If I were a seminary president, which I’m not, or if I were a seminary dean, which I’m not, I’d require both professors and students to read a book a year — together — about the current state of the church and faith in the USA. We’ve looked at Christian Smith’s recent book, but there’s a book lurking in the background that has a bigger scope in mind, and it’s been out more than a year. That book is by Rodney Stark and it’s called What Americans Really Believe
Stark, a recent convert to belief in God, is a professor at Baylor and this book puts together a major project that examined the statistics about what Americans believe. The reason why pastors and seminaries need to read is because it sorts out the actual beliefs of so many Americans, and it is rooted in scads of very serious sociological studies.
So, what does he examine? It would not be possible to sample even what the author puts together.
Church-going, church growth, strict churches, traditional congregations, megachurches.
And religious experiences, gender, heaven, God, evil, spirituality, giving, personality.
Also: atheism, credulity, new age adherents, and the irreligious.
And: faith and politics, Merry Christmas, Jesus, incivility, religious-media consumption, civic participation, and going-to-college and getting a job.
In other words, a good read of this book will put folks in touch with hard data about what is going on in the souls and hearts and minds and beliefs of folks sitting weekly in pews and meeting in Bible studies…