>photo © 2010 Luke Jones | more info (via: Wylio)
The Barna Group is out with some more research on Christianity and it’s gonna be interesting. Their work is usually a wake-up call to the church (whether or not the church wants to wake up) and this is no different. Here are the six megathemes based on their work over the last 11 months. I’ve followed each point with some commentary.
Less emphasis on the resurrection. Not sure the Holy Spirit is an abiding presence of God. Lack of Biblical literacy. It’s a theological free-for-all among younger folks. This is going to make it hard for pastors and churches to proclaim some of the theological concepts we’ve held as truth for, well, a couple thousand years. I think this gets at how we are training and teaching (or NOT training and teaching) our members.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
We’re not inviting persons to church. We’re not talking about the faith outside of church. We don’t see many good role models for Christians in the world. All of this combines to make it less and less likely that our own Christian kids will find themselves in a church later in life. Our faith is becoming compartmentalized. The need for outreach and religious conversation is growing. I think we can get into debates about what outreach and evangelism means. But I agree with this point pretty strongly and see it in myself as well.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
Don’t tell us about eternal life. Tell us how to make it through this life. Educate us. Give us friends. Give us 10 simple steps to a better marriage or more money or to a better us. Less and less is it between us and God. Less and less is it about eternity. I know I fall into this camp and, perhaps, more than I need to be. After all, while Karl Barth said we need to read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, what will it look like when all we’re really doing is reading our newspaper anymore. Perhaps the natural result of this is Joel Osteen’s “prosperity Gospel” or the growth of self-help groups in churches rather than Bible Studies.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
Yes doing good works is good. Yes, it’s good to work for justice and health and clean water and all of the things that I know I’ve worked for or my denomination has worked for. But we need to do better connecting this with God and Bible. Says the study:
To facilitate service as a long-term way of living and to provide people with the intrinsic joy of blessing others, churches have a window of opportunity to support such action with biblical perspective. And the more that churches and believers can be recognized as people doing good deeds out of genuine love and compassion, the more appealing the Christian life will be to those who are on the sidelines watching.
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
Barna doesn’t merely suggest that the church has become too tolerant. Barna says it:
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.
We need to question, not whether there are moral absolutes, but what those moral absolute are. And then we can broach the issue about whether or not these absolutes can then be placed upon society as a whole. However, all of this is moot if the church continues in its trajectory towards believing that there are no moral absolutes in the Bible.
The Barna report says this is about the “the balance between representing truth and acting in love.” Where I think I’d come down with a different perspective is how this relates to those inside and outside the church. Does a moral stance, for instance, that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching mean that we should be opposed to gay marriage or “Don’t ask don’t tell” or death benefits for homosexual partners? I’m not so sure I want to go there.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people.
A couple of things here. 1) I agree that Christian influence on people’s lives is largely invisible. 2) I’m not going to blame the media for this, but rather all the points above in numbers 1-5. 3) Perhaps, instead of lamenting the lack of influence Christianity has on people’s lives, we should focus on the increased influence of other things–patriotism, capitalism, racism, individualism, and relativism. It’s not all “liberal” isms that diminish the voice of Christianity in this country. It’s just the liberal isms that get blamed.
No matter what side of the theological perspective one stands on, the research by Barna should remind us of what’s going on around us if we pay attention. And it should mean we need to do a better job defining what it is that happens to us as we celebrate the birth of some insignificant baby in some insignificant part of the world…who we say has changed history and offered salvation to the earth.
Again, read the Barna report here.