The west front of Bath Abbey carries an extraordinary sculpture of the angels of god ascending and descending on two ladders, six (like that above) on each. Although the tourist guides tell you this was inspired by a vision given to Bishop Oliver King in the Tudor days, it is of course a reference to the vision given to Jacob in Genesis 28, and later referenced by Jesus in conversation with Nathaniel in John 1. It’s an image of how heaven and earth meet in Jesus the Son of Man.
This is the kind of artistic and visual detail that makes Christian buildings like that so special to all generations. Visit the Abbey inside and you find evidence of a living congregation, gospel ministry, and plenty of children and young people actively involved.
Is Christianity really declining in the West?
There was a lot of social media flutter this week triggered by a Pew Research study on the US, which some interpreted as saying that it is (especially among the “millenials, those born after 1981 who became adults at or after 2000). But others point out that many are rejecting nominal religion, but not faith – that levels of church attendance are steady, and that it is the the mainline (liberal) Protestant traditions that have declined (as in the UK but over a longer period). In contrast, the number of evangelicals has risen, and (as this previous Pew Research article noted), millenials remain as convinced about doctrines such as God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection, and as faithful in daily prayer, as older adults, and many become more inclined to self-identify as “religious” as they age. Ed Stetzer gave a great summary of the real takeways behind the stats.
Rachel Held Evans therefore to my mind overstates her case for millenial ennui with Christianity in this Washington Post article . She references the first part of the February article above without noting its positive content too. However, she’s worth reading: she is giving a helpful challenge to Church to offer young adults intelligent apologetics and Bible interpretation, genuine community and “classic” worship done in a modern way. Stone angels on ladders – and the Lord Jesus they point to -instead of fake smoke and logos.