Agnostics and Atheists Know More about Religion than Christians...


Yesterday, the Pew Forum on Religion in America released the results of its study of religious knowledge in the United States.

And the findings are... interesting. 

You can see them, and links to a test you can take yourself, here.

In essence, they findings in this study support what Alan Roxburgh notes in his book, Missional Mapmaking. Christians who actually attend our congregations are generally biblically and religiously illiterate, even on very basic questions such as "Which Bible figure is most closely with remaining obedient to God despite suffering?" (Only 34% of white, mainline Protestants in the survey could answer that one correctly-- and it was a multiple choice question!).

Slightly less than half (49%) of white, mainline Protestants could distinguish the golden rule from the Ten Commandments. That was 6 percentage points worse than the overall population, and only three percentage points higher than people who said they had no religious connections. Atheists and agnostics got that one right 62% of the time.

Maybe if we still taught the Ten Commandments, or used them in worship as part of a penitential order, those numbers might have been better?

And that wasn't the lowest score. There were two others lower than that-- one of them about Christianity, the other about Buddhism.

It also reaffirms the findings of Kenda Creasy Dean and the other researchers involved in the National Study of Youth and Religion in Almost Christian.

Neither youth nor adults are learning even the basic stories of our faith-- or much about those of other faith traditions.

In this study, the best overall scorers were Atheists, Agnostics and Jewish people. 

The first two, I suppose, are clear about what they don't believe. Judaism-- at least in its closer to Orthodox forms, still has a powerful teaching tradition.

But mainline Christians? Not so much.

Evangelicals and Mormons-- somewhat better, but only about Christian faith. 

So what does this all mean for us seeking to be missional Christians in a mainline and mostly white denomination?

We have a charge to keep. 

Part of that charge is to teach the faith, in season and out of season. 

Certainly we teach it in actions.

But we also must teach it in words-- the stories, the people, and yes, the doctrine. Regardless of the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves, we United Methodists have doctrinal standards to teach and live out-- the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, his Notes upon the New Testament, the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith.

Related to all of of these, the doctrine and way of life described in the baptismal covenant.

And of course, first of all, the Bible itself. (I think you know where to find one of these!).

One of the accusations often lobbed at those of us seeking the missional way is that we're all action, no doctrine.

If that is true, it's time for us to repent.

If it's not true, it's time for us to prove the fruit of our efforts to teach-- by our deeds and our words.

There's work to do. Folks in our congregations know our stories less well than atheists and agnostics who despise them or do not find them compelling.

What will you do where you are?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards