9% OF 'BORN-AGAIN' CHRISTIANS ... HAVE A BIBLICAL WORLD-VIEW ... ONLY HALF OF PROTESTANT PASTORS!
NOT ONE SEGMENT OF THE ADULT POPULATION CLOSE TO THE LEVEL OF COMMITMENT ... PASTORS CLAIMED
Barna also reported that just 9% of 'born-again' Christians and only 7% of all Protestants have a Biblical world-view. What were the figures among Protestant pastors? Based on interviews with 601 Senior Pastors nationwide, representing a random cross-section of Protestant churches, Barna reported that only half of the country's Protestant pastors - 51% - have a Biblical world-view! A world-view was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a Biblical view on six core beliefs: the accuracy of Biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize. But the most important point, as Barna pointed out, is that 'you can't give people what you don't have [emphasis added] ... The low percentage of Christians who have a Biblical world-view is a direct reflection of the fact that half of our primary religious teachers and leaders do not have one. In some denominations, the vast majority of clergy do not have a Biblical world-view, and it shows up clearly in the data related to the theological views and moral choices of people who attend those churches.'
Barna also brought to light more disturbing differences based on 'pastoral background': 'The most intriguing of those relates to theological training. Educationally, the pastors least likely to have a Biblical world-view are those who are seminary graduates (45%). In contrast, three out of five pastors who have not attended seminary operate with a Biblical world-view (59%). The largest gap related to gender. Whereas 53% of male pastors have a Biblical world-view, the same can be said for just 15% of female pastors. Overall, just 6% of all Protestant Senior Pastors are women.' What does this say about the effect of putting political correctness above Biblical teaching regarding leadership roles?
Barna's research also pointed out that, even in churches where the pastor held a Biblical world-view, most of the congregants do not. In fact he states: 'More than six out of every seven congregants in the typical church do not share the Biblical world-view of their pastor even when he or she has one. This intimates that merely preaching good sermons and offering helpful programs does not enable most believers to develop a practical and scriptural theological base to shape their life. Our research among people who have a Biblical world-view shows that it is a long-term process that requires a lot of purposeful activity: teaching, prayer, conversation, accountability, and so forth.' Barna then adopts a very optimistic approach in claiming: 'Based on our correlations of world-view and moral behavior, we can confidently argue that if the 51% of pastors who have a Biblical world-view were to strategically and relentlessly assist their congregants in adopting such a way of interpreting and responding to life, the impact on our churches, families and society at-large would be enormous.'
'WHEN SOMEONE CALLS HIMSELF A CHRISTIAN, WHAT DOES HE REALLY MEAN?
Why do we say optimistic? Because he also reports: 'Based on interviews with a representative national sample of 627 Protestant pastors, the Barna study discovered that pastors believe a large majority of their congregants deem their faith in God to be the highest priority in their life. On average, pastors contend that 70% of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities. Amazingly, as many as one out of every six pastors (16%) contends that 90% or more of the adults in their church hold their relationship with God as their top life priority!' In contrast to this confident pastoral view a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults asked the same question - i.e., to identify their top priority in life - came up with a very different perspective. Only one out of every seven adults (15%) placed their faith in God at the top of their priority list! Even taking in isolation those adults who attend Protestant churches produced a figure of not quite one out of every four (23%) who named their faith in God as their top priority in life. Further analysis revealed the claim that, among evangelicals, 51% said their faith in God was their highest priority, among African-Americans the figure was 38%, and among adults who attend a house church, 34%. Regardless of how the figures were appraised not one segment of the adult population came close to the level of commitment that Protestant pastors claimed for churchgoers! Why is it that Christian leadership so often overestimates in this way? Could it be that they have an overweening opinion of their own worth as teachers and leaders, or a blind need to count the majority of their congregation as staunch believers and therefore a sign that they are fulfilling their own roles? Are there that many Biblical Christians who take the Word of God at face value and are humbly willing to consider others more highly than themselves (Romans 12v3)? The 'self-esteem' gospels may have done much more damage than most are willing to concede. Many may consider this a very jaundiced view - but depressing figures of this kind are born out by many failed evangelical enterprises.
Do Barna's figures support this view? Apparently his survey of Protestant pastors shed some light on the issue. A question asking pastors to identify the specific standards they use to evaluate the spiritual commitment of congregants showed that few pastors rely upon criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God: 'Overall, only one measure - how many people are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity or ministry effort - was listed by at least half of all pastors (54%) as a measure of the spiritual health of their congregation. Only two other criteria - church attendance and some type of life change experience (usually meaning that a person has made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ as their Saviour) were named as important criteria by more than one out of every seven pastors (each of these criteria was listed by 45% of all pastors). Other top-rated standards were whether congregants were involved in evangelism (13%), how much new information or knowledge about Christianity the people received (10%), how much money was donated to the church (10%), and the comments made by congregants to the pastor (10%)'. Does it never cross the mind of pastors that people will often give the answer they think you want to hear? Many do not want to be perceived as a 'spiritual pygmy' by their leader! As Barna notes: 'In other words, the typical pastor measures the spiritual health of congregants by considering one or two numbers (e.g. church and Sunday school attendance) and a handful of vague impressions (what did exit comments suggest about people's reaction to the sermon, how widespread was people's participation in the singing, were there enough people who were sufficiently trained to enable the services and programs to operate smoothly). Perhaps the most telling information relates to the measures that are not widely used by pastors to assess people's spiritual health.'
SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION CLAIMING TO HAVE SOME FORM OF 'BELIEF IN CHRIST' ... [ARE] LESS THAN LUKEWARM!
Barna has also asked the question: 'When someone calls himself a Christian, what does he really mean? What does someone imply when they adopt the label 'born again Christian?' Apparently, the national survey indicated that the terminology used by those who considered themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ reflects a whole breadth of meanings - and this would certainly explain the wide diversity of un-Scriptural beliefs exhibited in such surveys! Barna states: 'While the most widely-held description is simply 'Christian,' that term represents a segment of adults who engage in less religious activity and possess less orthodox views than do people who associate themselves with other descriptions ....... Overall, 80% of adults in the U.S. call themselves 'Christian.' In comparison, the phrase 'a committed Christian' is embraced by two out of every three adults (68%). The words 'born again Christian' are adopted by just less than half of the population (45%). A two-part description of a person's faith, in which they say they 'have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important' in their life today, and in which they claim they will go to Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour, is also claimed by just less than half (44%). (This latter definition has been used by The Barna Group for nearly two decades to describe 'born again' people without using the term 'born again' in its surveys.)'
Again, this study showed some interesting relationships and interpretations of the way in which people chose to use these terms: 'For instance, one-quarter of those who call themselves born again did not meet the Barna Group criteria for born again - which generally meant they rely upon something other than God's grace as their means to salvation. The 'born again Christian' self-description tends to attract a greater percentage of blacks, people under 25, and people over 60 than does the Barna Group's theologically-oriented descriptor. That two-part definition used by the research firm also attracts a larger share of upscale adults and more people who share their faith in Jesus Christ with other people.'
The survey also revealed a (fairly normal?) tendency by young people to be unsure of applying too strong terms to their faith: '....the youngest adults (those 21 and younger) were comparatively comfortable with the terms 'Christian' and 'born again Christian' but were much less comfortable calling themselves committed Christians (just 29% did so, compared to a national norm of 68%). The preceding generation ......ages 22 through 40 .... were significantly below the national average in relation to all four of the terms tested, reflecting their relative distance from conventional organized religious groups and beliefs. Blacks were the ethnic group that most deeply resonated with the term 'born again' (75% embraced it to describe themselves, compared to only 31% of Hispanics and 44% of whites). Hispanics were comparatively likely to adopt the term 'committed Christian' (58%). Catholics, in general, were uncomfortable with the phrase 'born again Christian.' Although just 14% said it described them accurately, 23% qualified as born again according to The Barna Group's definition. The research also found that self-described conservatives were three times more likely than self-described liberals to embrace the 'born again' label; blacks were two-and-a-half times more likely than Hispanics to do so; and people without any college education were almost 60% more likely than those with a college degree to stake a claim to being 'born again.' The way in which people used the definitions of themselves describes a not too unexpected tendency to interpret from a personal world-view outlook rather than a genuine Biblical definition!
VERY FEW [CHRISTIAN] ADULTS BASE THEIR MORAL DECISIONS ON THE BIBLE
What kind of 'spiritual behaviour' was exhibited by those claiming to be 'born-again Christians'? Barna reports: 'Only half of both of the 'born again' segments (i.e., those self-described by the term and those defined by The Barna Group's questions) had prayed to God, read from the Bible and attended a religious service in the past week. In comparison, nine out of ten 'committed Christian' adults had done so and just one-third of those who said they are 'Christian' engaged in the three behaviours.' Again, a picture is painted of a very significant proportion of those claiming to have some form of 'belief in Christ' to be less than lukewarm! Barna puts forward this reason for the disparity: 'The research suggests that phrases do not necessarily possess universally understood meaning. 'Blacks, Catholics and young adults are groups who conjure up different images than do other people when terms such as 'born again' or 'committed Christian' are used ....With more than 250 Protestant denominations in the United States, and the increasing diversity and customization within the spiritual realm, it's not surprising that there is very limited common understanding with such language.' And his view is that: 'The challenge ... may be to avoid reliance on labels and brief adjectives as religious profiles. In our sound-bite society, with everyone moving quickly and making snap judgments, the temptation is to rely upon simple characterizations to provide a broad perspective on who a person is and what they represent. This is part of the challenge to churches: to know each person more deeply in order to serve them more meaningfully. Ideally, people of faith will recognize the value of genuine relationships in which we know each other at a deeper level and can therefore foster real connection and growth.' We believe this challenge to 'know each person more deeply' is already described in the Bible in many ways, including the 'one anothers,' e.g.:
Romans 12v10 love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor;
Romans 12v16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.
2 Corinthians 13v11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Galatians 5v26 Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
Galatians 6v2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4v32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
1 Thessalonians 5v11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
And the way in which we are 'to serve them [one another!] more meaningfully' is already described in these Scriptures and will doubtlessly result in 'genuine relationships in which we know each other at a deeper level' and in 'real connection and growth.' It is surely the sad and lengthy failure of the majority of the churches of the world to properly disciple that has led to the headlong race to embrace so many 'self esteem' methods in recent years? Self love and self esteem are clearly the twin pillars of the modern Christian counselling movement. But what does Scripture declare? The apostle Paul warned that these practices are key to recognizing the breakdown of society as the last days draw near: '...men shall be lovers of their own selves...' (2 Timothy 3v2). One of the great teachers and saints of the recent past wrote:
'The real cause of failure, ultimately, in marriage is always self and the various manifestations of self. Of course that is the cause of trouble everywhere and in every realm. Self and selfishness are the greatest disrupting forces in the world. All the major problems confronting the world, whether you look at the matter from the standpoint of nations and statesmen, or from the standpoint of industry and social conditions, or from any other standpoint - all these troubles ultimately come back to self, to 'my rights,' to 'what I want,' and to 'who is he?' or 'who is she?' Self, with its horrid manifestations, always leads to trouble, because if two 'selfs' come into opposition there is bound to be a clash. Self always wants everything for itself. That is true of my self, but it is equally true of your self. You at once have two autonomous powers, each deriving from self, and a clash is inevitable. Such clashes occur at every level, from two people right up to great communities and empires and nations.'
Life in the Spirit, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Another national survey conducted by Barna, with a representative sample of 1002 adults, revealed that, in spite of the fact that most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, very few adults base their moral decisions on the Bible, and surprisingly few believe that absolute moral truth exists. The survey also revealed that most Americans say they are 'deeply spiritual,' feel 'accepted by God,' and believe they have a clear personal understanding of the meaning and purpose of their life. 54% of adults claimed that 'they make their moral choices on the basis of specific principles or standards they believe in' or make moral choices by 'doing what feels right or comfortable (24%), doing 'whatever makes the most people happy or causes the least conflict (9%)', and pursuing 'whatever produces the most positive outcomes for the person (7%)'. Among those who claimed to make moral decisions based on specific principles, a wide variety of sources were listed as the wellspring of that moral guidance. Three out of every ten people named the Bible as the sources of the specific principles on which they made these decisions and just one out of every six adults (16%) claimed to make their moral choices based on the content of the Bible. Six out of ten evangelicals (60%) said they relied primarily on Biblical principles as their source of moral counsel while, in contrast, only two out of every ten non-evangelical born again adults (20%) made this claim, one out of every sixteen notional Christians (6%) and one out of every fifty people aligned with non-Christian faiths (2%) claimed the Bible as their source of authority. Only slightly encouraging is the conclusion that: 'Protestants were three times as likely as Catholics to base their morals on Biblical teaching (23% versus 7%, respectively)'.
Regarding the question of belief in moral truth based on absolute standards, or truth that is relative to circumstances, Americans were shown by Barna to be divided into roughly equal segments: 'About one-third (35%) contends that moral truth is absolute - that is, it is not dependent upon the circumstances ... one-third (32%) says that morality is always determined by the situation ... The remaining one-third (33%) indicates that they do not know if moral truth is absolute or relative'. Once again, people's religious affiliations determine their outlook on truth: 'A large majority of evangelicals (70%) report believing that moral truth is absolute ... a minority of non-evangelical born again adults (42%) holds that same view, and even fewer of the notional Christians (25%), people associated with non-Christian faiths (16%) and those who claim to be atheist or agnostic (27%) embrace moral absolutes.'
Barna defines a 'Biblical world-view' on the basis of questions about religious beliefs and requires someone 'to believe that absolute moral truth exists; that the source of moral truth is the Bible; that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches; that eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned; that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth; that every person has a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others; that Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil; and that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful maker of the universe who still rules that creation today.' Barna determined that 'the percentage of adults holding a Biblical world-view has remained minimal and unchanged over the past three years, despite the widespread public debate about moral issues and the efforts of thousands of churches to enhance people's moral convictions ... only 5% of adults have a Biblical world-view ... About half of all evangelicals have such a perspective [and] ... 8% of Protestants possess that view, compared to less than one-half of one percent of Catholics.'
Again, when we consider the widespread influence over a number of years of the movement of Rick Warren, et al, we find they have made no major influence in the figures revealed by Barna. George Barna notes succinctly 'that the religious books of greatest influence in the past several years have not addressed people's fundamental theological views'. He further noted: 'Most of the bestsellers have focused on meaning, purpose, security and the end times ... While there have been theological views expressed in those books, very few popular books have helped people to think clearly and comprehensively about their core theology. Consequently, most born again Christians hold a confusing and inherently contradictory set of religious beliefs that go unchecked by the leaders and teachers of their faith community.' [emphasis added]
Barna surveys show that most Americans (62%) consider themselves to be 'deeply spiritual' and, while that level has been unchanged over the past decade, people's age substantially influences such a self-description: 'The younger a respondent was the less likely he or she was to claim to be deeply spiritual.' In fact, a minority of those under 21-years old (44%) made such a claim, about half of those born between 1965-1983 (55%), two-thirds of those born between1946-1964 (65%), and 70% of Americans over 60 years old embraced that characterization.
(Continued on page 203)