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Worldwide today: Christian beliefs in salvation

 

Question & Answer

 
Evelyn from Wayzata, MN writes:

Question:

Do you have any reliable estimates of the number of Christians worldwide who do not subscribe to the viewpoint that “salvation comes only through Jesus Christ”?

I just wrote a letter to the editor (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) challenging such a statement, but then wondered how many of the >2 million Christians in the world (2011 Pew Research estimate) share a less conservative belief.

Thank you for your attention, and thank you for your witness in the world!

Answer: By Fred C. Plumer

Dear Evelyn,

You ask a very difficult question that I do not think anyone can answer accurately. There are a several things that get in the way, but let me try.

First, there is the general challenge of people not wanting to talk about their religious beliefs, regardless of what they are, unless they are evangelical and believe it is their mission to share the gospel from their own perspective.

Secondarily, there is the complicated issue of terminology. What do you mean by “salvation,” or being “saved?” If I was leading a difficult or maybe a self-destructive life, and I read a book about Jesus, maybe I would change my self-destructiveness. The book or books might be by a progressive author that made no promise of an afterlife, but focused on Jesus teachings about loving our neighbor, or about not being afraid to live life, or about sharing or maybe about learning there are no enemies, or…well, you get the idea. Maybe there was something about those teachings that gave me new insight and I changed my life. Have I been saved? I might think so. But most people who call themselves Christian would want something more.

Thirdly, how far do you take that question? For example, after forty years of serious study, I no longer hold the belief that Jesus died for my sins or that believing something like that can purify or “take away” my sins. However, I view Jesus as a fully human being who lived in the history of his time and was one of several enlightened beings throughout the ages, who left us with some amazing life lessons. Does that make me a Christian? Does that make me a believer? I believe in what Jesus taught but not the 3rd century idea of personal salvation. For example, I am a follower of Jesus, but how would I show up in the PEW report?

That being said, your numbers are a little skewed. Christians remained the largest religious group in the world in 2015, making up nearly a third (31%) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people, according to a new Pew Research Center demographic analysis. (In the last two years, the Muslim faith has slight outdistanced Christianity). A large percentage of Christians, roughly a 1/3, live in the African and Asian countries. The African, and I suspect the Asian, slant on Christianity is often like nothing we have seen in modern USA. Most likely this is true for developing nations. However, Christians make up roughly 70% of the USA population. That is a drop from 80% a little over ten years ago. Now of course we have to ask, “What do they mean by calling themselves, Christians.” For example less than 45% of those claiming to be Christian attend church on a regular basis. Then, of course, we have to ask what church do you attend? What do they believe? And are you saved?

Now I can tell you that there are more people like me who no longer attend church. In fact church attendance has dropped so much that they are closing churches every week, all over the country. Right now less than twenty percent of the population go to church on a regular basis and researchers are telling us that only 7% of the millennials will be attending church in the future. That does not bode well for Christianity or any of the institutional religions in our country.

How many people are like me and the numerous authors we post on our website regularly? How many people are like the authors we pay to write for us weekly? There really is no way to tell, but our website attracts over 300,000 people a year, we have 11,000 people on our mailing list and our Progressing Spirit (previously called John Shelby Spong) weekly goes out to over 5,000 people every week. Bishop Spong wrote a book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, in 1998. I think that says it all.

Thank you for writing,

Fred C. Plumer, President
ProgressiveChristianity.org

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

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