In America
The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip. In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.1
So begins an October, 2019 article by the Pew Research Center. For those of us who hope and pray that more people will be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, see the truth of Christianity, and embrace Christ in true faith such reports are not encouraging. Of course, the Holy Spirit is not constrained by telephone polls. Still, the evidence that I have seen over the last three or four decades seems to indicate similar results. Fewer people are going to church and fewer people are identifying as Christians in the USA. Then, were we to “get inside the numbers,” as they say on the political talk shows, we would likely find that a relatively small percentage of those who self-identify as Christians embrace anything like historic orthodox Christianity as defined by the ecumenical (universal) Christian creeds, e.g., the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 325, 381), The Apostles’ Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon (AD 451), and the Athanasian Creed (c. 5th century).2 As of 2008, about 21% of Americans identify as Roman Catholic. Of the roughly 25% of Americans identified as “Evangelical Protestant,” of which 9% are Southern Baptist. The liberal mainline denominations make up about 14% of American Christians, though we may fairly suspect that even that percentage is inflated since the mainline denominations have been notoriously slow to account for their declining membership rolls.3 In that survey of 35,000 people 70% identified as Christian but Pew’s definition of Christian is quite elastic. The Reformed presence in this poll is negligible. The Reformed Church in America, the oldest Dutch Reformed presence in the USA registered at .03% as did the Christian Reformed Church. The North American Reformed and Presbyterian Council churches (e.g., the PCA, the OPC, the URCNA et al.) did not register. Altogether the NAPARC churches probably compose not much more than 500,000 souls.
According to Gallup, from 1937–76, 70% of Americans were members of some church. In their 2019 survey, however, they report that about 50% of Americans belong to a church, synagogue, or a mosque.4 The survey notes a rise in the percentage of Americans who identify as “religious” but who are unaffiliated with a church. The survey reports “just 42% of Millennials” belong to a church. Twenty years prior, 62% of Gen-Xers were church members. In the late 80s someone wrote about Dusters, Boomers, and Busters, which is what Gen-Xers were called. There was much worry about the Xers. Each succeeding generation has been less affiliated with church than the preceding generation. According to Outreach Magazine, the truth is even more dire than Gallup reports.5 In a 2018 story, they reported that less than 20% of Americans attend church regularly.
The State Of Christianity In Me
As I think about the apparent de-churching of America and the growth of (neo) paganism in the USA and of a general ignorance about historic Christianity—evidenced in a recent tweet by the actor Sean Penn, complaining “Evangelical leaders should themselves be impeached by the Vatican if they themselves don’t follow Nikki Haley’s lead & clearly state they should not have followed Satin [sic] into the bowels of hell. But, perhaps they are too busy at sex parties.” Penn apparently thinks that “Satin” is spiritual force in the world and that evangelicals are beholden to the Vatican. I take his remarks as an informal barometer of what outsiders think they know about Christianity. I have also been thinking some about my own conversion to Christianity. I began to come to faith in the Spring of 1976. My faith was nurtured initially by a Southern Baptist layman, by folks from the Navigators, Campus Life, Campus Crusade, and later by the Baptist Student Union. I made profession of faith at St John’s Reformed Church in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1980. I thought it might be edifying to say out loud, as it were, in public, what I have said over the years in various informal talks. Until sometime in my mid-teens I was a pagan, entirely ignorant of Christianity and of Scripture. At a certain point, at which point exactly I doubt that anyone can know, the Holy Spirit illumined the Scriptures, opened my eyes, softened my hard heart, and gave me new life and true faith. I remember, however, how the world looked through unbelieving eyes and I know how the world looks through believing eyes. I understand something of why Pagans hate and fear orthodox Christianity, as I did. I also remember how very helpful the popular apologetic manuals were for my young faith. I needed to know that becoming a Christian did not mean checking my mind at the door and surrendering to a mindless mysticism. It seems like a useful thing to recount what happened and why I still believe. Augustine and Anselm were correct: I believe in order that I may understand. Faith does seek understanding. We trust and reason. The Christian faith does not set one against the other.
Just days after my birth I was baptized, in the hospital, by a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod minister. There was a significant possibility that I would not leave the hospital alive. Dad had to sell a car he dearly loved to pay for round-the-clock nursing care for me for 8-10 weeks after I was born. I was very early and very small. In the kind providence of God there happened to be visiting in this small Kansas college town, an physician who was able to save both my life and my mother’s. I have an early memory of attending Dundee Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Omaha, briefly. My sister and I pasted pictures on chocolate syrup cans. Mom and Dad kept rubber bands and twist-ties in them. The minister thought my Dad was a physician and left the house in a huff when he learned that Dad was a psychologist. There are photos of us dressed for church as a family so we did go to some church at least occasionally but Dad was “American Lutheran” and Mom was raised in the Restorationist tradition (“The Christian Church”). Neither was happy with the other’s religious tradition and they settled by committing to neither of them. When I later asked why I was not given any religious instruction I was told that Mom and Dad had decided to leave it up to us kids to decide what we wanted to believe. My paternal Grandfather had walked away from the Lutheran Church, ostensibly over alleged hypocrisy in the church but I suspect that the matter was more complicated. I think my maternal grandparents were more faithful about going to church. Years after he had left the church (in favor of the Masonic Lodge) my paternal grandpa could still ask very thoughtful questions about Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life and about Pentecostalism. Those questions revealed that his Lutheran catechesis was still functioning. As best as I can remember, Dad’s religion was eclectic. He seemed to believe in a global flood and he seemed to take the Scriptures as essentially but not entirely true. He seemed most passionate about the Sermon on the Mount (Matt chapters 5–7) and the Ten Commandments (Exod 20). He
The first real evangelical Christian I met was Randy, who attended a Swedish Covenant congregation in Omaha. I went to church with him and his family a few times. The service was mostly a mystery but they had basketball hoops in the parking lot and that made complete sense to me. I visited a mainline youth group in Omaha and attended the downtown Unitarian Universalist Church for a time with Mom and my sisters. The Unitarians were proud of their skepticism and their pipe organ. In youth group we learned some relaxation techniques. I had some Romanist neighbors across the street, who went to mass on Sunday mornings faithfully until the local parish started offering Saturday evening mass. I had a couple of neighbors with fundamentalist connections but my only knowledge of the Bible and the faith came from the mass media. I heard the law from Charlton Heston, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments, and the gospel from the Lutherans via their Davey and Goliath Sunday morning television program. I think I watched some episodes of This Is The Life, a Lutheran-sponsored soap opera.
I was so ignorant of Christianity that when I saw Randy’s paperback copy of the New Testament, perhaps Good News for Modern Man, I was struck by how large it was. I recall thinking that were I ever going to read the Bible I had better get cracking. I knew about the Old Testament from Charlton Heston but I do not think that I knew clearly that there was a New Testament and I wondered if the Bible was released in installments like some sort of divine book club. I was a sitting duck, of course for the Mormons, who had an even more recent revelation but, in the providence of God, I was spared.
I did not begin to have anything like a serious religious conversation with anyone until my sophomore year of high school, when I came into contact with a physical education teacher at grade school near my high school, as part of a vocational internship program. Up to that point, my only interests had been basketball and girls. I was injured before the first game of the season and not able to play much. It was a time of great frustration and disappointment. I had trained, on my own, very hard to improve enough to be able to play high school basketball. Despite my lack of size, speed, and strength I had impressed the varsity coach with my work ethic sufficiently that he forced the Sophomore coach to add me to his squad. The injury was painful and lasted for the entire school year. I thought I might want to become a PhysEd teacher so, as part of the vocational internship program they paired me with a local PE teacher, a devout evangelical, a Southern Baptist layman named Bob. He was not much of a reader but I could see that he loved his family. He was devout in his religion but he did not seem to take himself too seriously. He seemed happy but not artificially so. His interest in me seemed genuine so I listened to him. When he asked me, “Do you know Jesus?” I did not understand the question. Of course I came to learn that he was speaking in an evangelical code—as I came to find that there was an entire evangelical sub-culture of which I was completely ignorant heretofore but into which I was about to be, as it were, plunged. It was his way of asking if I believed in Jesus. My recollection is that I said, “I suppose. Doesn’t everyone?” Over the coming months, in between classes, we discussed his faith and why it was important that I should believe. I objected with the standard questions: Who can really trust such ancient documents? How does anyone really know? What about the other world religions? What about evil? He played a series of audio cassettes for me, that, as I recall, did not really address any of my questions. Indeed, there were ways in which his presentation of the faith was scandalously bad but I was impressed with his sincerity and his passion. After several months, I finally agreed to visit his church, a Southern Baptist Congregation in the Southwest corner of town.
Most churches, even ancient and beautiful churches, are ad hoc mazes. This one was no exception. I mistakenly went in the side door and found myself in a welter of activity of parents dropping off children and a great lot of determined movement and shuffling. Somehow, to my great relief, I found the auditorium and Bob. He sat up front so when I entered the auditorium (through the wrong door) he was more or less right in front of me. Outside of visits to the physician, few things are more fraught with bad possibilities than entering a new group of people who are each doing mysterious things, in unknown ways. Sunday School was equally mysterious. Everyone seemed to know all about the Bible. At first, I only had my Dad’s dog-eared copy of the Revised Standard Version, which was just archaic enough to put me even farther behind. When the Sunday School leader told us to turn to such and such chapter and verse, they all knew just where to turn while I was looking in the table of contents. The service were very confusing and emotional. The hymns were unknown by me, of course. The preacher raised his voice a lot. This was not the Unitarian Church or even the mainline Presbyterian Church. It was a little like Mom’s Christian Church but this “altar call” thing was something new.
Perhaps my clearest memory from this period is that of sitting down to read the Bible privately. I asked Dad where I should start and he told me to start with the Sermon on the Mount. “Where is that?” He said, “It’s in Matthew.” The table of contents told me that the Gospel of Matthew was in the New Testament and one of the headings told me that the Sermon on the Mount began in chapter 5. Despite the quasi-archaic language of the RSV I found Jesus a very intimating figure. By then I had read Abbie Hoffman’s Yippie manifesto, Steal This Book (1971) and parts of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice (1968) but Jesus blew my mind.
Becoming A Christian
Above I sketched the general state of Christianity in the USA and how I began to come to faith sometime in the mid-1970s. My ignorance of Christianity was profound. I had read none of Scripture. I had read no Christian literature. I had learned the Lord’s Prayer but it was outside the church, in a setting where it was removed from its Christian context and often radically reinterpreted. I had no idea why it was called the Lord’s Prayer or where it was in Scripture. So, when I began to read Scripture for myself, it was quite shocking. The Beatitudes (Matt 5:1–11) were revolutionary, of course. They revealed an eschatology and an ethic that was quite strange. For one thing, Jesus had no idea of an earthly utopia. It was Jesus’ exposition of the law (Matt 5:17–47), however, that struck me with the greatest force. It is what our Lord intended: “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt 5: 19; RSV). I was especially impressed with Matthew 22–23, “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (RSV). I quote the RSV here because that was the first translation that I ever tried to read. Who of us had not said “You fool!” or worse to someone? I certainly had. v. 28 also frightened me: “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” What fifteen year old boy had not lusted after a girl? I could tell that adultery was bad and that I was already guilty. Jesus’ call to cooperate with bullies seemed impossible: “if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles…” (Matt 5:41). I had spent plenty of time in fistfights with bullies in school and on the playground. The idea of not striking back and loving one’s enemies (v. 43) was almost beyond comprehension. There was plenty in Matthew 6 to add to my confusion and disquiet but chapter 7 began to push me over the top. To that point I was sure that all world religions were essentially the same. Of course, like most others who repeat such bromides, I had no basis for my assumption. The warning in Matthew 7:13 about the “narrow gate” was ominous. I shared the experience of the crowd who heard the Sermon on the Mount: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:28–29; RSV). I had heard religious teaching but I had never heard or read anything like this.
I did not immediately pray for forgiveness. I continued to listen to Bob. I kept reading. I attended services. My first attempt at anything like a Christian prayer was, well, unconventional: “I give in.” I cannot tell you exactly when it was and I do not even know with certainty that I was regenerate yet. I have come to think that our attempts to nail down the secret work of the Spirit, in regeneration, to a particular time is another example of the QIRC (the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty). It is a misguided attempt to find certainty in my identification of specific moment as the moment when the Spirit regenerated me. In truth, the basis for my confidence is not my guess at the time when the Spirit regenerated me but rather in the promises made to believers in Holy Scripture. Indeed, our Lord says that we cannot know the time (see the resources below). Still, by the next school year I was heavily involved in the church’s youth group, in a high school Bible study, and in Campus Life. The whole year is a blur of religious activity. I was memorizing Scripture, learning to pray, and helping to lead an on-campus Bible study. That was a challenge. It had not been done before. The principal was supportive but his initial hesitation was well grounded. After graduation, the local chapter of the ACLU complained about it.
The Scriptures were not exposited in the way that I would encourage now but the gospel was preached. The altar calls were uncomfortably long and I felt guilty for not going forward but I had not seen anything like it in the Scriptures and so I refused. Still, the pastors accepted me warmly and encouraged me. The youth pastor was patient and gracious with me and, as always, Bob was a constant source of encouragement. I remember a long road trip from Lincoln to Warr Acres, in Oklahoma City, to visit Gene Warr and to learn more about Christian discipleship. I attended the Gothard Institute, taking the church bus to Omaha each night for a week. That I regret except that it was strangely encouraging to see thousands of others also seeking to find out how to live the Christian life. I became a regular listener to the local contemporary Christian radio station. Bob bought me a Living Bible. He gave me some Navigators’ verse packs to memorize. I had my 9;59 Quiet Time book to use each morning. I was an full-blooded evangelical Christian.
Beginning To Face The Questions
The objections to orthodox Christianity, which had seemed so formidable before I believed did not trouble me profoundly after I believed. In part this was because they did not seem to trouble Christ. I had once dismissed the Bible as an ancient, outmoded book but that was before I read it. As I began to read it carefully it no longer seemed outmoded at all. Did it matter how old the Bible was if it was true? It was addressing, often with brutal honesty, the very same sorts of questions with which I was wrestling. Further, Jesus took the Old Testament as true. He did not seem to worry about the age of the earth or the violence in the Old Testament. He was more “enlightened” if you will, i.e., he knew more about what has happening in the world than anyone I had read heretofore. His words had the ring of truth and authority. He did not mince words. He did not curry favor. He seemed to care not a whit what people thought of him. He kept telling his disciples (in Mark) not to tell other people about him (e.g., Mark 7:36; 8:30). He was not a hippie-stoner, as he had sometimes been represented to be. He was not selling or searching for the next high. He was not a manipulator, a cult leader. He was not a politician. He was not working an angle. He feared no man because he feared God. I had never met nor read a teacher who seemed see utterly devoted to the truth and certainly there was never any mere mortal who, himself, was the truth. The words of John 14:6 were haunting: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” In his arrest, torture, and death, Jesus had faced genuine evil but he never blamed God—he never shook his fist at his Father in righteous anger. If anyone had a right to complain about injustice, it was he but he did not do it. How could I?
Still the questions remained and intellectual honesty required that I look into them but now it would be not from the perspective of the ignorant skeptic but from the point of view of the inquiring believer.
I Believe In Order That I May Understand
So far I have been describing my subjective experience in coming to faith. My ecclesiastical circumstances, from the confessional Reformed perspective were irregular at best. As I mentioned earlier, I finally made profession of faith in 1980 (I think) in a confessional Reformed congregation. One of the reasons I left my Southern Baptist congregation and went across town, literally as it happens, was because I realized that there were sections of Scripture that were more or less ignored. I had pieces of the Christian faith, e.g., the importance of personal faith in Christ, the necessity of confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness, the importance of prayer and Bible reading but there was much about the Christian faith that my congregation seemed unprepared to explain. I believed but I needed some explanations. I had inherited a quasi-Dispensational, quasi-Charismatic, Baptist understanding of the faith. The quasi-Charismatic aspects created an illusion of continuity between our experience and that of the Apostles mainly by redefining terms and by making up things. People regularly claimed to receive direct revelation, when, in fact these were little more than hunches and more or less sanctified guesses. The quasi-Dispensational, premillennial faith I had received as a Baptist emphasized discontinuity with the Old Testament, so two-thirds of Scripture remained hidden except for occasional character studies. The Baptists had an underdeveloped sense of the continuity of revelation and salvation and no covenant theology to speak of. There was no talk of the sovereignty of God so my pagan, Modern notions of human autonomy (the ability of humans to will the contrary to God) went unchallenged. There was no talk of election or imputation or the doctrine of justification really. Christianity had been reduced entirely to a personal encounter with the risen Christ.
Credibility Of The Gospel Narratives
The existence of God was never a grave issue for me. It was taken for granted in our house but he was an unknown God. I knew neither his Word nor his saving ways. I knew him from general, natural revelation. I knew, in my conscience, the natural law. I knew that murder and stealing were wrong. No one had to tell me these things. I knew that was going to give an account to God but, like most pagans, I hoped that my good deeds, as I thought of them, would outweigh the bad I had done. As I came to faith, as I came to begin to see the greatness of my sin and misery, how had been redeemed from all my sins and misery, and how I ought to be thankful to God for such redemption (Heidelberg 2) I came to see that I had not reasoned my way to faith (the blindness of sin prevents that) but that there are reasons for faith.
Before my conversion, one of the principal objections, prejudices really, that I assumed against the Christian faith was the reliability of the Scriptures. Like everyone else who assumed the Modern, Enlightenment-fueled, narrative I assumed that pre-modern texts were unenlightened and unreliable. It seemed to me that the entire faith hinged on the gospels and the resurrection. Paul himself said so:
12 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:12–19; RSV).
Either Christ has been raised or he has not. Either the gospel narratives are true or they are not. Is it reasonable to trust the gospel narratives? Yes. It is true that the Scriptures are quite ancient. Years after my conversion I came to learn that the textual history of the Scriptures is quite impressive as compared to other ancient texts. The Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures were well preserved in fair copies. There are text-critical issues in the Old Testament but they do not materially affect the reliability of the historical narratives. The modern criticism of the Old Testament rest mainly on assumptions about how the world must work, i.e., that the supernatural events recorded in the Scriptures could not have happened as recorded. Could is a funny word. Who says? That the world is such (i.e., closed) that God could not have spoken from nothing, into nothing to make all that is an a priori. That is essentially a religious conviction, not science. The theory that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) must have had multiple authors also rests on assumptions. That the prophets could not have been written when they were supposed to have been written is another a priori assumption. The traditional Christian explanation for these matters accounts for the particulars more satisfactorily than the critical account, which seems to be more anxious to satisfy the skepticism of Moderns than it does about finding the truth.
The question of the Christian faith turns on the gospels. We have four canonical gospels. Until the Modern period, the testimony of the early church had lead the church to think that the gospels were quite early. The Modern consensus has tended, however, to start with Mark and to orbit the gospels, as it were, chronologically, around AD 70. The traditional account, however, leads us to think that Matthew was rather earlier than AD 70 and that Mark was written under Claudius in the early 40s. Luke is a bit later and John the latest, sometime around AD 70. We know from the work of Ned Stonehouse and others that each of the gospel writers has a theological agenda and that John is the most overtly theological and least concerned about historical chronology. The synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) may have had a common source (the so-called Q) or perhaps not. I am skeptical about Q. Luke presents himself as being particularly concerned about historical accuracy and so I have always found him to be. His Greek is elegant, even elevated (as compared to John’s). Luke was a scholar. Whenever his work has been criticized as inaccurate it has always been vindicated. I believe all the gospels but Luke was a skilled historical-theologian. He gets the details right.
The Canonical Gospels Contrasted With Their Gnostic Competitors
Consider the neo-Gnostic argument that the Scriptures. It is alleged that the canonical gospels were arbitrarily selected out of a huge number of competing gospels. This simply is not true and Charles Hill has documented that it is not true. See the resources below. The earliest evidence we have is that the Gnostic imitations of the canonical gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypse are later and derivative. The earliest witnesses tell us that the canonical gospels are the earliest and most accurate witnesses to the life of Christ. The difference of quality between the Gnostic gospels and the canonical gospels is plain to any sensible person. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, in which the neo-Gnostics put so much store, has Jesus going about in the second century. That is just silly and reveals that the gospel of Thomas is bogus. The same is true of the so-called Gospel of Judas, about which the critics also made such a fuss. It too is a second-century Gnostic re-telling of the story, this time with Judas the hero. Like most of the other Gnostic texts it focuses on the gaps in the canonical gospels. It seeks to turn the canonical story on its head. It is obviously a late, Gnostic rebuttal to the canonical gospels. There is a reason we are not hearing much about the alleged bombshell any more: it was a dud. This has been my experience with Scripture generally. The critics come at it, on the basis of unstated assumptions about how the world works and about what is possible, and attack its reliability. Yet, Scripture always survives the attacks. This is particularly true of the gospels.
Over the years the question I have asked myself is this: is it reasonable to stake so much on the gospels? As I keep translating and reading the gospels, the answer is yes. They hold up to scrutiny. They are more reliable than most other ancient texts. They have a better textual witness than comparable ancient texts. We have an amazing wealth of textual witnesses to the canonical gospels. Where other ancient texts might have only a handful of fair copies, the textual witness to the canonical gospels is very rich indeed. The textual variants affect no doctrinal teaching and raise no serious question about the reliability of the canonical gospels.
My day job requires me to read texts critically, even those texts with which I am personally sympathetic. The Gnostic gospels require me to suspend my critical faculties, to accept absurdities. That is not true with the canonical gospels. It is not as though there are no issues with the canonical gospels. The Gospel of John arranges some events differently, with a different attitude toward chronology than do the synoptics. All the gospels are theological but John is especially theological in his orientation. Even so, each of the gospels is remarkably sober and careful in its handling of the story. There is no comparison between the Gnostic gospels and the canonical gospels when it comes to the intrinsic qualities of the narrative. Where the Gnostic gospels are bent on making Judas or Satan into the hero, the canonical gospels do not spare the apostles from criticism. They do not speculate. When I read the Martyrdom of Polycarp I must distinguish the fairly sober elements of the narrative from those aspects that are embellishments added in a sometimes desperate attempt to make Polycarp into a Christ figure. The redactors did not trust their story, The canonical gospels do not embellish. They trust their subject and story to carry the day and to persuade the reader.
There are a few extra-canonical witnesses to the existence of Jesus but the demand that we find something outside the witness of the canonical Scriptures assumes what it has to prove, that the canonical scriptures are themselves unreliable. We should be very glad to have a similar wealth of carefully written accounts of other ancient figures about whose existence there is little doubt. From the canonical gospels and from the extra-canonical logia (sayings) and from the testimony of the early church, we know far more Jesus than we do about other figures. We know something of his interior life, what he did, what he said, where he was, how he died (and why) and that he was raised on the third day. The gospels and Paul appeal boldly to contemporary eye-witness testimony. Were the risen Jesus a fiction or sham, that was a risky tactic. They did so because it was true. Everything they recorded and more happened and it happened they they said it did.
Read the gospels slowly and carefully for yourself. Do they strike you as fantastic, as straining credulity, as hyperbolic? The gospel writers did not ask us to believe things that they had not described with striking honesty. They did not have to shade the story or to make the disciples heroic because the story was true. The realism is deeply impressive.
Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was, that he went about teaching, healing, and sometimes even raising the dead? Is it credible to think that at the death of Jesus, tombs broken open and people who were dead came forth? (Matt 27:52) and that he himself was raised from the dead? Those are extraordinary claims and easily easily falsified. In the hands of less credible authors, the opening of the tombs would have been front and center. It is the sort of thing that grabs attention and sells books but Matthew was not about clicks and sales. He includes this extraordinary part of the story almost in passing. It is true that the Enlightenment movements declared that such things were not possible but that is an a priori. The Enlightenment philosophers thought a great lot of things we know not to be true.
I was not present at the resurrection of Jesus so I must rely on someone else’s record. Of course we do this all the time. So we look for credible accounts of the present and the past. One of the reasons I am a Christian is because the gospels read like real, careful history, because they themselves are credible.
Can A Modern Person Believe The Christian Deity?
The short answer is no but the problem lies not with the God of Holy Scripture. The problem resides squarely in the heart, mind, and affections of the Modern and Late-Modern person. As St Anselm said, “I believe in order that I may understand.” Without the Christian deity, the world is literally (not figuratively) senseless, i.e., it is without meaning and it is coherent. Modernity tried to turn the world on its head by reversing the hierarchy of authority. Prior to the mid-1650s, most people (including both intellectuals and working people) simply and rightly assumed the existence of God. Though there was much disagreement, at times, over what the divine truth said there was relatively little question whether God is, whether he has revealed himself, and whether humans are capable of knowing that truth. Ultimate authority was located in God and said to be delegated to the Scriptures, the church, and the state. Again, those agencies were organized differently at different times but the fundamental assumptions were widely shared. Most people, most of the time, were asking the same question: “what has God said?”
In Modernity, however, the question began to shift as the location of ultimate authority began to shift from God to the human self. Where prior to Modernity it was assumed that God was autonomous and humans are contingent it came to be widely believed, first among intellectuals and later among the working classes, that human intellect (rationalism), sense experience (empiricism), or emotional experience (subjectivism, where we are now) are the ultimate sources of authority. Through the 18th and 19th centuries an ancient, skeptical question became dominant: “has God said”? How did this happen? The answer to the question is much longer than can be detailed here—I am not entirely certain that anyone knows the complete answer—but intellectuals and, eventually, ordinary folk, lost faith in the existence of revealed truth. The relentless wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries played a part. The Dutch were involved in an eighty-years war with Spain, who bankrupted herself repeatedly trying to wipe out the Protestant Reformation. She gave it a mighty effort, slaughtering about 12,000 Reformed Christians in a short period of time. The rest of Europe was on the brink of war from the mid-16th century until it finally broke out in 1618 and it lasted for thirty years. Those wars exhausted blood, treasure, and faith.
Orthodox Christians, both Romanist and Protestant, seemed to position themselves for a long time against any sort of scientific advance. As the early astronomers in the 16th and 17th centuries began to develop the technology to begin to take a closer look at the planets and as they began to re-think some assumptions about the nature of the relations between the planets (e.g., “maybe the sun does not revolve around the earth?), authorities in both traditions dug in their heels in defense of what had been believed to be true for millennia, even though the Christian faith had nothing at stake in the answer. How many young people have fled fundamentalist homes, where doctrines such as 6/24 creation and a literal millennial kingdom are considered the infallible marks of Christian orthodoxy?
There was a general turn to the authority of human reason in the mid-to late-17th century. There were precursors of this turn in some segments of the Renaissance, though most of the Christian humanists were generally orthodox and intended to be faithful to the Christian tradition. The pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment movements positioned (branded) themselves as heirs of the Renaissance, lovers of reason (over against those narrow and nasty orthodox types) and succeeded in branding orthodox Christianity as backward and unintelligent. Again, there were ways in which orthodox Christians fed the stereotype but mostly the caricature was unearned. With the advent of late-modernity, we have discovered that Modernity was a parasite, living off the Christian host. Once the host was dead, the Enlightenment has shown itself to singularly unenlightened and resistant to reason. “The truth” of the Enlightenment has become “my truth” and “your truth.” David Hume’s empiricism has become a radically subjectivist denial of what is literally right before our eyes as a man, dressed as a woman, testified before a congressional committee as a candidate for a position in the cabinet of the United States of America. We have descended into madness.
The Modern and the Late-Modern worlds placed themselves in a position of autonomy relative to all other authorities. The evidence for the existence of the Christian God is before them but, like all humans, pre- and post-Modern, they cannot see what it signifies without the grace of God. This is not to say that everyone does not know that God is. Oh, they most certainly do. The Apostle Paul says that we all know the truth but that we suppress it “by” our “unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). “For,” Paul explains, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” The God who is has revealed himself. The Enlightenment movements were religious. The god of the Enlightenment philosophers was said to exist but he was also said to be unknowable. This became unquestioned dogma among social elites in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. We should not think that the unbelief we see around us today is new. It is not. It has been pushed back briefly here and there, e.g., during the “Reveil” movement in Europe in the early 19th century, among ordinary folk in the so-called Second Great Awakening in North America), and during the post-WWII Cold War, where the threat of totalitarian, global Communism pushed back the Enlightenment tide for thirty years or so.
Paul says that we have acted against our sense experience. This seems to have become easier to do in late modernity but the human capacity for self-deception seems boundless. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20; ESV). Throw a ball and it goes where one throws it. Why? Because we live in an ordered universe. Because we live in an ordered universe, a cello plays the note the cellist makes it play. To think that this all happened randomly is nothing but a blind religious faith. The Christian religion is not blind. It seeks understanding. Order exists. When we see chaos, in the weather or in society, we know from experience and intuition that it is an indicator of disorder.
The evidence truly is all around us. No human civilization has ever been able to see or go so far under the seas, or into space—did you ever expect to see high definition video or to hear audio from Mars? We are reconfiguring DNA and transmitting information through light but we have never been so disconnected from nature. We rely upon nature that God has ordered in order to defy the God who ordered it. Should someone even so much as suggest that the evidence of design suggests a Designer, that person will be sentenced to an academic Siberia. That is not reason talking but blind pagan, religious rage. In the providence of God we are both technologically brilliant and simultaneously stupid. We use remarkable skill and technology to preserve the life of an infant and in the next moment we speak of physicians “assigning” a gender to a human being.
Paul’s assessment from the mid-AD 50s is true:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom 1:21–23; ESV).
Modern and Late-Modern people have not become anti-religious but they have changed religions. They have substituted the self for God. For some it was the reasoning self, for others it was the autonomy of sense experience, and eventually it became the autonomy of emotional experience, perhaps the most overtly religious aspect of Modernity. Try to challenge people of one ethnic heritage, who identify as another, or try to challenge those identify as transgender, and one will be denounced with a fury that would make 13th-century inquisitors stand in awe. More than one critic has described Critical Theory as a religion (see also John McWhorter). Insofar as Modernity, in whatever stage, entails a substitute for Christianity, then no Modern person can be a Christian. Everyone will have God. One must choose which God he will serve, self or the God of the Christians: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To become a Christian I had to begin to repent of my Modernity, i.e., my assertion of autonomy vis a vis all other authorities (including God). As I began to become a Christian I portaged into my new faith a great number of pagan assumptions that were not questioned by me or my Christian friends. My first instinct was to synthesize my pagan convictions (e.g., autonomy) with my “personal relationship with Jesus.” I had asked Christ into my heart but I reserved my intellect and my will for myself. I was, in important ways, only semi-Christian. In the early church I would been a catechumen(undergoing intensive instruction) for three years. In the late-modern evangelical church I was leading a Bible study within a year of my conversion. It would be a few more years before my residual paganism would be ferreted out and mortified.
I am a Christian, in part, because the Christian explanation of reality makes more sense than other explanations. The old pagan explanations were just soap operas projected into the cosmos. In Christianity, there is no drama among the gods because there is only one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Neo-paganism is just as blind and stupid today as it was when the first Christians found it among the Europeans and the Britons when they got to Europe. Trees are are good for furniture, shelter, and shade. They not animate and we all know it. There are evidently dark spiritual forces in this world even the pagans know to fear it. One has to overcome one’s natural reluctance to toy with spiritual darkness. Eventually those who toy with it become hardened. We can see the change in them. There is nothing about that sort of paganism that commends it. There are other alternatives, e.g., Platonism, Stoicism, and Gnosticism. The list could go on. Platonism has its attractions but it asks us to deny what our senses tell us. Gnosticism and Manichaeism suffer from the same flaws and give us a silly, simplistic account of good and evil. As one who grew up on the Plains, imbued with a certain amount of Stoicism, it has its attractions but it, like Epicureanism, is ultimately futile. Neither can address our greatest need. Good food, however exquisite, only makes us fat and kills us. If we do align ourselves with the nature of things, then what? Only in Christianity has God reconciled sinners to himself. All forms of paganism have us climbing to the gods, acquiescing to the status quo, or lapsing into nihilism. So it is with rationalism and empiricism. When the human intellect is the measure of all things, we simply cheat and deny the existence of what cannot measured (e.g., the infinite). When human sense experience is the measure of all truth we become computers, checking and re-checking ones and zeroes until death. Romanticism and subjectivism are momentarily thrilling or frightening but reducing truth to experience cannot explain universal truths. It is skepticism.
One must choose between Modernity and Christianity but not between thinking and Christianity or between reason and Christianity. The Christian account of the world makes infinitely more sense, i.e., is more reasonable and accords with universal sense perception, than its Modern or Late-Modern alternatives. The Christian account of the world is rich, complex, and deep. I am still learning, still being challenged 45 years on. Every day I learn that I am still a catechumen, still a beginner. Consider Anselm’s argument from being. This is what he said about the God of the Christians: “God is that, than which, nothing greater can be conceived.” What he meant by that is to say, if you can imagine something not being, that something (e.g., an island) is not God. The god of the Deists might or might not be. Who cares? He is practically irrelevant. They say that he wound up the clock and went to the corner for a beer. The Christians say that the God of Scripture is the God who must be. He is the only thing that must be. He is the only thing that does not depend on anything or anyone else. We and all creatures depend upon him. The God of the Christians is said not only to have created the world but is actively upholding and governing it.
The Triune God, the God who is one in three person, the incarnate Son God, one person in two natures, the mystery of sin and the wonder of grace, they are more than enough to keep an active intellect occupied. The Christian ethic, which regards all humans as image bearers and therefore intrinsically worthy is vastly superior to its modern replacements. Honestly, that people give more than 30 seconds of serious consideration to Peter Singer’s project is prima facie evidence of the truth of Paul’s indictment of humanity after the fall. Jesus says, “love your neighbor” (Matt 22:37–40) and “do not hinder the little children” (Matt 19:14) but Singer justifies postpartum abortion.
We are seeing all around us the truth of Paul’s assessment of humanity post-lapsum:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom 1:24–28; ESV).
The reason I resisted Christianity, what little I knew of it, was not for genuine intellectual grounds. It was spiritual. I loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19). If you will read the gospels you will see that Jesus never debates the existence of God. He does not make probabilistic arguments (i.e., arguments about likelihood) for the existence of God. Rather, he throws daggers into the human heart. We worship what we love and, after the fall, our corrupted nature loves sin and darkness. Lots of famous Modern intellectuals have toyed with Christianity only to turn away. Ben Franklin, a genius by any account, was fascinated with it and probably knew his Bible better than most fundamentalists. He saw the wonder and order of nature, yet, he could not bring himself—conversion stories notwithstanding—to embrace Christ. He consciously rejected the deity of Christ.6 Franklin’s sexual appetites are well documented. As Paul says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:32; ESV). There is a deep connection between Franklin’s appetites and his rejection of Christianity. His was not an intellectual problem but a spiritual problem.
What we all know intuitively and from sense experience becomes explicit and explicable in Christian terms. Paul explains:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them… (Rom 2:14–15; ESV).
The God who is, is personal. He knows us. He knows himself. He made us like himself, to know him. We do by nature what the moral, natural law requires. No one has to tell us that theft and murder are wrong. We all know it. Without anyone reading the Ten Commandments to us, we punish those who steal and murder because they law is imprinted on our consciences. We have to wrestle with our conscience because it prosecutes us when we transgress. I well remember the intense sense of guilt for youthful transgressions. I do not think I had heard the Ten Commandments once but I knew the law by nature, by conscience.
If there is a law, then there is a lawgiver. Chaos and randomness did not make murder and theft wrong. God did and everyone of us knows it. We deceive ourselves and dull our conscience with narcotics and booze but the prosecution never rests because the God who is, just is. He never rests. Chaos did not produce beauty. The idea of endless change is bewildering only because we created to find rest in our Creator, the God who is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Problem of Evil
One of the objections that I heard and believed as a non-Christian was the objection from evil: A truly good and just God would not permit evil. The God of the Christians permits evil. Ergo, he is neither good nor just. The first (major) premise is to be doubted. The middle (minor) premise is to be qualified and the conclusion rejected.
There is evil in the world. It is a problem for Christians and some Christian accounts of the problem are unsatisfactory. E.g., the Christian neo-Platonic answer: evil is the privation of good. God is all good. Therefore evil has nothing to do with God is unsatisfactory. It requires us to believe in a sort of scale of being between the creature and the Creator. There are two great problems with this approach. First, Scripture does not present us a world in which God and creatures are on a continuum of being. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God.” Humans are nowhere to be found. As far as the Genesis narrative is concerned, we do not come into the story until later. God has not even yet spoken creation into existence. When he does create us, it is out of the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7). When we were created it was not out of the divine being but out of created matter. We were animated, i.e., given life by the Spirit but we were not created little deities. We were created as image bearers, analogues to God (Gen 1:126–27). We were created as God’s “image” and “likeness” (these are parallel expressions, not two distinct things).
There are other unsatisfactory explanations of the relations between God and evil. One of them says that the world is “open” to God. He observes it but he has not particular influence over it. He would like to do something about evil but he is unable to do anything. He is more or less helpless and dependent upon us. This picture of the Christian deity is virtually unrecognizable to the Christian tradition, which has confessed since about AD 170 (e.g., in Irenaeus’ “rule of faith,” which grew up to become the Apostles’ Creed): “I believe in God the Father almighty.” The God of so-called “Open Theism,” as Richard Muller observed 37 years ago, reduces the God of the Christians to an “incompetent Marcionite” deity. The god of Open Theism is much closer to the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon than to the God of Scripture. The god of so-called “Process Theism” is no more useful for addressing the problem of evil. That god is swept up into the historical process. He is a victim of circumstances. In their attempt to save “God” from the problem of evil the Open Theists and the Process theologians have made little more than an idol.
Perhaps the most clever Christian attempt to save God from the problem of evil has been the doctrine of “Middle Knowledge.” This theory, which emerged in Jesuit circles in the late 16th century, theorized that instead of the traditional Christian doctrine of two kinds of divine knowledge, natural and free, there is a third kind of knowledge wherein God may be said to know exhaustively a set of hypotheticals, all the free choices made by humans and all the consequences of those choices, which he may be said to have limited, but he does not actually determine what those choices will be. Both Roman and Reformed critics savaged this theory as making God contingent upon his creatures. The God of middle knowledge is a very apt chess player with very good reflexes but he is not the God who spoke into nothing nor is he the God who raised Pharaoh up that he might show to and by him his glory (Exod 9:16; Rom 9:16). The God of Scripture offends our sensibilities. He unleashes Satan briefly to sift Lot, so much so that righteous Lot is finally provoked to complain, to which Yahweh replies: pound sand (see Job chapters 38 and following). The book of Job is meant to shock our sensibilities. That God is not taken up in the historical process nor is the future “open” to him. He is not contingent upon our free choices. He is sovereign, free, and beyond our judgment.
The Pagan Problem With Evil
Thus, it is true that The pagans, however, have no answer for the problem of evil either. The Greco-Roman pantheon is, at times, evil itself. They are helpless against evil. The existentialists have essentially given up on transcendent meaning. They are more or less quitters. Existentialism does no more than remove the meaning of evil. The Enlightenment rationalists cannot explain evil nor have they overcome it. Modern technology has made evil more efficient. Instead of one stupid, venal king killing a few hundred in some meaningless battle, in World War I, Modernity gave us a brutally efficient warfare from which it was almost impossible to run. We were so “enlightened” we gassed each other and for what? If anything, Modernity has, in that way, intensified the problem of evil. It is a great evil that one-third of the world population should die of the Black Plague in the 1340s but it is a greater evil when Moderns killed the same number of people in World War II. No one set out to unleash rat fleas and disease on the world but Stalin set out to millions of Kulaks (peasants who owned land, whom the Communists blamed instead of their own their collectivist agricultural policies for a famine). Mao murdered millions of suspected counter-revolutionaries in China. The Nazis murdered millions of Jews and others and all this after the “Enlightenment,” under which we were supposed to be making progress every day, in every way. Toasters are great but we used them, as it were, to perpetuate evils on a scale heretofore unknown to human history. Ghengis Khan (c. 1158–1227) killed a great number of people (perhaps a million or more) but he was a piker compared to Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. Empiricism cannot explain the problem of evil. It can merely count the bodies.
The Christian Answer
In short, evil is a problem for everyone. Only the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, has faced evil squarely and called it what it is. The biblical account of evil places the blame squarely upon the free choices made by humans. We were created with the ability to make righteous choices but, mysteriously, we chose the try to achieve deity thus introducing sin and evil into the world. Scripture makes allusions to created figures, angelic beings, who had introduced evil into their realm before the humans fell but it does not give us much detail and it does not dwell on it. As a literary matter, the Satan character is clearly corrupt before he came into contact with the righteous Adam character (Gen 3:1–7). Scripture, however, places the blame for the fall on Adam. After the fall, God does not come looking for Satan but for Adam (Gen 3:8–13). The Satan character is punished along with the humans but it is the humans who get the blame.
The Biblical story is that God is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens outside his purview or his providence and yet he is not liable for the evil that happens in the world. In Scripture, whenever humans seek to blame God (e.g., Rom 9:19) he rebukes them forcefully. The truth is that Scripture never offers a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil. It presents it. It describes it. It lays the blame at our feet and our choices but unlike the other approaches to the problem of evil, the God of Scripture is not remote. He remains engaged in human history. He provides relief and even salvation to those who perpetrate evil. Scripture calls this grace. The God of Scripture retrains the consequences of the fall and limits the evil that occurs. As bad as things sometime seem, they could be worse. Despite the very real existence of evil there is also beauty and goodness in the world. Despite the hatred and animosity, which makes up so much of what the media companies call “the news,” there is also real love in the world.
According to the Christian account of the problem of evil, God is so committed to addressing the problem that one of the three persons of the deity, God the Son, became incarnate, by the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of a young Jewish virgin. He took on true human nature. The Greeks had theorized about humans becoming gods but no one, not the Jews nor the Greeks, imagined that the God who spoke creation into being, would stoop to become one of us. According to the Scriptures, he did not merely appear to be human. He really was and remains human. The Book of Hebrews, in the New Testament is at pains to make this point (Heb 2:14–18; 4:15). The Apostle John strenuously asserted this point (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7). The early church vigorously defended the true humanity (and the essential goodness of creation despite the fall) against the Gnostics and the Marcionites.
So, we say that God the Son, Jesus Christ, entered human history, became intimately involved in it, coming into direct personal contact with the the muck and evil that we had created. He did not contribute to it in any way. He ameliorated it for many people and finally, after he revealed who he was and why he came, we humans beat him, mocked him, and murdered him in the most vicious possible way. Yet, he testified repeatedly that is why he came: to be the substitute for sinners and to face the wrath of God that was due us (Luke 24:26). He came to be “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:36). The Christian explanation of things is that this death is a turning point in history. It is essential to the Christian understanding of the problem of evil because evil is not ultimate. There is an end of the story. Evil will not ultimately triumph. The technical name for this category is “eschatology.” There is more to the story. There is a judgment coming. Jesus himself warned frequently of the coming judgment (e.g., Matt 10:15; 11:22; 12:36; John 5:24; 16:8). The Christians say that Jesus suffered the judgment in place of all those who believe. For those who do not believe the judgment remains. When we speak of judgment it is theoretical. We have not experienced it but, according to the gospels, it did not remain theoretical for him. He actually endured the judgment on the cross. After hours of torture, he finally cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).
Yet, as I already described, another central Christian claim is that Jesus was righteous. Unlike us he had done no evil and committed no sin. He was perfectly righteous all his life and even in his death. Thus, death had no hold on him and he was raised from the dead as a vindication of his righteousness. He is reigning now, administering his kingdom, and graciously saving sinners until the end. Then he will sit as judge over all things. There will a reckoning for all the evil in the world and things shall be made right.
Jesus’ suffering was not meaningless. It was saving. Human suffering generally is not meaningless. It is part of a great, complicated, mysterious story. It is part of how God is ordering history and achieving his ends. He does not explain himself but neither does he abandon us to ourselves. I am content to live with that. It makes more sense than evolutionary determinism (how did the process start? Why is life good in a blind, evolutionary scheme?) or Enlightenment rationalism or Stoicism or Epicureanism or any of the alternatives.
I am not a Christian because the Christian explanation of evil is superior. I am a Christian because, by the grace of God, I came to see what I am (a sinner), what God is (a righteous but gracious personal deity), that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, the God-Man, who obeyed in my place, died for me, was raised for me, is preserving me, and will come again finally to make all things right. Nevertheless, I believe in order that I might understand what we can know about the problem of evil. There is no comprehensive, exhaustive answer but there is a righteous person worthy of trust who knows more about evil than I shall ever know and he has earned my trust. It is reasonable to trust him and I do.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
Thanks to Robert McDowell for his editorial help with this essay. Any remaining faults should be credited to the author.
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- Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd edition, trans. Errol F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989
- Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd edition (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).
- Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)
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1. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life (October 19. 2019).
3. “Religious Landscape Study,” Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life (2008).
4. Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades,” Gallup (April 18, 2019).
5. Outreach Magazine, “7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America” in Church Leaders.com (April 10, 2018). There are some methodological issues in discovering how often people go to church. The sometimes report one thing and do another. There are also questions about whether the older belief, that 40% of Americans attended church “regularly” was really accurate. See Justin Taylor, “How Many Americans Attend Church Each Week?” TGC (March 1, 2007).
6. See Thomas S. Kidd, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of A Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), ch. 9.