In the calculus of evangelical theology, there are only two states of being. People are either saved or lost. Saved means they have accepted Jesus as their savior. Lost means they have not. There is no middle ground for evangelicals – no semi-saved or mostly saved. You either are or you are not.
And apparently at least one Baptist in Kentucky can tell you precisely how many are and how many are not.
Peter Smith, religion writer for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., posted a column about Ross Bauscher on his blog recently. Bauscher serves as the Evangelism Growth Team Leader for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Apparently, Bauscher has developed a method for determining who is saved and who is lost.
During the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in November, Bauscher announced that there are 2,587,995 Kentuckians who “are lost without Christ.” He didn’t say “nearly” or “as many as.” He didn’t use a rounded-up number, such as “2.6 million.” He gave a precise number.
How can he do that?
One troubling aspect of his calculation is the existence of census data that seems to contradict it. According to Smith’s column, there are 4,269,245 people living in Kentucky. Of this group about 2.6 million claim some form of religious affiliation. There are about 1.6 million that claim no affiliation.
Bauscher’s number takes in all 1.6 million of the self-avowed nonchurch attendees, and about a million from those who do claim affiliation.
When asked about this, according to Smith’s blog, Bauscher replied, “You have to distinguish between religion at that point and the relationship with Christ, because there’s a lot of people who go to church but don’t have a relationship with Christ.”
So how do you distinguish between real saved people and semi-saved people that nevertheless claim church affiliation? How do you walk into a congregation where, according to Bauscher’s estimate, one-third of the membership is potentially lost? Is there some sort of salvation radar he uses that sends out a special pulse that identifies the saved from the lost?
The whole thing has raised additional questions for me. For instance, do the people Bauscher claims are members of churches but are not saved know that they are not saved? Also, if it’s possible to be affiliated with a church and still be lost, is it possible to not be affiliated with a church and yet be saved? I realize that would totally skew Bauscher’s math, but I think we have to at least consider the possibility.
There is a theological arrogance at work in Bauscher’s reckoning that I am all too familiar with. Because evangelicals hold beliefs that define for them in general terms what they understand are the conditions for being right with God, they think they can make particular applications of those beliefs. That’s fine if a person is thinking of his or her own relationship with God.
But to say with certainty that someone else is not right with God is clearly claiming knowledge available only to the divine mind. This is especially true when nearly one million people claim for themselves a relationship with God.
I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
Talk about tough math.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.