‘Jesus Has Left the Building’: Scotland’s Secular Slide—and Signs of Hope

Oct 5, 2022 by

If you could stumble across Scotland on social media, she would be the girl you remember from youth group—the one who went to all the Bible studies, the one you expected to head to the mission field. You’d have to blink and rewatch her post before it would sink in—she’s deconstructed her faith, more completely and rapidly than you thought possible.

Her U-turn would be so unexpected that you might call a friend to help you process it. It might even make you question your own faith a little.

In the past, Scotland’s Christianity—especially her adherence to Reformed theology—has been unusually strong. Her government and church were strongly influenced by John Knox, who was strongly influenced by John Calvin. By the 1920s, about half of Scotland’s population was connected to a church (nearly all of which were Presbyterian).

In the city of Aberdeen, 95 churches served a population of 180,000. Sinclair Ferguson, who arrived as a university student in 1965, called it “a city of spires.”

“The city looked like a modern-day Christian Athens,” he said. “There were churches—places of worship—absolutely everywhere. And the astonishing thing was they were all made of this extraordinarily strong, powerful, almost overpowering granite. They looked truly magnificent.”

The Church of Scotland had it all—good theological heritage, good attendance, and good buildings. It also had the strong support—yet not the interference—of the government. But if you knew where to look, the cracks were already starting to show. Though church membership was massive, the giving was “terrible,” Ferguson said.

Not long after, Scottish Christianity collapsed. In 60 years, the Church of Scotland plummeted from 1.3 million to 300,000 members. Meanwhile, the proportion of Scots who claim no religion has risen to nearly 60 percent.

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