While the new Pew Research data shows the very religious in America are as devout as ever, the nation is become more secular. Many are drifting away from their childhood faith.
So what is the way forward for Christians? Is our only hope one of mere survival in the midst of an entrenched battle for the soul of the nation? Is it more culture wars and moral battles? Not necessarily.
One question in the research points to a new way forward. But if we think about it, it’s not so new after all. It’s recapturing what we’ve lost as Christians and communicating it to a culture that’s longing for it. We have to bring back wonder.
Forty-six percent of Americans say they “feel a sense of wonder about the universe” at least once a week. That’s up seven points in the last seven years.
But the more interesting part is that the rate for unaffiliated or nones rose even higher—from 39% to 47%. Fewer than a quarter (24%) of nones say they seldom or never feel wonder about the universe.
For years, the materialistic mindset has downplayed and dismissed wonder. C.S. Lewis wrote about it in 1945 as part of his important essay, “Meditation in a Toolshed” (reprinted in God in the Dock, a collection of his essays).
He spoke of the differences between looking at something—analyzing it scientifically from an outside perspective—and looking along something—experiencing it from a personal perspective. Lewis maintained that societal pressure dismissed the possibility of gaining knowledge from looking along something and only valued looking at it. Wonder would be part of looking along something.
Lewis gives the illustration of looking at a beam of light or looking along it to see numerous parts of creation through it. The former can give valuable information, but the latter often evokes a sense of wonder, a sense of longing.
Look at young adults. Millennials grew up in a society consumed with looking at life, but more of them than any other generation want to look along. More than half (51%) of unaffiliated 18-29 year olds say they experience a sense of wonder at least once a week. That’s higher than any other age group.
If we want to reach those who are disengaged from church and Christianity in the postmodern age, we must touch their sense of wonder. Show them they are part of a larger adventure, a grand narrative. Reveal that wonder has a source and a satisfaction.
As part of his sermon The Weight of Glory (published in a sermon collection of the same name), Lewis delves into why he feel wonder and how we’ve attempted to satisfy those longings it elicits.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
If the church wants to reach millennials and others in this postmodern world, wonder must permeate our conversations and our lives. But we must show and tell them that wonder is not the destination, it’s a direction.
Wonder is the ultimate signpost beyond ourselves. It wafts through the air enticing us to come nearer, floats past our ears imploring us to listen more closely to the melody, sparkles in the distance urging us to push on to discovery.
It is a heart desire that can only be satisfied by the wonderful Savior. Wonder is the path for the church to help others discover the end of their wanderings.