This is the subject of a short article recently posted on Christianity Today’s website. The article begins by stating that it was the statistic that was shouted around the church: 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals have had sex. “Christians are having premarital sex and abortions as much (or more) than non-Christians,” said Relevant (a magazine marketed to 20-somthing evangelicals). “Chastity is not the norm.” But a more recent survey said most unmarried evangelicals have never been sexually active. Who’s right?
Time and time again, I have seen similar discrepancies in statistics presented from studies about the Christian faith. Almost always the very different results can be tied to just one factor, did they categorize the results only by self-identification or did they take into account whether the beliefs and actions of the survey participant were consistent with the faith they claimed?
Questions that often make very significant statistical differences are:
- Do they attend church regularly?
- Do they read their bible regularly?
- Do they pray regularly?
- Do they believe the bible to be God’s true words?
- Are their personal beliefs about their faith consistent with the beliefs of the faith community to which they have identified?
Scripture is clear that faith in Christ is about much, much more than claiming a belief in Christ; it is about entering into a dynamic vibrant relationship with the living Lord. And that is something that goes far beyond self-identification, and it something that must affect every area of our lives. The book of James says “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (Jam 2:17-20 NIV)” and “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.(Jam 1:23-25 NIV)
So why are the results of these two surveys so different? One of the surveys presented in the Christianity Today article accounted for regular bible reading and regular church attendance and the other did not. Together these surveys demonstrate the truth of James words; true faith really does change the heart. So next time you hear about a survey that proves: “Christians have premarital sex more than…,” “Christians divorce more than…,” “Christians have more abortions than…,” etc… remember that the authors of those studies probably have defined “Christian” a whole lot differently than you would. Mark Twain once said, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics” and there is a lot of wisdom in this statement. Statistics can sometimes be very helpful but only when we truly understand what those statistic represent; without the details, statistics are meaningless.
The original Christianity Today article can be found here.