Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. – 1 Corinthians 3:18-19
“Yeah, Christians might be crazy.”
That was my honest answer to the guy who asked if I had considered I might be nuttier than a Planters factory. I had just finished preaching that God had become a man, was born of a virgin, lived without sin, cast out demons, healed the sick, waterskied without a boat, died on a cross for the world’s sins, rose three days later, ate breakfast, hung out for 40 days, and ascended to heaven to take His throne and rule over creation until He returns to judge the living and the dead.
The guy was new to church. I had spent an hour highlighting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But this non-Christian felt like he had wandered into a lecture at the Flat Earth Society.
This guy and I did not agree on whether or not the Bible was true, but we did agree it sounds odd if you stop to think about it. As he processed the sermon, he doubled back to make sure he heard me right:
“If there is a God living in heaven, why would He come down here to work some dead-end job?”
“Virgins don’t have babies.”
“Nobody is perfect. How could anyone conclude that about Jesus?”
“How in the world can some guy just do miracles?” “So all our sin got hung on Jesus?”
“Dead people don’t come back unless it’s in some crazy zombie horror film.”
“You think I’m going to hell to burn forever?”
After he unloaded those thoughts, there was a silence like an awkward elevator ride. The look on his face was exactly what you would expect if I had told him I was a taco.
My first instinct was to spin my message to make the Bible more reasonable to a secular worldview. I could soften some claims and smooth out some of the rougher edges. But I had preached what I actually think—what God’s Word actually says—so I owned it.
“That’s what I believe,” I said.
“Did you ever consider that you might be crazy?” he politely replied.
I couldn’t help but laugh as I responded, “Yeah, Christians might be crazy.” I appreciated his honesty, and I told him so. I respected his effort to understand what Christians believe even if he didn’t accept it.
Our conversations were incredibly helpful to me as a pastor. He had provocative questions. He was open about his disagreements. And the more we talked, the more we understood each other, even though our views remained at odds. Sensing that Christians would benefit from more insights like this conversation lead to a research project and now a book and sermon series called Christians Might Be Crazy.
I was hoping to release the findings of the massive project along with a book some years ago, but a complicated season kept that from happening. As I’ve thought and prayed about it, though, I’ve come to believe that God intervened specifically to keep this project for this time—the painful culture war that we’re now living through—so that these findings would find an eager audience among believers struggling to genuinely and effectively live out their faith in a culture turning against it.
This research was conducted in 2013, before the 2016 presidential election that ushered in the current culture war. Perhaps the findings of this research were a bit prophetic, revealing what was on the horizon and what has now become our current political, moral, and spiritual crisis. If the research is in fact accurate, then a deep and profound tectonic spiritual shift was well under way in Western culture and has since erupted onto the surface.
Another recent shift that has precipitated the release of this project was the passing of Billy Graham, the beloved Christian leader who helped de ne evangelicalism to generations of Americans. His passing leaves in question what will become of that movement. Widely associated with the political Right, evangelicalism now lacks a singular primary leader, and it seems impossible in the current contentious climate that anyone will be able to assume the mantle Billy Graham gracefully carried for so many years.
But it’s precisely because of these massive changes and the uncertainty of what lies ahead that I believe the time is right to provide a thorough, researched, and charitable analysis of spirituality, morality, and politics in America—to help Christians reengage our culture with the authentic, life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To get at people’s real questions, I commissioned a rigorous study examining the attitudes and perceptions of Christianity among the Unchurched Nones and Dechurched Dones.
- The Unchurched Nones attend worship services every few months—or less—and did not regularly attend worship services at any point of their life, including as a child.
- The Dechurched Dones attend worship services every few months— or less—but at some point in their life regularly attended worship services, including as a child.
For reliability and credibility, we secured one of the world’s leading market research firms to conduct the survey. GfK Public A airs & Corporate Communications randomly dialed 913,425 telephone numbers to obtain a reliable and nationally representative sample of a thousand Unchurched Nones and Dechurched Dones. Three-quarters of the survey participants were Dechurched Dones. One quarter was Unchurched Nones. The people who took the call and engaged in conversations that lasted an average of 12 minutes were all between ages 18 and 44, with a median age of 31. Here is an overview of what we discovered:
Religious Affiliation (“Which of the following best describes your religious affiliation?”)
- Christianity: 51%
- Islam: 2%
- Buddhism: 2%
- Judaism: 1%
- Hinduism: 1%
- Other religion: 13%
- No religion: 30%
- Refused: 1%
Christian History (“Have you ever, at any time in your life, affiliated with the Christian religion, or not?”)
- Yes, a Christian: 60%
- No, not a Christian: 39%
- Refused: 1%
Religious Participation (“How often do you attend worship services, not including special events such as weddings, funerals, or major religious holidays such as Easter, Yom Kippur, or Ramadan?”)
- Every few months: 13%
- Once in a while: 50%
- Never: 37%
Childhood Religious Participation (“As a child, did you ever attend worship services regularly—by regularly we mean at least once a month or not?”)
- Yes: 75% (Dechurched)
- No: 25% (Unchurched)
- People who identified as Christians: 77%
- People who identified as non-Christians: 22%
When we undertook this survey, my main objective was to discover the primary objections to Christianity from the Unchurched Nones and Dechurched Dones. The following list of their objections comes from a subset of the survey, those people interviewed who claim to be Christians. This research reveals that, in addition to non-Christians, even those who say they are Christians are opposed to beliefs that are historically held by mainstream, Bible-based Christians from a wide variety of denominations and traditions. Participants named numerous objections, but seven rose to the top and we will explore them in more detail throughout this series.
TOP SEVEN OBJECTIONS TO CHRISTIANITY
|1. Some Christian groups are too intolerant.
|2. The Christian faith and I have different views on social issues like abortion or gay marriage.
|3. I don’t like how some Christian groups meddle in politics.
|4. Many Christians are hypocrites.
|5. There are lots of religions, and I’m not sure only one has to be the right way.
|6. Christians believe that all people are not created equal.
|7. I don’t share the beliefs that the Christian faith tells me I should.
The Dechurched Dones and Unchurched Nones listed the same top five objections to Christianity in the exact same order. The survey showed that older participants objected to Christianity less because their views differed with Christianity and more because of the intolerance they perceive in Christians. The survey showed that men and women posed similar objections to Christianity, yet women objected more often to perceived intolerance while men disliked Christians meddling in politics.