Julian Mann has been vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire since 2000. Before getting ordained he was a reporter for Retail Week. He is married to Lisa and they have four teenage sons.
A survey of Christian knowledge in a local community has exposed disturbing ignorance of the basics in teenagers of the GCSE generation.
The 'Jesus Survey' is an idea that originates in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney as an unthreatening form of evangelism. It involves asking respondents a series of factual questions about Jesus with the offer of a copy of a canonical Gospel at the end of the interview.
I have adapted the survey for use in the South Yorkshire parish where I serve as an Anglican vicar and have been asking non church-going parishioners who they thought Jesus was historically, what his message was, whether it differed from that of other religious teachers such as Muhammed or Buddha and finally why they thought Jesus got killed.
Because pupils from the local comprehensive are currently off school having recently finished their GCSEs, most of the day-time interviewees were teenagers.
Whilst most had a very vague idea of what Jesus' message was and no idea why he was crucified, they were agreed on this: his message did not substantially differ from that of Buddha or Muhammed.
This would lend grass-roots support to the view that religious education under the GCSE regime since the late 1980s has been greatly more successful in inculcating the idea that the world religions are spiritually and morally homogeneous than in teaching the actual content of their various beliefs.
One teenager had a view of the identity of Jesus – he contended that he was a saviour in some sense – but had no idea why he had been put to death. In regarding Jesus as a saviour, his religious knowledge was in fact deeper than that of most of his peers. Perhaps he had remembered something from Her Majesty the Queen's 2011 Christmas Day broadcast to the Commonwealth.
It is disturbing that not only are the GCSE generation ignorant of the historical facts of the death of Jesus, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate who capitulated to a crowd incited to hatred by the religious leaders of 1st Century AD Judea, but they also have no notion of the theological significance of his death, that he died for the sins of the world.
The non church-going O Level generation at least has some notion of how Christianity represents both the historical circumstances around the crucifixion of Jesus and the saving significance of his death.
The Education Secretary Michael Gove's desire to send English state schools a copy of the King James Bible is welcome and politically courageous in the anti-Christian climate of the public sector. But the Bible as religious artefact will do little good. It is its message concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that needs to be unleashed in order to dispel the spiritual darkness comprehensively enveloping the GCSE generation.