01: American evangelicals’ ability to balance orthodoxy and cultural relevance is one of the reasons these Christians show more commitment than their fundamentalist counterparts, according to a recent study.
The review Books & Culture (November/December) cites research by sociologist Christian Smith suggesting that fundamentalists showed lower levels of religious vitality than evangelicals. Smith’s research, based on surveys and interviews and contained in the book American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving, shows that greater numbers of fundamentalists than evangelicals were content to attend church only on Sundays (or more rarely) and that the former group sometimes displayed more indifference about orthodox doctrine.
Such findings conflict with the established view that fundamentalists (such as those identified with Bob Jones University) hold stricter stances in doctrine and lifestyle. But Smith maintains that evangelicalism is more successful and generates greater commitment because it helps members maintain the balance between engaging the surrounding culture and being distinct from it. Smith adds that the recent emphasis on political and social change among many evangelicals is not likely to help the movements’ growth.
The ingredients that spurred evangelical growth, such as the sense of being in conflict with the culture, are likely to prevent their large-scale political influence. The evangelicals’ emphasis on change through a “personal influence strategy,”.is more likely to be the avenue of evangelical social impact.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
02: Most Lutherans do not believe church involvement is central to their faith and many have doubts about key doctrines of Lutheranism, according to a survey by Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal organization.
The survey, conducted among 2,200 Lutherans from various church bodies, found that a majority (69.8 percent) believe that being a “good Christian” is not tied to church attendance, and that it doesn’t matter which church one attends (62.7 percent), according to a report in Christian News (Nov. 9). However, those most active in church were also the ones most likely to say being connected to a Lutheran church was important (91 percent).
In conflict with Lutheran teaching that people are justified by faith, forty-eight percent of Lutherans agree or “probably agree” that “people can only be justified before God by loving others,” and 60 percent agree that the “The main emphasis of the gospel is God’s rules for right living.”
(Christian News, 3277 Boeuf Lutheran Rd., New Haven, MO 63068)
03: Many black churches have little money for outreach due to serious financial problems, according to a new study.
The study was conducted by the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and surveyed 3,636 members from 141 churches. More than 54 percent of church members surveyed reported serious financial problems in their congregations, according to the United Methodist News Service (Nov. 11).
The least financially troubled were Presbyterian, non-denominational, Church of God in Christ and African Methodist Episcopal churches. The most troubled were United Methodist and Disciples of Christ. A typical black congregation with 250 members devotes 77 percent of its income to maintain basic operations, leaving little left for outreach. The researchers doubt that black churches can fill the gap in their communities left by welfare cuts.
04: News of Ireland’s secularization is exaggerated, at least in the rural parts of the nation, according to a recent survey.
Recent surveys show a steady decline in Catholic beliefs and identity in Ireland [see April `98 issue of RW], but the new survey shows that more than three-quarters of adult Catholics in the largely rural archdiocese of Cashel and Emly attend Mass once a week. The Irish Times (Nov. 5) reports that the poll, conducted by Irish Marketing Surveys, found Mass attendance above the national average of 65 percent.
Weekly attendance was highest for older people at 94 percent and lowest for the 18-34 age group at 60 percent. Only three in 10 said recent scandals (involving financial and child abuse) in the church had affected their religious beliefs.