Stetzer on the declining American church

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There’s a shift underway:

The polls are in and the news is bad for the Church in America. Christianity is on the decline, Americans have given up on God, and the “Nones”—those who have no religious ties—are on the rise. It is indeed true that parts of the Christian Church in America are struggling, while a growing number of Americans are far from God.

Ed Stetzer

Some of the detail:

  • A growing number of Americans have given up on God—or at least on organized religion.
  • Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape study, which surveyed 35,000 respondents, found that about 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that number had grown to 23%, almost one in four Americans.
  • In 1967, Gallup found that about 2% of Americans—or 1 out of every 50—claimed no religious preference. By 2014, that number had grown to 16%, or about 1 in 7.
  • In 2007, Pew found that about 8 in 10 Americans identified as Christians. That number dropped to 7 in 10 in 2014. Pew also found that less than half of Americans (46.5%) now identify as Protestants for the first time in American history.
  • The Pew data demonstrates a consistent and noteworthy increase among Americans who are disconnected from faith.
  • These studies show that American religion is in a period of slow decline.
  • Pew’s findings have led some to forecast the complete collapse of Christianity in the United States. The data, however, implies a more complex reality. Frankly, there is no credible research showing that Christianity is dying in America despite the flashy headlines we often see.
  • Instead, American religion is simultaneously growing and in decline. Fewer people claim to be Christians, but churchgoers—those who regularly attend services—are holding steady in some segments, and thriving in others.

Read on…

Regardless of the figures, keep in mind that if you wander out for an hour with a friend, praying for needs and sharing the gospel, you just might find a God-prepared person.

Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census


A scholarly investigation and article that estimates the number of Muslim background believers who are followers of Jesus.

According to the abstract:

Since the 1960s, there has been a substantial increase in the number of known conversions from Islam to Christianity. Most of these conversions have been to forms of evangelical or Pentecostal Christianity, but there have also been conversions to Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, and still other converts claim to remain in some way both Muslims and followers of Jesus. This article explains how we obtained estimates of the number of converts, the complexities involved in this task, and an annotated list of countries by continent with the estimated number of believers in Christ from a Muslim background. The article includes charts with maximal, minimal, and medium estimates of this population from 1960 to the present.

"No religion" outnumbers Christianity in England and Wales for the first time

Justin Welby

Justin Welby

No-one is making any inroads at all into the non-religious population or non-Christian religions. The vast majority of all ‘conversion’ is inter-denominational musical chairs.

Dr Stephen Bullivant

For the first time on record people of no religion outnumber Christians in England and Wales.

No religion beats Christian in England and Wales

No religion beats Christian in England and Wales

The proportion of people who identify as having no religion has risen from 25% in 2011 to 48.5% in 2014.(It’s important to note that saying you have “no religion” does not equate to saying you are an atheist.)

  • London has the highest proportion of people who say they are religious due mainly to having high levels of people who identify with non-Christian religions.
  • Wales has the highest proportion who say they have no religion, largely due to the low number of immigrants.
  • The Christian population is ageing, half of all Christians in England and Wales are over 55 [ed. what’s wrong with that!]
  • The proportion of the population who describe themselves as Anglican plunged from 44.5% in 1983 to 19% in 2014.
  • While over a third of the population* were brought up Anglican, only a fifth now identify as such
  • For every new member they gain, churches are losing eleven existing members.
  • Most new members are Christians swapping from other denominations.

The Church of England expects attendance to continue to fall for another 30 years as its congregations age and the millennial generation spurns the institutions of faith.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury (above) has urged Christians not talk to people about their faith unless they are actively invited to do so.

Download the report.

Background on Belgium

 Some background on Belgium from the Economist

Its ancient cities are cradles of Christian art and learning, and Catholicism is in many ways the country’s raison d’etre. When it was created in 1830, the kingdom offered a political home to Catholic Dutch-speakers who preferred to unite with French-speaking co-religionists than with Protestants with whom they had a common tongue. Faith had trumped language.

But Belgium’s devout heritage has been traded for secularism and Islam has stepped into the void.

… as Christianity’s role has waned, so too has Belgium’s ability to hold together the two linguistic camps. And a new creed, Islam, is gaining importance all the while.

This is especially true in the capital Brussels

… some parts of which host large communities of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, mostly from religiously conservative regions of those countries. Among respondents in the city, practising Catholics amounted to 12% and non-practising ones to 28%. Some 19% were active Muslims and another 4% were of Muslim identity without practising the faith. The atheist/agnostic camp came to 30%.

Demographics is destiny:

Among all respondents, levels of active adherence to Catholicism seemed to diminish dramatically with age, while the practice of Islam increased correspondingly. Thus among respondents aged 55 and over, practising Catholics amounted to 30% and practising Muslims to less than 1%; but among those aged between 18 and 34, active adherence to Islam (14%) exceeded the practice of Catholicism (12%). Admittedly the sample (600 people in all) is small. But if this trend continues, practitioners of Islam may soon comfortably exceed devout Catholics not just in cosmopolitan Brussels, as is the case already, but across the whole of Belgium’s southern half.

Belgians may be cultural Catholics, but the evidence is they are not practicing Catholics.

The percentage of avowedly “practising Catholics” far exceeds the numbers who actually turn up at mass, as any cleric will confirm. But one thing is pretty clear. If anything holds Belgium together through its third century of existence, Catholicism will not be the glue.

The centre of world Christianity is .... Niamey?

Centre of World Christianity

Centre of World Christianity

Until today I had never heard of Niamey, the capital of Niger. According to the Economist it is the demographic centre of world Christianity:

Just 70m of Western Europe’s 375m adults attend church at least once a month. Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the church appears as strong as ever. There are 277m adherent Christians in sub-Saharan Africa and 250m in Latin America. As Christianity has shifted southwards, that has moved the centre of Christianity to Niamey, the capital of Niger (calculated by taking the Christian-adherence weighted-average latitude and longitude of countries' capital cities). As the crow flies that is 2,433 miles from Bethlehem.

Q. If someone from Nigeria is a Nigerian. What do you call someone from Niger?

A. A “Nigerien" (nee-ZHER-yen).

What is the Islamic State? Are its beliefs and practices "un-Muslim." UPDATED

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.
— Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

Graeme Wood has written a lengthy and penetrating article from the Atlantic on the rise of Islamic State, its mission and beliefs. Why is the media so bereft of such analysis? Why are our church leaders and politicians so naïve regarding the correlation between the actions of ISIS and the teachings of the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad? The article tackles this evasion head-on.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

Islamic State may not be the only legitimate interpretation of Islam, but it is a legitimate interpretation of Islam.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail.

Islamic State justifies the targeting of other Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, by delegitimising them as Muslims.

In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’?” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

A consequence of the takfiri doctrine is that the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The leading expert on the belief systems of the Islamic State is Bernard Haykel of Princeton University. He contends that Muslims who call Islamic State “un-Muslim” are,

“embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said.

The Islamic State takes emulation of Muhammad as a strict duty and has revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years.  Islamic State has continued to embrace slavery and crucifixion without apology.

“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah [Islamic law] amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet … and thereby apostatising from Islam.

The Islamic State is driven by its belief that it is a key player in the end times.

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers … saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world.

What is to be done? Military intervention is thwart with danger. Wood suggests that containment is the best of a bad range of options.

Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.

Denouncing the Islamic State as un-Muslim is dishonest and counterproductive,

especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them. Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

Wood concludes,

That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.

Related: The World’s Deadliest Terrorist Organization

UPDATE: Mark Durie: Paris attacks were not ‘nihilism' but sacred strategy

UPDATE: According to Newsweek a 2014 poll found that one in six French citizens sympathised with the Islamist militant group ISIS, also known as Islamic State.

The poll of European attitudes towards the group, carried out by ICM for Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, revealed that 16% of French citizens (both Muslims and non-Muslims) have a positive opinion of ISIS. This percentage increases among younger respondents, spiking at 27% for those aged 18-24.

A recent poll placed French president Francois Hollande’s approval rating at just 18%.

UPDATE: Interview with Graeme Wood.