How’s faith in Canada? A few studies have come out in the past year that look into some specifics when it comes to the general attitudes and beliefs in Canada. It’s a privilege to have Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada, Wyatt Graham, with us this week to discuss some of those findings and how the church can best respond. For example, why are we seeing young people more interested in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy today? Why are liberal/progressive churches shrinking? Join us for this week’s conversation.
Who is Our Guest?
Make sure to check out the article, 10 Things You Should Know About Religion in Canada. There you’ll find links to the various studies Wyatt mentioned.
With me today is Wyatt Graham. Wyatt serves as the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada, and he also blogs regularly at WyattGraham.com. It’s great to have you with us today, Wyatt.
Happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Yeah, definitely. Firstly, who are you? I mean we’ve talked on the phone. We’ve also met when you were over here in the West Coast, and we met at a little TGC conference. It was a lot of fun. But anyways, for those who don’t know you, who are you and maybe how’d you come to faith?
Okay. At the highest level, I’m Canadian. I was born in British Columbia, so I’m born in the same province that you’re in.
I’ve also lived in Alberta, grew up kind of in Western Canada, traveled or did education down south, and now I’m back in Canada but in Ontario. Then the smaller story about how I became a Christian, how I found faith, that one’s a bit odd because there’s really two events in my life that maybe kind of drew me close to the Lord or could have been conversion events.
The first was in British Columbia actually. I was whatever, three, four, five, six, and I just remember praying with my brother and asking for the Lord to forgive me or something to that effect. The second would be about 16, 17. Couldn’t sleep one night and I went to a cooler room in the house and found a Bible. I opened it up and read it, and something changed the next day, and I just had a huge desire to know what the Bible said. Eventually, I consistently followed the Lord. I’m not really sure which of those two events was my conversion, or maybe it was the first one and the second part was really just the Lord drawing me to a closer relationship to him. It’s hard to know.
Yeah, yeah. That’s so good. For those who don’t know, what’s The Gospel Coalition Canada, and what role do you sort of play there, and then what purpose does the actual organization play in Canada?
Well, The Gospel Coalition simply wants to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel. It’s a movement of people and churches that recognizes that we face challenges in the world and in Canada in particularly. We face false teaching, lack of resources, lack of unity, and I’m sure various other challenges. The Gospel Coalition Canada is asking Christians in Canada to join together for the sake of the gospel, to renew the gospel in our lives and churches, and to meet these challenges head on by looking by to the ancient gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for life. That’s in sum.
I’m the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada and have been for just under two years. We’re actually pretty new in Canada, have really been here for really just about two years in our nation. That’s the basic summary.
Right. Yeah, no. That’s so good. Thank you for that. It’s been a couple weeks now since Canada Day, and you, Wyatt, you recently spent some time digesting a few studies on faith in Canada. I’d really just love to hear from you and to take some time for you to explain what some of those findings are, because many people just don’t know, and then how you and the church at whole can respond to those things. Yeah, some findings and then some responses, I’d love for you just to kind of share some of that.
Yeah. I had spent some time looking at different statistics about religion in Canada, and one of the things interesting in Canada is that we don’t have the same kind of polling or statistical studies that the United States has. It makes it a bit more difficult, but I did find about three or two organizations and one study that did some really good work. There were the Angus Reid Institute, Statistics Canada, and there was actually a recent academic study done in Southern Ontario which studied various churches that were both growing and shrinking and basically gave them questions. I think we can find some really interesting data in there and things that can encourage us as Canadians and especially as conservative evangelical Canadians, or at least those Canadians who love the Lord, love the gospel, and follow the Bible.
One of the things that was really interesting in this Southern Ontario study was that for many of the churches that were not growing and in fact were shrinking, it was true that they didn’t hold fast to the gospel, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and really conservative theology, whereas the churches that were growing in the same region more often believed in, like, the bodily resurrection of the Lord, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and basically conservative, traditional Christianity. That’s an interesting trend, because I think a lot of times we hear that in order to reach a new audience, to bring in people to the church, we have to figure new strategies or new ways of bringing people in, but actually this study, while it doesn’t say that you shouldn’t use strategy, it says that if you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and uphold the truth of the gospel, that that’s one factor in your church’s growth.
I think that is actually really encouraging for us in Canada where maybe we sometimes feel a bit marginalized as conservative Christians. We don’t feel like we’re growing the way that we ought to, and we see some of these legal cases in the news and kind of cower under that and feel like, “Okay. There’s this doom and gloom happening.”
But actually, if you look across Canada, conservative churches are growing, those who hold fast to the gospel. It’s a very encouraging trend.
It is. I remember too, Wyatt, if I can jump in here, I remember a CBC article. I think it was CBC. It might have been Global maybe a year or two ago, and it just kind of stated plainly that churches that took on a more liberal understanding of even its understanding of the Bible and if they believed if it was infallible and inerrant, ones that had a more liberal approach, they were shrinking, and those that, like you just said, the conservative churches that had a more explicit understanding and inerrant view of the Bible were growing. I think, and I mean maybe you’d have some thoughts here too, but I think one of the reasons why churches that maybe don’t preach the explicit gospel, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the gospel correctly or the inerrancy of the Bible, I mean if someone goes to a church that doesn’t really have a stance on those things, then I mean maybe the Rotary Club or going to the swimming club, that might be just as good fellowship than going to the church that doesn’t really have a stance on any of those things. It kind of makes sense to me why they would be shrinking.
Well, I think people today, in maybe the age category under 40, go to church for a reason, where I think if you were in that older category, when you were younger you went to church because that’s what everyone did. But the younger, the under 40 generation, maybe they don’t grow up in a church culture, so they’re only going to go for a reason.
If you’re offering a church service without any truth, without any kind of authority, without any conviction, well, why not just go to the movie theater?
Why not just find a different group? Why not just find a group of young mothers at the library to get along with? Why go to the church?
I think that we have something unique because we’re offering the gospel of Jesus Christ, something that transcends the world, something that’s true everywhere, and something that we’re to preach with conviction. I think many people, God’s people, are attracted to that. I think that’s something we can take courage in despite some of the difficulties and challenges that we face in our country.
Yeah. I would even say, just to end this one point before we go to the next, that when a pastor preaches the gospel or a whole church that’s under that kind of teaching goes out in their communities and they believe in this bold gospel, it’s radical, and a lot of young adults are attracted to what’s radical and kind of out there. The gospel is out there, because it’s totally anti-postmodern, anti-post-truth culture that we’re in. I think that’s awesome.
Yeah. I think one of the things that you see which is interesting, I don’t know if this is something that you’ve run into, but a lot of younger people, and by younger I mean under 40 so I don’t mean like 15-year-olds, younger Canadians are looking for something, and they’re actually going down the Canterbury trail to the Anglican Church, they’re going to Rome, and they’re going to Eastern Orthodoxy. Why? Well, I think some people are going to those churches because they see it’s rooted in something beyond the present. I mean our lives are so transient, unstable. You have a job for three years, and then another job for three years. You’re in one apartment, in another apartment. I think people are looking for something stable.
I think kind of going back to the same point, we have something that’s the most stable and unchanging truth and community in the world, something that started at creation and has continued, or started as the church 2,000 years ago, and we can offer an ancient gospel that can meet the needs of the contemporary church today that will, because God is true and God is real, and that faith is ancient, and we’re rooted in something beyond ourselves.
Yeah, we might move from one apartment to another or one job to another, but the gospel and God never changes. He is always who he is.
I think that is attractive to people. They want stability and they want something beyond this transient world in which we live.
How do you think then, if that’s the reality where a lot of people under 40, the younger kind of Canadians, if they’re kind of attracted to that Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, things like that, I feel like it’s because there are physical things they see that are old. Like they’re in old buildings. They still wear their old garb. They chant these old chants. Then the Evangelical Church, it might just look like the world in its physical look. How can we sort of say that this is an old, established faith rather than getting in old buildings?
That’s a good question. I mean I think what you said is exactly right. People are drawn to the liturgy, some of what appears old, what appears to be an ancient practice. Now, just a quick note before I answer your question directly. There are about 550,000 Orthodox Christians in Canada, and there are 630,000 Baptists. If you’re a Baptist and that’s the only world you know, there’s nearly as many Orthodox Christians in this country as there are Baptists, just as a note here. Now, of course there’s many more Evangelical or Protestant Christians if you count the different groups.
Okay, so the question is as Evangelicals we don’t tend to have some of those ancient liturgical traditions, so in what way can we show that the Evangelical, the Protestant Evangelical Church is ancient? I think you have to go back to the Reformation, and one of the things that was important to the Reformers is that the true church is born on the Word and Spirit. The Word of God found in Scripture that points and testifies to Jesus Christ is ancient, it’s 2,000 years old, and the practices prescribed in that Bible, namely communion, baptism, preaching of the gospel, evangelism, discipleship, and the various kind of practices surrounding that, that’s actually ancient and that’s everywhere in the world. It’s not just something that kind of sprung up in North America 200 years ago.
But sometimes, I have to say that it’s interesting. We look at our churches. We sometimes sing hymns that are from like 1880 to 1980, and it seems like our tradition’s only within that 100-year period, but that’s not true. We have 2,000 years of hymns and history that we’re actually a part of too, because we’re all born from the same spirit on the basis of Scripture worshiping the same God in Christ Jesus. I think we have a lot to offer through the Word and Spirit.
That’s so good. When it comes to evangelism, I found one of the points from an article you wrote, which I’ll put the link up for our listeners to find, but I’d love for you to share that statistic about the religiously committed people in Canada, how they view evangelism. I thought that was very interesting.
Only 29% of religiously committed people in Canada view evangelism positively. These would be the insiders. Only 8% of all Canadians view evangelism positively. On average, less than one person out of ten will see evangelism as a good thing.
I think that’s largely, or it could be connected, to the idea that religion is something that shouldn’t be public but should merely be private. I think you see this with the Trinity Western case recently where a law school was told, or, sorry, something that could have been a law school was told that, “Look, you actually can’t run your law school if you require people to live by your religious code when it comes to marriage. That’s something that you can’t have in a publicly accessible institution.” Essentially, religion has been pushed really into the private sphere, and I believe it was Pierre Trudeau who said something to the effect of, “We don’t care what you do in your house or bedroom.” Like that’s for you, but that’s kind of where religion has been pushed.
I think evangelism, this idea of going out and convincing, persuading people to join your creed, your gospel, is viewed as something that just doesn’t make sense. It actually goes against our inclusive culture, because, for Christians anyways, we’re telling them, “Look, all these options out there are wrong except for this one option, which is that you must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved.” I think that’s perhaps part of the reason that these statistics are this way.
I think that creates some challenges for us as Canadians and as Evangelicals, those who are committed to the authority of Scripture and committed to conversionism, because we have a cultural challenge, not just a gospel offense challenge. Of course, the gospel could offend people, because it’s saying that, “Well, you must repent,” but if the actual activity of speaking to someone about religion is already offensive, well that adds double the challenge.
I think we need to think creatively about how we can engage in conversations and only offend people with the gospel and not offend people with the mode by which we get to the gospel.
Yeah. That’s so good. Just for those listening, there are multiple other stats that Wyatt points out, and again I’m going to put that article on our episode podcast page so you can find it and look through it. He’s also quoted the studies as well, linked the studies there, so you can find that.
But anyways, Wyatt, as many are listening to you explain some of these truths of faith in Canada, these stats that we’ve found, what would you say are a few things we can individually do to help really bring the gospel to this nation? This is a huge question, but what does it kind of look like in perspective of what we’ve just been talking about.
Yeah. I think the answer is it could be slightly counterintuitive. I think you look at the Great Commission and Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, but he tells us to teach these nations everything that he has taught the disciples. Actually, I think it starts in the church first. I think in our local church settings or in our church fellowships, whatever that looks like, we do a number of things. One, we find someone in our church and start discipling them, teach them everything that Jesus taught us in Scripture.
I think two, you start talking to people at work, become their friends, and find opportunities to share your faith. That’s part of what it means to create disciples as well. You create new disciples, not just already existing disciples. I think you can ask your pastor, your elders, your church leaders if they would start a class teaching the Bible and theology, because I think it starts there. Your knowledge of God flows into you and your love for God flows into you and then out to the world.
I think lastly, I would suggest being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s really easy to see only five feet in front of us, but actually Jesus in John 17 prayed for the church’s unity, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9 wanted the church in Macedonia, in Corinth, and Jerusalem to be united and to share in the spiritual benefits and material benefits. He actually had a strong vision for local churches working together to be united, because we’re all part of one body in Christ Jesus. I think that’s one of the things that you see in history and even now, that when you work together with others, you actually grow together. When you stay by yourself, sometimes you shrink by yourself.
Actually, one great example of this is that GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference, something to that effect, just met in Jerusalem. It looked like a wonderful meeting, and it was about renewal and gospel-centeredness. They actually called out the Episcopal Church in the US and the provinces that kind of follow their teachings, for example, that are false on gay marriage. It looks like they were able to stick it out in the tough times, this international Anglican community, and are able to work together today to renew something like 80 million people across the world.
To renew them both internally, but also in the gospel and to get back on mission. To me, that’s a very encouraging sign, and we’ll see, and maybe we ought to be praying for that international community of Christians to see if they can have success in the coming years.
That’s so good. I just love, just to go back to that very first point you made, how it starts in the church, I just think that was really good, because often we think of creating a gospel impact in your nation and think about evangelism, you’d immediately think outside the church, but you’re like, “No, no, no. It starts inside the church,” because there are multiple people that are just ill-equipped in the church, and they need to be equipped. I think that’s really good.
What are a few questions, Wyatt, you’d suggest we ask ourselves pertaining to how healthy our local church is? I don’t know if we do this often enough, and I think it’s really important. Yeah. What questions can we ask ourselves to discern if our local church is going in the right direction to make this great gospel impact?
I think there’s really two questions, and they’re related. First, does the church proclaim the gospel? The second is does the church love each other to the extent that the world can see that love and know that God is there? In other words, does the church confess orthodox beliefs and make up that confession by love? That’s a healthy church, love God and neighbour as yourself. Do you believe truly and can you back it up by genuine love, and can people see that and be like, “I want what they have”?
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Really quickly, when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman, he mentions that we should be worshiping in spirit and truth. I mean there’s lots of different ideas on what that means, but I’m thinking like, okay, if spirit is evidenced by a boldness, a courage, a fervency, and then truth is evidenced by understanding doctrine in your head and biblical theology and so on, when you look around, Wyatt, at your local church and the churches across Canada you are acquainted with, are you seeing a good balance of that, people worshiping in spirit and truth? Obviously not just singing, but in all their life, or are you seeing one lacking? I’m just interested in that.
Well, I think I’m encouraged by people’s confession of the gospel and pursuit of God. I think there’s always room to improve. I mean in the studies that I looked at, one of the interesting things was that only 9% of, I think, religiously committed people found intellectual pursuit as a primarily important thing. Now, of course if you’re a Christian you don’t have to be an academic or something like that, but at the same time, Jesus says in John 17 that this is eternal life, that you may know God and his Son, Jesus Christ. To know God at least requires some intellectual pursuit. It doesn’t mean that you’re an academic, but it means that you’re thinking and trying to know him in an intimate way. I do think that’s an area in which we probably as Evangelicals can improve upon, where we can think more carefully about who God is and what that means for life.
But overall, I am encouraged about the direction that churches are going in terms of their love for the gospel and love for each other.
That’s so good. Also, just to put a plug in here for The Gospel Coalition Canada, I would say to those listening that the site, The Gospel Coalition Canada, which is ca.thegospelcoalition.org, provides articles and other resources that can definitely help you in that kind of quote-unquote “intellectual pursuit” to really help your faith. I would just suggest that you do go to The Gospel Coalition Canada site, because yeah, there’s tons and a wealth of resources on there for you to start gaining information that way. Last question, Wyatt. What’s your hope for the church in Canada?
I think it hopefully should be obvious at this point, but it’s that we would work together for the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we would all know God, love each other, and from that excess show people the love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then instead of maybe doing it on our own that we’d link up in arms with other churches in our communities and find ways to reach our community, reach our neighbours with the gospel.
Yeah. That’s so good. Thank you so much, Wyatt. If you’re interested in more, if you’re listening, check out TGC Canada’s website at ca.thegospelcoalition.org. There are plenty of resources there. Also, remember to check out WyattGraham.com where Wyatt regularly blogs. You can also follow Wyatt on Twitter @WAGraham, that’s his handle.
I’ll also post a link, like I said already, specifically to the article Wyatt wrote about, what we just talked about with the links to the different reports he was referring to as well so you can look at those. Some of them are very extensive. As Wyatt pointed out, the Angus Reid poll is quite extensive. It’s awesome. Anyways, thank you again so much, Wyatt.
Thank you for having me.