In his book Growing Up Religious, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow describes a typically religious American, Sandra Barton, who goes to church occasionally, who believes there is something or someone "higher than us," and who believes in heaven, because this life is hellish. For a contrast to the Sandra Bartons, Wuthnow's team of trained interviewers looked for Americans who would "give a full account of the nature and attributes of God, as well as a doctrine of creation, the origins of evil, the possibilities of redemption, and reasons people should believe in certain tenets about immortality and eschatology."
"We found no living examples of such people," writes Wuthnow, despite the fact that their interviews included clergy, PKs, and others trained in religion.
What they did find was that many Americans are focusing on spiritual practice, while ignoring traditional doctrine.
Wuthnow's researchers should have been at last November's American Academy of Religion meetings. In a convention that has become a marshy bog of relativism, perhaps 300 people turned out to hear Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw dialogue with two fellow Calvinists about Infralapsarianism—the belief that the proper order for understanding God's decrees is Creation, permission of the Fall, election-salvation, and not election-salvation, Creation, permission of the Fall. If that discussion seems arcane, it makes my point: there is increasing anecdotal evidence for a renewed interest in classic Christian belief, even as Americans at large neglect doctrine.
Thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Christianity Today is able to focus some of its energies on fostering renewed interest in beliefs. One way we hope to do this involves CT's research department. As I type this note, our research staff is preparing to mail a questionnaire designed to measure what evangelical Protestants today believe and which beliefs they deem most important. Out of that research, and with the help of the church's top scholars and writers, we hope to develop a collection of materials to spark a renaissance of interest in classic Christian doctrines.
As evangel-icals, we begin this enterprise with the gospel itself. Preliminary research showed that the gospel of justification by faith still has a high commitment among CT readers: 100 percent declared that it was "essential for an evangelical to believe" that "those whom God saves he justifies by faith through grace alone."
Given that high commitment, we are pleased to present "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration" (see p. 49). This document, which has been drafted by leading evangelical thinkers, lays out not only the simplicity of the gospel, but also the complexity of its ramifications. Our hope is that the careful analysis and explication given here will excite new interest in discussing and celebrating the saving love of God—in a way that deepens and focuses our Christian practice.
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