The latest Pew Study is out trying to figure out just what Americans believe about God. In sum, a lot of Americans believe in God but very few are orthodox by any traditional measure. I find this pretty unremarkable. Even when far more Americans went to church and subscribed to some specific religious affiliation, very few were capable of listing the beliefs that were associated with their chosen affiliation.
We tend to think theology drives the church, but practically it rarely does. Christianity has been defined more by schism than anything else for the last 400-500 years. And while the articulated differences after a schism are generally theological, the schism usually results from far more pragmatic sources. I could write dozens of posts containing example after example to make this point, but for the sake of moving forward I’ll simply refer.
The question of what makes someone a Christian, or any other religion for that matter, is quite complex. Belief, theology, is just one small part of a much larger package.
Certainly action matters. James says, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” Paul points out that motivation for action matters as well, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” One of the reasons I was so willing to embrace Mormons as Christians back when the debate was so hot due to Mitt Romney’s presidential run was because while their theology and liturgy are highly unorthodox, they are in all practical aspects as Christian as you or I.
Some years ago, and I simply cannot find it right now, Jim Geraghty did some great work pointing out that upper-middle and upper class liberals tend to live and behave in a reasonably conservative manner. They still wed, have their children in wedlock, save for the future…. Liberal ideas, it seems, are great but in practice smart people know what works.
Looked at another way, while lots of people do not want to believe like Christians, most people eventually figure out that life works best when you act like one. I would be willing to bet that if you carefully examined the life of those that claim “spiritual but not religious” you would find that most of them live a life not that different from those that are deeply religious.
The future religious landscape of the nation is beyond my foresight. It is distinctly possible that nothing we think of today as a church will still be around. Who knows what people will believe? But this I do know, when measured by practice, the future is still essentially Christian. Simply because it works.