Parents of preteens, children younger than 13, “are in a state of spiritual distress” as American adherence to biblical Christianity fades even in churches, and a "tragic crash” is coming as a result of the situation, according to new data from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and the American Worldview Inventory 2022.
“While the warning signs are identifiable and unmistakable, it appears that parents, as well as their support system (i.e., churches, extended family, and parachurch ministries), are too distracted or disinterested to acknowledge and address the parenting crisis. It seems that a tragic crash is in store,” said George Barna, director of research at the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian, in a release earlier this month.
“Parents, to whom the Bible assigns the primary responsibility for shaping the worldview of their children, are called to equip youngsters to grow up in relationship with and service to God. That requires the intentional and consistent development of a biblical worldview in the minds and hearts of children, since every person’s worldview begins developing before their second birthday,” Barna explained.
“Yet parents are not devoted to biblical worldview development in their children partly because they do not possess a biblical worldview to pass on to their progeny. The CRC research reveals that a paltry 2% of the parents of preteens — children in the worldview development window — has a biblical worldview.”
A big reason for the lack of a biblical worldview in parents today is syncretism. This ideology is described as “the worldview that merges otherwise incompatible philosophies of life into a made-to-order worldview that incorporates enough biblical elements to be minimally Christian in nature.”
Under the sway of syncretism, according to Barna, the American Church has failed to contend earnestly for the Christian faith.
“The American Church has lowered the entry bar so much that it is difficult to identify any beliefs that disqualify one from claiming to be Christian. The parents of children under the age of 13 are a stellar example of this Christian nominalism that is widely accepted as spiritually normal and healthy,” he said.
“Indeed, a worldview is comprised of a unified series of beliefs that then determine behavior. The alarm bell has not been rung because there is no single belief, or even limited series of identified beliefs, that are acknowledged as undermining Christianity or disqualifying an amenable adult from being considered a disciple of Jesus.”
Barna suggested that one explanation for the current crisis of faith is that the American Church is measuring the wrong indicators of faith.
“By emphasizing measures such as church attendance and participation in prayer, the emphasis is placed upon the quantity rather than quality of spiritual activity, and on overt participation rather than core developmental efforts,” he noted.
“In other words, the emphasis is placed upon breadth rather than depth. But even more significantly, the spiritual warning signs have been misinterpreted. By looking for glaring deficiencies in the lives of self-described Christians, leaders have ignored the importance of numerous, less noticeable deficiencies. Their conclusion is that nobody is perfect, so while there are some identifiable spiritual and lifestyle defects among parents, they are not sufficiently disturbing to constitute a crisis or require a concerted call to action.”
Church leaders, explained Barna, have largely ignored the crisis of faith in the Christian community because indicators like church attendance, Bible sales and donations “have remained sufficiently robust to feel reassured.”
Barna noted that while some commentators on the effect of syncretism on the American Church might minimize it as a “rough patch,” emerging data on children shows a different picture.
“The disinterest and even disrespect many children show to their elders is partially a reaction to the lack of authenticity and integrity they experience in the presence of parents, teachers, pastors, and other cultural leaders. Children sometimes feel compelled to ignore adults whose talk and walk are inconsistent,” he said.
“When children are exposed to teaching — through words or actions, whether formal or informal — that are contradictory, they naturally conclude that the Christian faith is inherently contradictory and therefore may not be what they are seeking as a life philosophy,” Barna adds. “Young people may be interested in and intrigued by Bible stories, but unless the underlying life principles are both identified and exemplified, children are likely to miss out on those life changing truths.”
He suggested that the reason most Christians aren’t alarmed by the crisis of faith and parenting could be that the rest of the culture is syncretistic as well.
Data published by ACU last year shows that of an estimated 176 million American adults who identify as Christian, just 6%, or 15 million of them, actually hold a biblical worldview.
The study shows, in general, that while a majority of America’s self-identified Christians, including many who identify as Evangelical, believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and is the Creator of the universe, more than half reject a number of biblical teachings and principles, including the existence of the Holy Spirit.
Strong majorities also errantly believe that all religious faiths are of equal value, people are basically good and that people can use acts of goodness to earn their way into Heaven.
The study further showed that majorities don’t believe in moral absolutes; consider feelings, experience, or the input of friends and family as their most trusted sources of moral guidance; and say that having faith matters more than which faith you pursue.
According to Barna, “If ever there was a time when our nation was desperate for a grassroots spiritual revival led by the remnant in the pews who still revere God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, and truth, now is that time.”