Are Christians Contributing to Unbelief?

Michael Craven, Center for Christ & Culture

Are Christians Contributing to Unbelief?

There is a tendency today to believe that America is becoming increasingly secular, in the sense that more and more people are either atheists or agnostics. However, that is not what the evidence reveals. In fact, 89 percent of Americans still claim to "believe in God" or claim to have "a strong sense of religious faith" and only 11 percent claim to be atheist or agnostic. This latter figure has remained relatively unchanged for decades. Granted the term "believe in God" can include those completely unrelated to faith in Jesus Christ, cultural Christians, or the faithful follower but that is not my point.

Last week NBC Nightly News featured a story in conjunction with their "Faith in America" series. According to the story, Americans actually remain strongly "religious" and the only change has been in the fact that we are seeing an increased level of comfort among the unbelieving to express themselves. They pointed to the popularity of prominent atheist writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris--all of whom have had hugely successful books on the New York Times Best-Seller list.

This raises the obvious question: If Americans remain so staunchly religious then why do books such as Hitchens' God is Not Great, or Dawkins' The God Delusion and many others which challenge faith seem to be gaining popularity? Why are so many Americans who evidently claim to believe in God and describe themselves as having "religious faith" buying books attacking the existence of God? Clearly I believe we are talking about spiritual seekers and not necessarily spirit-filled believers. And for that reason, this is a very important question for the Church to grapple with and not ignore.

J. David Kuo, who served in the Bush White House for two-and-a-half years as a Special Assistant to the president and eventually as Deputy Director of the Faith-Based Initiative, offers one possible suggestion as to why this may be. According to Kuo, a self-professed conservative Christian, growing interest in questions about God's existence may be the result of a "backlash against the mingling of religion, politics and public policy," and this idea that "Jesus was about a particular conservative political agenda." In essence, he means that the actions of some Christians may be encouraging the spiritual seeker to further doubt the existence of God.

Some of us may be tempted to react to these statements but I want to encourage you to look beyond your feelings and return to the question at hand. For Christians, there is always an imperative for self-critique in the light of Scripture and we must be willing to face the toughest questions about ourselves first. As Christians we must constantly test our attitudes and actions against the truth of Scripture and be prepared to abandon our positions when found to be in conflict with Scripture. Furthermore, I am not suggesting that Kuo is, in fact, correct, only that his suggestion warrants objective examination by those who are truly committed to living in obedience to Christ.

Could it be that our own actions are causing the religiously-inclined but nonetheless lost to doubt the existence of God? Is it possible that the Church is pushing people toward unbelief by virtue of its approach to culture and the world? Has Christianity become so politically defined that true faith and the person of Jesus Christ is obscured in the minds of many? Is it possible that Christians are conducting themselves in such a way that the spiritually seeking are looking anywhere but to Christ? I don't know for sure but I certainly think it is possible, and that is enough to make me examine myself in light of these questions. It should cause us all to examine ourselves.

This growing interest in "questioning the existence of God" seems to parallel the decline in church attendance or more precisely, those leaving the institutional church. According to Reggie McNeal, author of The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, "They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith." McNeal adds, "They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development." This would certainly be the natural consequence of a Christianity that has lost its Christ-centeredness.

McNeal goes on to say, "The bottom line is that the bottom is not looking too good... Underneath the semblance of an American culture influenced by Christianity, the tectonic plates have shifted."
 

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