Dr. Ryan Burge – social scientist, statistician and Baptist pastor – compiled the numbers from the Cooperative Election Study. The political science professor (Eastern Illinois University) found the number of self-described evangelicals who say religion is "very important" to them has grown over the last several years – by nine points since 2008. Over the same time period, however, their attendance dropped by ten points.
AFN contacted Christian apologist Dr. Alex McFarland of Truth for a New Generation about Burge's findings. McFarland argues the pandemic revealed some clarity on individuals' commitment to their faith.
"COVID and quarantines showed who's really 'the serious' and who's 'the committed' as churches everywhere struggle to regain pre-COVID attendance levels," he explains.
But Burge suspects – and McFarland agrees – that people like the idea of religion without the actual trappings of or commitment to said religion. "There's always the danger that we give lip service but not really life change," McFarland warns.
As the Christian author and educator points out, the cultural component is not a new phenomenon; in fact, McFarland notes it has been around in the U.S. for almost a hundred years. People, he says, can appropriate the trappings of faith without actually giving their lives to Jesus Christ.
"If we have Christ as our Lord, we are to pursue righteousness. We are to be a regular participant in a local church. We are to be salt and light, and live on earth as it is in heaven," McFarland emphasizes.
He even points out a verse in the Bible in which Jesus anticipated the "cultural" Christian: "In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks a rhetorical question: 'Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do the things I say?'"