by Dan Smithwick
President, Nehemiah Institute
In 1986, our ministry developed a unique biblical worldview assessment tool called the PEERS Test. The assessment was designed to reflect an individual’s basic ‘worldview position’ in five key areas of life: Politics, Economics, Education, Religion and Social Issues (P-E-E-R-S). Using a scale of +100 to -100, results of the 70-item test ranked the individual into one of four worldview categories- Biblical Theism (70-100), Moderate Christian (30-69), Secular Humanism (0-29) and Socialism (scores less than 0). The PEERS test has been through several forms of validity measurements, most significantly a professionally conducted Validity & Reliability study performed in 1995. In all cases, the PEERS Test has received high marks as a valid instrument for the measurement of ‘worldview’ understanding.
In 1988, the Institute began tracking PEERS results of high school youth from three distinct education settings: 1) Public schools, 2) Traditional Christian schools and 3) Worldview-based Christian schools. Worldview-based Christian schools were distinguished from Traditional Christian schools in that in addition to common aspects of Christian education such as a Bible class and weekly chapel services, these schools have either a worldview class in the same manner as an English class or Algebra class (or an emphasis on worldview understanding in all major subjects). They also provide special in-service training for faculty members on the subject of worldview and to varying degrees, worldview training provided to the parent body.
While it is not an exact science to classify Christian schools as either Traditional or Worldview-based, the Institute has never been able to classify more than 10% of its school population as the latter. As of this writing (2010) approximately 1,000 schools have used testing materials from Nehemiah Institute in one form or another. The high majority of schools being classified as ‘worldview’ are schools with membership in one of two particular Christian schools associations: Association of Classical & Christian Schools (ACCS) or Foundation for American Christian Education (FACE). Usually these schools will have a dual membership by being members of another Christian school association such as Association of Christian Schools, Int. (ACSI) or Christian Schools, Int. (CSI).
PEERS results of youth from public schools was obtained primarily (at least 90%) by testing youth groups in evangelical churches where a high percentage of the youth group were attending public schools. On occasion PEERS testing occurred in a public high school where a doctoral student received permission to give the PEERS test to an entire class of students to obtain research data for his/her dissertation paper. The Institute has aided 10-12 graduate students in this manner.
PEERS results from these three particular high school settings have been tracked since 1988. With 20 years of assessment data, from approximately 60,000 students, the following results have occurred:
|1988-2009||Average change per year|
|Public school students||38.9 to 5.4||-1.65 points per year|
|Traditional Christian schools||49.7 to 17.3||-1.62 points per year|
|Worldview-based schools||62.1to 69.4||+0.37 points per year|
In all three groups, the results have varied year-to-year with slight increases or decreases, but with noticeably consistent trend lines.
Home school students generally have ranged between the Traditional Christian school students and the Worldview-based school students, average score for high school level at 48.65 for the past three years. A small percentage of home school students have scored very well, above 80.0 (about 8%) but a surprisingly higher percentage score low, less than 30.0 (about 25%).
Using this classification of schools and the assessment data of each group, it is the position of Nehemiah Institute that at least 90% of youth from Christian homes are attending either public schools or traditional Christian schools and are consistently abandoning the Christian worldview in favor of the Humanist/Socialist worldview. Results are fairly good in the worldview-based schools but the rate of improvement could be stronger. It is estimated that there are less than 500 worldview-based Christian schools in the U.S. out of the approximately 12,000 private Christian & parochial schools in existence. These trends do not bode well for the health of the Christian church in America over the next 20-40 years.
In 2001, the Nehemiah Institute published a report stating the following:
If the PEERS trends of high school youth from Christian homes continues at the same rate of decline (those in Traditional Christian schools or in public schools), we would have to officially label the ‘next generation of Christian adults’ as “Committed Secular Humanists with leanings toward Socialism” between the years 2014 and 2018.
Please note, this was not a forecast or a ‘prophecy’ but simply stating that if the same rate of decline continued then the PEERS scores of these two groups would fall below -10.0 on average by 2014 for youth in public schools and by 2018 in Traditional Christian schools. Such scores give strong support to the notion that their views are being firmly grounded in basic tenets of Humanism and/or Socialism.
Now, nine years later, with the exact same test, and the addition of several thousand test results, the following calculation can be made:
Assuming the same rate of decline in test scores of the past seven years, students from ‘traditional Christian schools’ would score on average at -9.9 in the year 2016. Youth from Christian homes and attending public schools would score -24.5 in the same year.
These results, remarkably close to the view seen in 2001, would mean that the students had intentionally rejected the basic tenets of Biblical Theism in favor of basic tenets of Humanism/Socialism. In short, it means that the secularization of our culture has more successfully captured the hearts and minds of our youth than has the efforts of the Christian home, the church or even the traditional Christian school. With 90% of youth from Christian homes being among this group, it seems clear that the Christian Church could be in for a major collapse in the first half of the 21st century, based on historical orthodox views of Christianity.
As a side note, I have stated for years that the decade of 1910-1919 would likely be identified as perhaps the most troublesome decade in our history due to several unbiblical polices put in place. Not the least of these unbiblical policies are the creation of the Federal Reserve System, passing the 16th Amendment (direct income tax), and passing the 17th Amendment, change of electing U.S. Senators by popular vote rather than by state-appointment, as had been the case since the ratification of the constitution. All of them were adopted in 1913. [We recommend that every Christian research the underlying history and the dreadful negative impact of the 16th and 17th Amendments.—ed.]
It would not surprise me to see the decade of 2010-2019 (one hundred years later) be the decade of our undoing. Hopefully, and prayerfully, we will get it right during the second half of the 21st century.
When writing this article, a rather remarkable thing happened. I recalled a book that I read several years ago which proved instrumental in my thoughts about developing a ‘worldview test.’ The book is, Suicide of the West, by Dr. James Burnham, 1985. I have referenced this book off and on, as I generally do with several books in my library. Because of the subject matter of this article, I felt compelled to re-read Dr. Burnham’s book and was more than a little surprised at some of his statements. Suicide of the West is one of a handful of books with which I regularly challenge Christian schools to make as mandatory reading by their faculty.
The primary thesis of Dr. Burnham’s important book is that cultures can and do ‘commit suicide’ by buying into particular ideologies (which Dr. Burnham identifies as Liberalism) that simply do not work long term. He stated, “This book is a set of variations on a single and simple underlying thesis”: that what Americans call “liberalism” is the ideology of Western suicide”— p. 26.
It was Dr. Burnham’s opinion, in the 1980’s, that Western Civilization was far down the road toward this tragic ending. Here are some of the comments that caught my eye in light of what I am presenting in this paper:
“The contradiction of the West cannot be explained by any lack of economic resources or of military and political power. We must conclude that the primary causes of the contraction of the West—not the sole causes, but the sufficient and determining causes— have been internal and non-quantitative: involving either structural changes or intellectual, moral and spiritual factors” pp. 23, 24.
“Even today,  when the Western dominion has been cut to less than half of what it was in 1914, Western economic resources- real and available resources- and Western military power are still far superior to those of the non-Western regions”—p. 23. (Comment: I find it interesting that Dr. Burnham chose this year, 1914, the middle of the decade I referred to above, as a time from which the Western world has shrunk in influence. )
“If the process continues over the next several decades more or less as it has gone on during the several decades just past, then—this is a merely mathematical extrapolation— the West will be finished; Western civilization, Western societies and nations in any significant and recognizable sense, will just not be there anymore. In that event, it will make a reasonable amount of sense to say: ‘The West committed suicide'”—pp. 24, 25. (Comment: Dr. Burnham’s reference to ‘the next several decades,’ written in the early 1980’s, could fit nicely with the decade of 2010-2019 I referred to as the ‘decade of our undoing.’)
Another important voice at about the same time was Francis Schaeffer. In 1981, Dr. Schaeffer stated in his Christian Manifesto, “At this moment we are in a humanistic culture, but we are happily not in a totally humanistic culture. But what we must realize is that the drift has been all in this direction. If it is not turned around we will move very rapidly into a totally [his emphasis] humanistic culture”— p. 49. “The failed responsibility covers a wide swath. Christian educators, Christian theologians, Christian lawyers- none of them blew loud trumpets until we were a long, long way down the road toward a humanistically based culture”—p. 50.
One can only surmise what Dr. Schaeffer would say today about our culture. But it seems safe to say that given what has happened in our churches (flirting with endorsing the homosexual life style), breakdown of the public school system, humanism in the Christian schools, widespread immorality on TV, corruption at the highest levels of civil government, etc., etc., it seems likely he would say ‘humanism has totally captured our culture.’
All of this begs the question—where are we going? Are we still on the journey to be a ‘city on a hill,’ envisioned by the Puritans and Pilgrims? Are we forsaking that idea in favor of a totally secular culture not wed to absolute dogma? Are we seeking to bring about a new kind of humanity? A new religion? Or, are we simply confused and lost, and really don’t know where we are going?
As Christians, with absolute truth and in relationship with the God of the universe, we had better take seriously His command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Our spiritual capital has nearly been spent. We are almost bankrupt.
The first question we must answer, I believe, is what should we be doing about the secularization of our youth? If we cannot answer this question, with clarity and conviction, then it seems certain that we as a Christian community and as a nation will suffer the consequences of being a prodigal son.
It is clear that the Christian school movement of the past 40 years and the homeschooling movement of the past 20+ years are having only marginal impact on the next generation of the Christian community. With 85% of the Christian community still enrolling their children into the officially self-proclaiming humanist public school system, it seems clear that we have a long way to go in understanding the clear command of Scripture to ‘train them up in the way they should go.’
Perhaps we need a state of the nation summit regarding education of youth from Christian homes. There are many warning signs that the window of opportunity to effect change may be closing on us. If you are interested in helping to pull together such a summit, attend, or just kept informed of the work, please let me know at [email protected]. I may be also contacted at 407-654-8580 if you care to discuss this.