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Prominent theologian says secularism, not religion, is set to decline - but is he correct?

Posted September 29

Prominent pastor and theologian Timothy Keller has written a new book that targets skeptical people who have some serious questions about Christianity.

The book's release comes amid claims that religion in America is burning out and dying, though Keller actually makes a starkly different argument: that secularism is, in fact, the theological worldview that's poised to decline.

Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, released "Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical" — a book that "invites skeptics to consider that Christianity is more relevant now than ever," according to an official description.

The pastor, who is widely known and respected for his oft-times deep theological analysis, told The Christian Post that, instead of arguing that Christianity is true — a claim he most certainly believes — he wants people to see how the faith system positively impacts the world.

"I've had people say 'I don't care if Christianity is true, it's irrelevant to me,'" he said. "And I'm trying to say I want you to see what Christianity offers so that you would think, 'Wow, if it really offers that it would be great if it were true.'"

Keller also spoke about the increase of the "nones" in America — those people who are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a faith cohort. But instead of embracing the fear that some have of changing demographics, he said he predicts that the share of secularists will actually decrease over time.

"In the past there was hardly anybody who was secular," Keller told The Christian Post. "In the future there will be significant numbers of people who are secular more than have ever been in history."

But he added an important caveat: Christianity and Islam are growing rapidly and that, over the next 25-45 years, the percentage of people who say that they're secular will actually decrease overall across the globe.

So, is Keller correct? Yes, according to a Pew Research Center report released in April 2015; it projected out to 2050, finding that, as the population changes in the coming decades, the world's religious profile will also evolve.

While Christianity is poised to stay the biggest religious group across the globe, Islam will likely grow to nearly match it in numbers by 2050.

But here's what the report had to say about the "nones": "Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population."

So, based on Pew's projections, Keller's comments seem to be on par with what some experts believe the world will look like come 2050.

To get a bit more specific, the research firm found that the number of "nones" will rise from 1,131,150,000 in 2010 to 1,230,340,000 in 2050. While this is certainly an increase in numbers, it actually represents a proportional decrease from 16.4 percent to 13.2 percent of the overall population.

It should be noted that many of the fears and warnings surrounding secularism's increase stem from a 2015 Pew Research report that found the share of Christians in America decreased from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

Meanwhile, the share of "nones" increased during the same time period from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent. While that might be a cause for concern in America, it seems the global projections are quite different.

In addition to his future prediction about secularism, Keller also spoke with The Christian Post about how he believes many people have failed to study why it is they hold their beliefs, saying that "most people don't do argument anymore."

"Everybody thinks that their view is self-evident," he added. "And people who just don't see it are nuts."

Now, Keller — who is optimistic about the future of faith — is hoping to help people think deeper about their skepticism, while also helping them consider Christianity's potential impact on their lives and the world more broadly.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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