Mike Nappa did a survey of 845 Christian teenagers — at least those who think they are Christians and who are involved in a youth group — to find out what they believe. He believes his study reflects Christian teenagers (he says his study has 4.44% margin of error), though I’d slightly modify that to conservative evangelical-type Christian teenagers who attended a church camp called Reach Workcamps. The study is not comprehensive nor complete, but I believe it taps into genuine evidence for the conservative Christian culture. His book is called The Jesus Survey: What Christian Teens Believe and Why. [Our social scientific readers can examine the specifics and point out the pros and cons of this study.]
Nappa begins with the Bible, and so what do said Christian teenagers believe about the Bible? Let me suggest that the numbers we are about to present, if accurate, would represent the right end of the spectrum of Christian teenagers in America, and if true, then the concerns Nappa has are even more of concern if this is applied more broadly.
Does the evidence Nappa discusses concern you? Do you find it generally close to your perception of teenagers? What do you think is the best way to bolster the confidence of teens/young adults in the Bible?
He probed in three ways: “The Bible is 100% accurate — historically, factually, and theologically — and therefore completely trustworthy in what it says about Jesus” and then negatively “widely acknowledged errors and can’t be completely trusted in everything it says about Jesus” and then he probed what these teens thought about the Bible in comparison with other sacred texts.
What did he find?
1. He finds four groups: Unshakeables (confidence in the Bible), Uncertain (lean toward trustworthy but don’t fully commit), Unsettled (uncertain, conflicted, possibly confused), Unbelieving (can’t be trusted). This is his synthetic categorization of data that moves in two directions: 86% or so affirmed the first question but that number shifted significantly when they were probed from a negative angle. So the numbers below are synthetic.
2. Percentages: Unshakeable (31%), Uncertain (31%), Unsettled (29%), Unbelieving (10%).
3. In his view, about 70% of Christian teenagers have doubts to disbelief about the trustworthiness of Scripture. His recommendation, of course, is to teach the trustworthiness of the Bible, but I have to wonder if there aren’t other facts at work precipitating such conclusions. And he quotes Christian Smith who, in this sort of quagmire of conflicting ideas among young adults, says it is individualism mixed in with multiculturalism. To be sure, this cultural factor is at work, but I’d like to suggest there are other factors, not the least being what the teens’ parents believe about the Bible, or how they practice the Bible, what the church and its pastor/s teach and practice, and what the youth leaders believe and practice. These numbers are riding a Christian culture and reflect that culture. They are not, then, so much the vanguard as they are the cars the engine is pulling.
4. He believes the “no decision” group will lead to a No kind of decision later on.
5. His study showed that youth leaders misperceive the beliefs of their youth groups dramatically.