Is genuine commitment to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord increasing or decreasing in America? Preachers, pundits, and ordinary people all are likely to have an opinion. Some speak jubilantly of revival while others lament a great decline from the “faith of our fathers.” Is there any evidence that can point one way or the other? Yes and no. Data exist, but there is disagreement over how to interpret them.

Two pieces of evidence worth considering are: (1) Religion in America, 1976, issued as report 130 of The Gallup Opinion Index (the seventy-four-page document is available for $15 from 53 Bank Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540), and (2) the results of a just released Gallup Poll on how many Americans say they are “born again” (see the October 8 issue, page 52).

The Gallup Poll normally queries 1,500 persons over eighteen to get results considered applicable to the entire United States adult population. This small number is scientifically selected so as to be accurate to within three percentage points (at least 95 per cent of the time). According to the pollsters, this means that if all 150 million adults were interviewed, the results would rarely be more than 3 per cent different from those in the sample.

Granting the reliability of the answers, one may suggest that their meaningfulness is another matter. The kinds of questions asked and the potential for less than candid answers dilute the value of such polls. For example, a report on how many say they attend church tells us nothing about why they go, what they are taught, or whether they believe it. Saying that 56 per cent consider their religious beliefs “very important” without saying much about what those beliefs are sheds little light. This becomes apparent when one ...

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