The Rise of the “New Normal,” Christianity Explained


It’s no surprise to us that our parents grew up in a very religious time. There were practices that were followed, traditions that were kept, and certain things you did or didn’t do. For some Christians, your parents weren’t allowed to dance, gamble, or play cards. For some Christians, your parents went to church every Sunday morning growing up. For others, your parents might have had a less strict, but still religious upbringing.

There is a phenomenon that is coming, and some see the effects of it coming into effect finally. There will come a time when the religious, firmly founded, and unwavering baby boomer generation of our parents is replaced by the curious, spiritual, and less religious millenial generation in the church. There are a group of people called Nones. When you check “none” in the religious affiliation box, it gives rise to the label, “nones.” With nones on the rise, especially in the millenial age group, the future of the church becomes even more murky.

According to the Pew Research Study from 2007-2014, Nones have risen to 23% of all adults, up 7% from 2007. The nones include two primary groups, both of which might be generally labeled “religiously unaffiliated theists”: (1) The “spiritual but not religious” and (2) the “spiritual and independently religious.” These two groups are what remains after you subtract the smaller subset of atheists and agnostics. The first group, “spiritual but not religious,” are the people who get spiritual nourishment from, let’s say, yoga, foodie excursions, beach-walking, Sufjan Stevens concerts, or extreme sports, etc. They made the front page of USA Today in 2010, with the headline: “72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than religious.’” They are sometimes known by their nickname: “SBNR.”

In 2007, the SBNR comprised barely half of the nones. The other half of the nones are the second group above, those who identity positively with spirituality but who also practice traditional religious activities (going to church, praying, reading the Bible, etc.). But their religious activity is eclectic, independent, and inconsistent. They might attend a variety of churches or participate in a variety of religious experiences, but do not identify strongly with any single one. They are spiritual and religious, but still unaffiliated. Still, religion is still important to them.

Here are some of the findings regarding the secularizing of the nones from the research article:
-61% of all nones believe in God, down from 70% in 2007.
-20% pray daily, down from 22% in 2007.
-13% believe religion is very important, down from 16% in 2007.
-9% attend services weekly, down from 10% in 2007. (not a big dip, but at this point you can’t get a whole lot lower).

The NEW NORMAL is going to be what the church looks like without our parents generation running it, but with us in leadership positions, teaching positions, mentorship positions, etc. Again, this has already begun in some areas. We are a questioning generation, not quick to believe, and fast to criticize. We are a generation burned by religion and the rule of religious law. We’ve been excommunicated, cast out, scolded, shamed, lectured, and gossiped to by the very people that are supposed to exercise humility, wisdom, patience, forgiveness, love, and Godliness. In our figuring out what we believe, whether in college or afterwards, some now have a loose grip on correct theology, gospel truth, or giftings in the spirit. They make statements like, “The Bible was written by men and can’t really be trusted fully as the, “exact words of God.” or, “I can’t believe that the God I know would let people perish, so I believe everyone will be able to enjoy Heaven.” or, “How do we know that other religions aren’t also speaking truth? How can we assume that we have the only truth? Doesn’t that seem presumptuous?”

Many Millenials have been trying to figure out their spiritual identity for years. According to the Pew Research Center, “The phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’ has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity.” According to Pew, religious activities such as attendance to a church, prayer, meeting in small groups, are on a decline. Still, feeling a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe is on the rise.

Is this something to be concerned with? Do we find a balance between the popular act of  casting out religion and just following Christ? In our pursuit to find knowledge and know how to truly live out a Christ centered life, have we lost some things along the way? Or are we better off than where we were in our parents generation? Have we corrected the sins of what religion did to our faith? Was the key to loose religion and the law that ruled it?

Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth.

A definition that encapsulates the point. Progressive…a need to reform, favoring and promoting change or innovation. Yet, arguably, we should have already cared about these things. This shouldn’t be radical. This shouldn’t be Progressive.

SOURCES

Masci, David, and Michael Lipka. “Americans May Be Getting Less Religious, but Feelings of Spirituality Are on the Rise.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

“The Future of Christianity and the “Nones”: Still Rising, Still Spiritual, More Secular.” Unsystematic Theology. N.p., 04 Nov. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

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2 thoughts on “The Rise of the “New Normal,” Christianity Explained

  1. Derek Taylor

    Good questions and thoughts, Eric. I’m currently reading a biography about Julia Ward Howe, born 1819. 60 or 70 years before the invention of the auto, and when the United States was a very new country, she and others of her generation also challenged the form of Christianity of their parent’s generation. Howe and others converted to Unitarianism and you could go right down the list that you cited are being asked by Millennials today, and almost all the questions and issues were being asked then. Many people then were also wondering whether it was possible that Jesus Christ was perhaps one among other paths to God or heaven. They wondered whether the Bible was inspired by God or just written by flawed individuals. She was particularly moved by Boston pastor Theodore Parker, who was asking the same types of questions and coming to the same answers that Rob Bell is in our own generation. Then, as now, traditional interpretations of the Bible were being turned upside down and social reform was a strong motivating factor for many people at that time as well.

    Why do I bring this up? I really don’t think that our generation is asking fundamentally different questions than have been asked for a long time now. But what we do have now, and these early Christian progressives did not have, was a body of evidence to evaluate the fruits and effects of progressive Christianity. Now we do – and if we are committed to learning the lessons of history and to understanding that our generation isn’t the first to ask these basic questions or challenge our parent’s assumptions and beliefs, then we can avoid mistakes that have been made before. Now, we can look back at the results of progressive movements like Unitarianism and it is clear to see that progressive Christianity is usually not Christianity at all, at least not when it denies core beliefs about Christ, sin, the Gospel, or the Bible – this is exactly what Unitarians did 200 years ago and is the same path we see people like Rob Bell taking today.

    Every generation for the entire history of the US has adopted some form of progressive Christianity or another. I do agree with you however, that what we may be seeing in our own generation is a tipping point where traditional beliefs about Christ and the Bible may become the minority and that may be what is different than in past generations. I’m not suggesting that every generation should accept every aspect of traditional practice and belief that our parent’s generation affirmed. However, as a student of history and, speaking as one who affirms the fundamental beliefs of historic Christianity, I do think that the Millennial generation is largely unaware that their ideas are not novel and that they generally predict that a person or group’s beliefs are shifting to “none”.

    Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is also active in every generation as well, so although I’m concerned about the rapid growth of nones in the Millennial generation as well as my own kids’ generation, I am hopeful and also praying that the Holy Spirit will breathe life into this generation as He has done in many others.

    1. Excellent response Derek. Being a student of History myself, I would love to read that biography. That is something that I didn’t know. I shouldn’t be all that surprised to find that questions about life and afterlife, God and the Holy Spirit, truth and fiction, have been asked since man began thinking about such things. Progressive leanings should likewise not have necessarily began with my generation. I also think you’re right. I think that many believe that we haven’t “bucked” the system before in this way and that these questions may be new revelations. Not all, but some. I also pray that we can navigate well, discuss wisely, and grow together. As always, I thank you for your well thought out responses on matters like this.

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