Posts Tagged ‘Barna Research’

There really isn’t much to comment upon in Bruce Gerencser’s 9th post in his My Journey series. This post is entitled I Can’t Believe Bruce Doesn’t Believe.  The following statement caught my attention:

“When it comes to Christianity the less you know the better. Just believe. Don’t question anything. Just have faith. Don’t doubt. Doubt is Satan’s way of leading people astray.”

I disagree.

Oh, I agree that doubt is Satan’s way of leading people astray. That goes without saying. One of the very first sentences he utters in the Scriptures is “Did God really say?” He followed that up by denying God’s Word entirely and casting God as the villain. So, yeah, I’d say that he uses doubt to lead people away from the faith.

Furthermore, statistical research suggests that doubt is at the root of the reason why many our churched youth quit church. Summarized in the book, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church & What You Can Do To Stop It, this research reveals that while 95% of our kids attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years, only 55% were still attending during high school. This means that about 40% of the kids in our churches are already gone before high school. Their decision to abandon the faith correlates with the educational level at which they first began to doubt the history of the Bible. In fact, of those who no longer believe that all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true, 39.8% first had doubts in middle school, an additional 43.7% first had their doubts in high school, while a mere 10.6% had their first doubts during college. About 90% of those kids went to public school. And guess what they start teaching hot and heavy in middle school? Evolution and millions of years – the latter being the key issue here. After being presented with an uncritical, one-sided account of the all-natural origins of the universe [and, in many cases, being told that this all-natural origins account of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution is compatible with the biblical account of supernatural creation], these kids began to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible.

So to state the painfully obvious, doubt leads to apostasy. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but what kind of doubt? Almost all Christians have moments of doubt, but this does not guarantee they will leave the faith. So what kind of doubt leads to apostasy?

Unanswered doubt, the kind of doubt that cannot seem to find a satisfactory answer.

Which is why I disagree with the notion that when it comes to Christianity, the less you know the better. I personally think that Christianity can stand up to anyone’s questions. Once I began subjecting it to scrutiny after my long absence from the church scene, after I had shed the credulous husk of my youth and begun to truly think for myself, I could find no objection that did not have a reasonable answer. Ours has always been a reasonable faith supported by weight of argument and evidence. In my experience, those who have little knowledge of apologetics or how to defend their faith are most prone to leave over doubts. There are also those who suppose that the Bible will always provide absolute, unassailable answers. Yet if we are to approach God by faith, not pure deduction, we might expect reasonable answers but not always definitive answers – else the requirement of faith would be made moot by the surety of knowledge.

This is not to say we should not expect reasonable answers. There are always reasonable answers, if we are willing to give Christianity the benefit of the doubt. For example, later in his post, Bruce laments:

“In my previous life I thought I had reached the end of the journey. I was waiting for the big payday in the sky. Now life is an unscripted, yet to be written journey. It remains to be seen where I’ll end up.

Bruce, aren’t you afraid of hell? No, I am not. I think the only hell there is is on this earth. Hell is caused by the machinations of wicked human beings and not devils, demons, or gods.

I see no evidence for a “He has a wonderful plan for your life” God. I refuse to embrace a god who thinks a wonderful plan includes suffering, devastation, pain, and death. I much prefer the “sh*t happens” approach to life. I can embrace and live with such a view of life. Life happens whether I am ready for it or not. There is no god pulling the divine strings of my life.”

I must first note that I disagree entirely with his assessment. If he supposed he had reached the end of his journey as a Christian and was simply waiting for his pie-in-the-sky, he missed a crucial element of authentic Christianity. You see, Jesus declared that He came to give us abundant life. This life we live isn’t meant to be cloistered. It’s meant to be shared. We are meant to love and disciple others and the journey is a great adventure all its own. If he supposed that he had somehow arrived, what did he make of Paul’s declaration that he never counted himself to have arrived, but rather, forgetting the past [including past achievements and failures], he pressed on for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?

Yet this false sense of having arrived, simply because one has made a declaration of faith, been baptized and begun attending church is pervasive through church culture. We are called to make disciples of the world, yet according to Barna Research, the majority of Christians go throughout their entire lives without ever having led even one person to Christ! Do we suppose there is a section in heaven for the Scorched Yet Scarcely Saved? Have we not read the parable of the talents and the warning regarding the fellow who came to his Lord empty handed? What unprofitable servants we have become! And these same Christians look to churchified motivational speakers like Joel Osteen in search of the abundant life that only comes in fulfilling your calling to be a disciple and to make disciples!

I digress.

Note that Bruce laments he cannot bring himself to “embrace a god who thinks a wonderful plan includes suffering, devastation, pain, and death.” The question of a loving, omnipotent God and the existence of suffering has often been considered. Skeptics consider it a pretty good objection to the existence of the Biblical God. Theologians have offered varying answers, many of which I agree with, some of which I do not. The average guy in the pew supposes that we’ll discover the answer to this apparent paradox when we get to heaven.

I submit that the most reasonable answer has already been provided in the very first book of the Bible. We’ve already alluded to it. The Bible says that God created everything in six normal calendar days and then when He finished He declared His creation “very good.”

Of course, a lot of Christians have abandoned the history of Genesis, supposing that the all-natural origins story of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution must be true instead. As Christians, they still cannot get over the undeniable fact that the Bible teaches that God is the Creator of all things, but if they suppose that God used evolution – a process of death, suffering, mutation and, according to uniformitarian geology, several mass extinctions – they are essentially painting God out to be an ogre, for what sort of God calls such a world of death and suffering “very good?”

The Bible paints a different picture of the Creator. While God’s original creation was very good, man rebelled against Him in the Garden. Since man had been given dominion over all creation, as a kingdom suffers for the bad decisions of its king, all creation fell under the curse, the punishment for his sin. The Bible teaches that death, suffering and thorns entered the world by Adam’s sin. The world was very good, but now there’s something wrong with the world. As a result of Adam’s sin, thorns, predation, natural disasters, death, suffering and all manner of evils entered the world.

Yet the worst evil in the world dwelt in man’s heart. The world’s first murder was committed within the first generation. To use Bruce’s turn of phrase, the evil machinations of man’s heart made a hell of earth. Seeing that the intent of man’s heart was only continually evil, God sent a worldwide flood to destroy all that drew breath on land, assuring the destruction of every man, except Noah and his family who found grace in God’s sight. Noah and those aboard the Ark were spared, but the flood destroyed everything else.

Biblical Creationists believe that the fossil record is largely a record of the judgment of God on a fallen world. While the world contains much beauty and evidences the power, glory and existence of God, what remains is a fallen world scarred by the effects of the Genesis Flood.

Those who compromise the clear teachings of God’s Word regarding Creation, the Fall and the Flood mean well; they simply want to remove any impediments to acceptance of the Gospel in a scientific age. Yet the imposition of the ideas of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution have some undeniable conclusions for our theology: God has used death, mutation, pain and suffering to bring about His Will; the unexplainable existence of pain and suffering makes Him a somewhat detached, possibly ogrish deity; He cares more about the Big Picture than the little details or the process in that He created man via microbes-to-man evolution. This is where Bruce gets the idea that God does not concern Himself with our personal day-to-day lives; that there is no plan for our lives. Yet most Christians would object to these observations by appealing to supernatural revelation over natural revelation. We would note that God originally created the world perfect but that death, pain and suffering entered the world by man’s sin and that Nature reveals the glory, power and existence of God but it no longer reveals His nature and character as the original state [and promised future state] of creation does; that God is good and a rewarder them that diligently seek Him; and that He cares enough about the small details of creation to note the number of our hairs and when each sparrow falls. In doing this, we appeal to the superior [ultimate] revelation of Scripture over any philosophy or idea of fallible man, which is what those who compromised Genesis with millions of years and/or evolution should have done instead. You see, only in a literal historical Genesis do we have an answer for death and suffering in this world, much less hope for an ultimate remedy to this problem. Only in a literal historical Genesis do we have reason to expect the loving God who rewards them that diligently seek Him as painted elsewhere in the Bible. And the picture the Bible paints does provide a reasonable answer for the existence of both a loving, omniscient God and a world filled with suffering, violence and death; just as it promises that creation will one day be restored to its original “very good” state.

Be ready at all times to give an apologia [reasoned defense] for the hope that is in you,

Tony Breeden

 

In Bruce Gerencser’s 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, he makes the following criticism:

“Their Christianity has no place for the world. It has no place for those who are not just like them. Their world is a narrow, homogenous world. They make forays into the world to evangelize, do what business is necessary and to earn a living. The rest of their time is spent within the safe walls of the Christian home and Church.”

I bring this up because we’ve also been looking at Barna.org’s Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church.  Reason #1 on that list is “Churches seem overprotective,” and under that heading is found the following comment:

Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%)…”

The basic charge here is one of irrelevance.

This is just sad, because while we are charged to fulfill the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we are also charged with good works.

Consider the following Bible verses concerning good works:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to
keep himself unspotted from the world

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

1 Peter 3:15 [K]eeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

When you look at these verses, you begin to get a picture of the importance of good works in a Christian’s life. While we are not saved by good works, good works are an evidence of a transformed life and the mark of true religion. We were saved for the purpose of good works that glorify God, point men to Him and put scorners to silence even when they disagree with us. Is this the Christianity we see today in USAmerica?

Is this the Christianity we see reflected in you? What good works are evidenced in your life and how do they glorify God? Do people think of you as good people, good at argument, or good for nothing?  Do they see you as holier-than-thou and self-righteous, or someone who truly loves and cares for folk?

The thing is we have to earn the right to be heard in many cases; especially in those cases where folks have been burned by the church.

Let me give you an example from my own life. When I was living as an agnostic who regularly blasphemed God in song, I was asked on many occasions to join the ranks of atheism. Surely having been exposed to the hypocrisy of the church, I could boldly say that God did not exist, they reminded me. Yet in my case, I was fully aware of two imperfect people who were Christians, who truly cared about me and were not hypocrites: my parents. Furthermore, my father was so down-to-earth that I could not fathom why he would believe in God unless he was convinced it was reasonable and useful. I watched them as they served God, did good works and, yes, stumbled and fell. Each time they messed up, they confessed their fault, made amends and moved on. Their good life and works and their testimony prevented me from becoming a full-fledged atheist – in essence, they gave me a reason to doubt my doubt about God and opened a door that made me receptive [if still highly suspicious] to hearing their take on things.

This is what Christians need to strive for. Like it or not, the perceived hypocrisy and irrelevance of the church is an impediment to the Gospel. In many cases, it is not just our silence that prevents the Gospel but the absence of any evidence of the Gospel in our lives!

Here’s a thought-provoking article I ran across with a list of 100 practical ways to love and serve others:

http://learnthis.ca/2010/02/100-ways-to-serve-others/

Can you imagine how this world would be turned upside-down if Christians actually began re-asserting the importance of good works in our lives?

I leave you with the words of G. K. Chesterton as a challenge:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried!”

God bless you, and may love constrain you to serve,

Tony Breeden

During a bit of research into something else entirely, I stumbled across a September 28, 2011 article from Barna.org called Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. The article was obviously a teaser for their book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, why I intend to review sometime this year. Barna.org states that a “five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman… was comprised of eight national studies” which focused on young adults who were “regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”

The study revealed that there was no single reason why our kids decide to quit church. So much for a magic bullet! Instead, their research “uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

The given reasons, in the order they were presented in the article, were:

  1. Churches seem overprotective
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

That’s a pretty interesting list. This post will concentrate on their first reason, with posts on the remaining reasons to follow.

Barna.org claims that young Christians leave our churches in part because churches seem overprotective. The article elaborates that:

“A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).”

It is true that this generation has an unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews, thanks in large part to the Internet and new portable, interactive technologies. Kids today carry around stuff we only saw in sci-fi movies back in the 80s. It’s awesome, but there’s a bit of danger to any new technology. Even without the technology, there’s a danger to unguided access to non-Biblical worldviews… which is what makes this generation’s “prodigious consumption of popular culture” so troubling to many Christians. Popular culture is not worldview neutral. Granted, most movies and TV shows aren’t as overt in their worldview as the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy or the Joss Whedon’s Firefly series [both of which I enjoyed immensely, by the way; I wish Christian films were as adept at conveying our worldview!], but that’s precisely what makes them so pernicious. You aren’t even aware in many cases how cultural saturation is gradually changing your worldview. Of course, the reason that teenagers can’t be President is because wisdom comes from experience. As you get older, you begin to notice these things. The reason that 18% [almost in 5] of our churched youth don’t see what the big fuss is over movies, music and games is that to them it’s just movies, music and games. It’s just entertainment. They’ve no idea of how the messages they consume, consciously and unconsciously, eventually affect their worldview. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of what we consume from the media is antagonistic towards a Biblical Christianity.

But does the Church demonize everything outside the church, as ¼ of the churched youth surveyed believe? I was considering this question thoughtfully when I ran across a new post by none other than Bruce Gerencser [the fellow who inspired me to begin researching why folks leave the church]. Bruce’s post was on the subject of culottes, a sort of ill-thought-out cross between pants and a dress. There’s simply no way to put the “cool” into culottes. They’re just that bad. There’s an Old Testament law against cross-dressing and, back in the day, some fundamentalists decided that a woman wearing pants was a violation of this particular Thou-shalt-not. I’ve also heard arguments for modesty made on behalf of wearing these silly-looking things. Oddly enough, Bruce’s post reveals that he had an occasion to see more than he bargained for despite Baptist endorsements of a modesty factor second only to the burqa. The post was both amusing and painful.

You see, culottes could be something of a poster child for the idea that the church demonizes everything outside the world. In this case, pants on women. As a matter of historical irony, the word culottes originally denoted knee-breeches for MEN. During the Victorian era, culottes came to denote a long, split riding skirt that allowed women to ride a horse like a normal human being rather than side-saddle. From there, culottes [also known as skorts] were developed for a wide variety of purposes including gardening, bike riding, house cleaning, and attendance of religious schools, with the faintest appearance [dare I say, hint] of wearing a skirt. No, I’m not a fan. Yes, I speak sarcasm.

The problem with culottes is that they help engender a Christian ghetto of sorts. It’s life in a religious bubble. We read Christian books, buy Christian movies, and yes we even have a Christian dress code. I hear we even have Christian breath mints! We seem to be trying to be neither in the world nor of it. Because we’ve demonized the world, we are forced to create a Christianized version of it as a safe haven. Yet our Lord commanded us to go out into the world and make disciples. Certainly, He who was called the Friend of Sinners would not condone or approve of the strategy of the separationists. Separationists aren’t interested in adding to the church, but simply preserving it against loss. They had best look to the fate of that fellow in the Parable of the talents who thought as they do!

Do not get me wrong here. This is not a blanket condemnation of fundamentalists or even people who wear culottes. I’m a card-carrying fundamentalist. I believe in modest. I don’t believe in cross dressing or that culottes are the answer. I mean, where did we get the idea that modesty means frumpy? Yet I often joke that I’m trying to put the fun back into fundamentalist, because – let’s face it – the duh and the mental are pretty much covered. We forget that we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to a code of dress and conduct. This transformation is what separates us from the moralizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies and Muslims. I would submit that this fundamentalist preoccupation with rule-mongering is actually detrimental to the Church in two ways:

  1. It most often comes across as judgmental and grace-less, and
  2. It makes it difficult to determine the truly transformed from the cleverly conformed to the point where we often give folks false assurances of salvation based on how well they can follow the dress/speech/conduct code.

And here I must make a critical observation: the reason these churched youth are able to complain about the way Christians seem focused on what media they consume or that they seem to demonize everything outside the church is because Christians are not leading transformed lives. Transformation is difficult and requires dedication, commitment and submission to God’s will for us. There may be an ugly period while your caterpillar faith transforms into a creature capable of flight. The horridness of your transformation will be naked for the whole world to see. Conformation is a varnish, a touch of make-up, a suit that can be put on or cast off with relative ease. You’re still you in the end. Like a chameleon, you change your colors but not your essence. Nothing internal, nothing of substance has changed. You can hide what’s beneath under a shiny veneer. No one has to see what’s really there. The chameleon Christian is what I run into more often than not. A truly transformed Christian, even a Christian in the messy process of transformation is painfully rare; but it is the difference between Christ in you, the hope of glory and Church on you, the pale reflection of glory. No wonder they complain about what we warn against, rather than asking us a reason for the hope within us!

In my next post, we’ll discuss further why the church seems so disconnected from the world it is called to reach for Christ.

God bless you, especially you who strive for true transformation,

Rev Tony Breeden