Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


What Americans Really Believe

posted by Scot McKnight

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… 


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Pat

posted February 28, 2010 at 2:28 pm


Sounds good; I’ll add it to my list. I suspect that much of what the author found is a lot of traditional beliefs absent biblical foundation and a lot of people who like a feel-good from the Church but are not quite so invested in the underpinnings. Then there are those who take more of a club mentality to the Church. “I’ve paid my dues and things should be done a certain way because after all, I’m a paying member!” These people don’t want the boat rocked no matter how right the pastor might be about something.



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Irenicum

posted February 28, 2010 at 4:56 pm


I really need to stop reading you. Every time I do I end up buying more books! My list of books I’ve bought but haven’t yet read is getting longer and longer. Stark is a writer I really like and I look forward to seeing what he has to say.



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Bell

posted February 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm


Who cares what other people believe? This isn’t a popularity contest, get your self-esteem from yourself not from others.



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Phil

posted February 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm


Bell #2,
I think you’re missing the point. A book like this doesn’t build one’s self-esteem, but allows you to communicate with a vastly changing world. It allows you to walk through “Athens” so to speak. We would be surprised how the same words and language mean different things to so many people. For those who want to share God’s good news, books like this are invaluable for communicating with others.
Phil



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Don

posted February 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm


You should be!! for that very reason!!



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Tim

posted February 28, 2010 at 10:19 pm


Okay Scot… in addition to this, what OTHER books should we read, if we were to do so annually? What would you recommend from the last 10 years? Thanks, Tim



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Gary Eugene Howell

posted February 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm


The fact that most Christians hold screwy beliefs about God and the bible is all the more reason that those grounded in faith need to go out and witness to people.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm


R. Bellah, Habits of the Heart
R. Putnam, Bowling Alone
C. Smith, Soul Survivor
C. Smith, Souls in Transition
R. Wuthnow, After the Baby Boomers
J. Twenge, Generation Me
R. Stark, What Americans Really Believe
Brad Wright’s about to be published book from Bethany House (gonna be a good one)



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Jeff Moulton

posted March 1, 2010 at 1:43 am


@ Gary – I know how you feel. I’ve felt the same way. But here is what I’ve found. (Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve said that – I don’t feel any less dirty about it today).
“I know how you feel” – I hate it when people through ignorance make stupid mistakes, particularly Christians. Drives me up a wall. Most egregious is when they open their mouths when they shouldn’t, a crime of which I have been guilty many times over. Ironically (or comically, depending on your perspective), I’m committing that same crime right now.
“I’ve felt the same way” – I came to Christ twenty years ago in a conservative/fundamentalist arena, and bought into the whole package. God’s plan is clear, it is direct, and if you don’t understand it, here is an approved list of pastors and their sermons/books to which you can listen and get straightened out.
Then I grew up, and “here is what I found.”
Grace. A complex, unlimited, crazy-mixed-up, overflowing grace. That, and the fact that God is able to work in and around the mistakes of those people [of whom I am one] who so arrogantly call themselves Christian. As if we could grasp Christ. It is He who grasps us, and we had better hope that he has a good grip, because the only skill we really have is our ability to wiggle, and we probably shouldn’t show off our wiggling ability by opening our mouths unless we’re ready to face the consequences.
Thank God for grace, because the one thing in my life of which I am 100% sure, is that I could NEVER atone for the people I have pushed away from God using what you said, and not just the though but those exact words, as a justification of my actions. I was sure I knew better than them.
By the buzz-words that you use, I think it is unlikely that you and I exist in similar faith circles right now – possibly the only point you and I have in common is Jesus. I could be wrong, and if so you have my deepest apologies. You and I may agree over a whole spectrum of thoughts and beliefs; even so my following remarks would only slightly change. But the smart money says I’m not. I think I easily am one whom you would view as being a person with “…screwy beliefs about God and the bible…” and therefore you would view yourself as justified in “witnessing” to me.
I have some unsolicited advise. Not much, only one word. A small, but very important, word of advise – don’t.
Believe what you want, I’m ok with that. Believe what you want about me, I’m ok with that too. But when your beliefs about me inspire action toward me … well, let’s just say that I’m not so ok with that. You’re not God, you’re not my pastor, you’re not even my mother. You’ll be wasting time. Not your time, because you’re going to get an education from me. You’ll be wasting God’s time, because God does have a plan for your life, and instructing through “witnessing” those people whom have already been called to his breast is not it.
Great quote I only saw today – “I have come to believe as followers of Jesus, we get the most lost in our spiritual journey when we try to determine who is in the family of God, and who is not. It?s simply not our call. It is God?s business. It is a fatal distraction.”



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