A funny thing happened on the way to the kingdom. We thought big-name evangelists like Billy Graham could save the world. We thought recounting healings would convince people that God’s alive and well. Think again. Now only half the Aussie population (52%) call themselves “Christian.” Just 50 years ago, it was 9 out of 10 (88%).
What happened? Perhaps we should ask them. McCrindle Research did just that. They asked Aussies what attracted them to faith, and what turned them off. Want to know what answers they got?
From page 26 of Faith and Belief in Australia (McCrindle, 2017):
Just as there are attractions, there are aspects of religion and spirituality that act as repellents for non-Christians. The top repellents (which somewhat or strongly repel) are:
1. Hearing from public figures and celebrities who are examples of that faith (75%)
2. Miraculous stories of people being healed or supernatural occurrences (65%)
Did you get that?
Aussies don’t trust the kind of religion that turns faith into a TV show, with healing reports of people they don’t actually know. Sorry Benny Hinn and co: no doubt you have some who’ll contribute to your personal prosperity, but you’re turning the wider population away from faith.
So what attracts Aussies to faith?
Here’s what they told McCrindle:
The greatest attraction to investigating spirituality and religion is seeing people who live out a genuine faith. Second is experiencing a personal trauma or significant life change.
We’re all familiar with the second one: loss and trauma have a way of shaking us up so we’re open to alternatives. But did the first one grab your attention? People who live their faith make it credible. Aussies are looking for authentic, embodied truth.
Actually, that’s shockingly similar to what Jesus is looking for. It’s not the people who sing, “Lord, Lord” who enter heaven’s reign: it’s those who do what the king wants done, treating his constituents the way the king wants. It’s not the people who put on a good show of prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles who represent Jesus, but the people who embody him (7:21-23).
The funny thing is that this is what God always planned. We’re designed to image God, to reflect him to each other and to creation. God always was going to make himself known through people.
Wasn’t that why God called Abraham, for his descendants to make God known to the nations? Didn’t God reveal “the exact representation of his being” in a human being named Jesus (Hebrews 1:3)? Jesus visibly images the God who can’t be seen any other way (Colossians 1:15). And his people are now the embodiment of Jesus on earth (“the body of Jesus”). The incarnate God incorporated into himself those who give him their allegiance, so the place where he is seen on earth is in his people.
Aussies are a straightforward pragmatic mob. If they can’t see God, they have “no religion.” Their best chance of seeing God is seeing him in us.
Terrifying? It’s always been like that. A king is revealed in his kingdom.
So we need to ask, “What will the earth be like when it’s completely restored under his kingship?” There won’t be filthy rich and homeless Aussies. There won’t be boat people incarcerated for escaping injustice. There won’t be outback communities dying of preventable disease. So, what does it mean to be kingdom people now, people who genuinely care about those our king cares for?
Credible faith is faith expressed in love.
What others are saying
David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 211–212:
Like a man seeking art,
perfect pearl wins his heart.
It will cost everything,
all he owns, venturing.
Does not flinch, sells all, buys
perfect pearl. Seize the prize!
So God’s reign, costs your soul.
Risk it all like a fool.
Douglas J. Moo, “Divine Healing in the Health and Wealth Gospel” in Trinity Journal 9:2 (1988), 197:
Jesus claims that his exorcisms indicate the presence of the Kingdom (Matt 12:28). Jesus’ miracles do not just prove who he is, but reveal the presence the kingdom. Their evidential value lies not in their being pointers to the kingdom, but in being signs of the kingdom. …When the reign of God is established, Satan is vanquished, the dead are raised, illness is no more. Jesus’ exorcisms, raisings of the dead and healings give evidence that the kingdom of God is at work in his ministry.
Update 2017-07-12. ABC news delves further into the census data demographics: God or godless? It probably depends on your age and where you live.