Nominality is the state of being nominal. Over in the business school it's a financial concept, describing a small measure of financial resources. You know, like a nominal net worth. Or, nominal assets or liabilities, cash on hand or ready reserves. In other contexts nominal is a very thin attachment to something. In the religious world it's become a trendy buzzword in analysis of America's spiritual landscape, especially when assessing the Christian population. Analysts and research professionals today quickly say that a majority of Christians are nominal believers, that is, Christians in name only. In survey data they check the Christian box as opposed to the other possible selections---Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, or None. And, the numbers in this regard are perplexing. The statisticians at the Barna Research Group and the Pew Forum say that as many as 70% of our population profess Christianity as their religious choice. Oddly, approximately 7-8% of them affirm a Christian worldview. Another head scratcher about these mystifying times.
It's a sad truth, but humans are essentially nominal in many life choices except perhaps during the big game every week. The information superhighway provides brief glimpses of many religious, social, philosophical, and political positions. We'll read one, like it, and adopt that label as our life choice without exploring the fine print to understand the various elements of the choice we've made. In the framework of our softer and more inclusive world these partial commitments open portals of acceptance in multiple communities, many of them affirming a variety of clashing elements. They love us and applaud our openness to their particulars. In the main, however, many are not totally immersed in the many points that define these many systems.
We've become a population of a little of this and a little of that. Political distinctions are blurred as candidates make their pitch for the election next year. Churches and denominations waver in their spiritual agendas to maintain some connection to our mainstream, shifting population. The ideals of certainty and confessional integrity are victims of a systemic nominality, that is, being many things in name only. Or, in the financial sense, big talk that doesn't amount to much. In the matter of worldviews I propose an additional, perhaps more prevalent label that defines the lens through which most Americans view life---Whateverism. You know. Whatever?
Is that troubling? Well, yes, as forty year pastor and Bible teacher it bothers me a great deal, on several levels---
1. Nominality is shoving many of our younger generation toward socialism. Yes, it is a dream world, socialism. But, it doesn't work. Scroll the the list of socialist nations and assess how their citizens are doing in almost every human measurement. Of course, these nations have typically abandoned any connection to the Christian faith and must seek to exist in a Godless world. Scripture does address this fallacy---
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who
keeps the law.
Proverbs 29: 18, ESV
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his
Psalm 33: 12, ESV
If Americans have learned anything in our 243 years it is the blessedness of our traditional Christian worldview. That the millennial generation is leaning toward socialist ideals simply means that they have not studied socialism completely.
2. Nominality threatens the confessional truth of evangelical Christianity.
Yes, I know the ultimate outcome of colliding spiritual visions. Scripture consistently affirms Christ's conquering of all adversarial systems in the final accounting of God's redemptive plan. Still, there are the cultural plate tectonics of the present age and our assignment to make disciples of all nations. Biblical faith isn't a little of this and a little of that, a whim about this issues, and trend about something else. Whether or not nominal Christians are genuine believers is certainly debatable . Still, Scripture reminds us to be certain of our faith---
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not
realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet
2 Corinthians 13: 5, ESV
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if
you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly
provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus
2 Peter 1: 10-11, ESV
Believers in exponential times should teach and emphasize the biblical meaning of genuine belief and church membership. Whateverism may be a greatest challenge.
3. Nominality blinds humans to the truth about worldview alternatives.
Reading the tag lines and brief descriptions of contemporary belief systems often shifts attention from their underlying principles. People often want to know the decisive points in defining false belief systems from genuine faith. This is, of course, a significant study. At root for me, is what these competing worldviews affirm about Jesus Christ. It is clear in Scripture---
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me". John 14: 6, ESV
There are many other distinctives about the Christian faith and worldview. How they speak of Jesus is the cutting issue for me.
Nominality extends past the idea of Christians in name only. That's a considerable challenge in our culture today, no doubt. But, being anything in name only describes a culture weak in standards and values, the absence of strong character, the flimsy thin shells of life in exponential times.
No, nominality is not biblical faith. And, the Christian worldview has never been a little of this and a little of that.