In July, the CT editors wrapped up several years of study and reflection on how this magazine could best handle doctrinal issues for our readers' edification. (The project was made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.)
A few weeks later, on August 1, Baker Book House published Evangelicalism: The Next Generation, an important study of the theological beliefs of evangelical college students. The authors of that book, Calvin College professors James Penning and Corwin Smidt, followed up a 1982 study by sociologist James Davison Hunter. Hunter's study, published in 1987 as Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, was pessimistic, suggesting that the theological foundations of evangelicalism's future leaders were eroding.
Fourteen years after Hunter's study, Penning and Smidt followed up with their own. Counterintuitively, they found good news: In the intervening years, the theological beliefs of evangelical college students had not eroded as Hunter predicted they would. Indeed, on some measures (such as the existence of the devil or the origin of human beings) they were marginally more traditional. Penning and Smidt's summary of their research is available on the website of our sister magazine Books & Culture (www.ChristianityToday.com/go/smidt).
The Penning and Smidt study parallels our own research among CT readers. As we surveyed the beliefs and values of readers over 40 with those under 40, we found that in many measures, our younger readers were measurably more traditional.
For example, in the CT study, younger readers were anywhere from three to nine percentage points more traditional than the over-40s on these items:
- Adam and Eve were actual, historical people.
- Those who have never heard of Jesus in this life are lost, just as are those who heard the gospel but refused to believe.