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Thursday, 16 December, 1999, 18:39 GMT
Jesus, son of who?

jesus More than 100 questioned did not know who Jesus was

Less than half the UK population believe Jesus was the son of God, according to a survey.

The survey, commissioned by the Catholic newspaper The Tablet and The Daily Telegraph newspaper, revealed that 45% of those questioned believed Jesus was the Son of God, down from 71% in 1957.

The survey also showed that 14% did not know who Jesus was, although 65% had faith in God.

church Churches are running courses on Christianity
But only 28% of them believed in the traditional understanding of a "personal God".

Thirty seven per cent in the survey of 1,015 people by Opinion Research Business saw God as a "spirit or life force".

Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, the evangelical minister of the Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) in Hackney, east London, said it was vital for the church to become more relevant to society.

'Rise to the challenge'

He said: "I am not surprised because there has been a departure from the church since the Second World War.

"Unfortunately society has changed and the church must become more dynamic."

The church had to rise to the challenge of competing for attention with all the other distractions of modern life, from PlayStations to TV.

We have got to become relevant to a world that's fast changing
Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo
He said: "The church has not made its voice heard in the marketplace and as a result people are driven to eastern religions because they appear to give people what they want, a sense of belonging, experience of power and experience of the supernatural.

"Christianity needs to get back the cutting edge it had when it made an impact on society.

"If you are offering a second-rate service, people will vote with their feet.

"We have got to become relevant to a world that's fast changing."

A Church of England spokesman pointed out that people may be more willing now to express their views on religion forthrightly.

He said: "There is now a great ability for people to say that they don't believe than there was in 1957."

He added that numbers of Sunday worshippers were steady at around one million every Sunday and contributions to the C of E were increasing at faster than the rate of inflation.

This is a splendid challenge to the Christian church
Bishop David Jenkins

An Evangelical Alliance spokeswoman said people nowadays were happier with Jesus as a figure of tolerance, rather than a "way to God".

For example, in the controversial play Corpus Christi, in which Jesus was portrayed as a gay man, he had been "appropriated as a symbol".

However, she admitted that people's knowledge of religion generally appeared to be on the wane.

"It's always the religious questions that tend to catch them out on University Challenge."

She added that Christmas used to be a time when parents told their children about Jesus. But with the extra stress of Christmas and its emphasis on gifts and having fun, this happened less often.

Bishop David Jenkins, former bishop of Durham, said: "This is a splendid challenge to the Christian church and a great opportunity.

"There have been crises like this all through the history of Christianity and this in a way takes us back to the struggles of the first Christians.

"Now we should be talking about what religion means in ordinary life."

One way the church is trying to put the message over is through Alpha courses, informal meetings of non church-goers which began in 1993 at Holy Trinity in Brompton, central London.

Since then it has expanded to 7,000 courses in the UK and 14,500 worldwide.

Courses consist of a meal followed by a talk, coffee and discussion groups.

Holy Trinity communications director Mark Elsdon said: "It has touched a nerve because so few people have come to terms with whether they think Christianity is true or not.

"Going to church can leave people more mystified than ever."

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02 Nov 99 |  UK
The Church of deafening silence

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