“I grew up Catholic,” a co-worker told me recently. “But now I don’t really believe in that. I just focus on being a good person. I think that’s what all religions are ultimately about.”
It’s a conversation familiar to me and to most church leaders who have faith conversations with those outside the church. While some people certainly feel an aggressive antagonism toward the church, many more see Christianity as part of the spiritual mush pot of moral goodness they loosely believe they’re supposed to follow. According to a recent study by Barna Group, these anecdotal stories are part of a bigger trend happening in the U.S.—a muddling of several philosophical points of view that exist all at once. For many, this confusion has made it so they can’t distinguish the difference between a Christian or secular point of view.
“The challenge with competing worldviews is that there are fragments of similarities to some Christian teachings, and some may recognize and latch on to these ideas, not realizing they are distortions of biblical truths,” Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research for Barna, said. “We have observed and reported on increasing pluralism, relativism and moral decline among Americans and even in the church. Nevertheless, it is striking how pervasive some of these beliefs are among people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith.”
Barna’s research polled Christian respondents on the tenants of multiple different worldviews. They found that a large number of Christians agreed with statements Barna describes as the “new spirituality” which includes concepts of universalism, karma and a Star Wars-esque “Force” idea of becoming “one with all that is.”
The research also found that nearly a quarter of practicing Christians agreed with the postmodern belief that what is morally right and wrong depends on what an individual believes. One in five Christian respondents said you can never know for sure what the meaning and purpose of life is. Hempell said the research shows this isn’t a millennial issue, but rather the aftermath of a previous generational shift.
“What stood out most to us was how stark the shift was between the Boomer and Gen-Xer generations,” Hempell remarks. “We expected Millennials to be most influenced by other worldviews, but the most dramatic increase in support for these ideals occurs with the generation before them. It’s no surprise, then, that the impact we see today in our social fabric is so pervasive, given that these ideas have been taking root for two generations.”
For leaders in the church, it’s an ongoing reminder of the need to train our church communities to both understand biblical truth and be able to relationally and effectively engage a culture less sure than ever what the message of Jesus truly is.