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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unchristian Thoughts

I'm reading a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons from the Barna Group entitled *Unchristian: What a New Generation Thinks about Christianity* This is a facinating look at what the general, younger, non-Christian population thinks about Christians and Christianity. If you are a Christian, it's far from flattering! I'd like to do a book review soon (once I finish the book; there's a lot of information here), but today I want to talk about one point that Kinnaman makes.

The question is, what does a Christian actually believe?

OK, let me take an (open-ended) question that was asked of Christians* in a Barna survey: Name the most important priorities for a Christian to pursue in terms of his or her faith?

*these Christians were defined as *born again* based on answers to questions in the survey. About 2 out of five adults were thus classified, that believe the following: 1) he or she has made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important; and 2) the person believes he or she will go to heaven because he has confessed sin and accepted Christ as Savior.

Have your answer?

The Barna survey divided the answers into several categories. They were:

Lifestyle: doing the right thing, being good, not sinning (37%)

Discipleship: learning about Christ or the Bible (31%)

Evangelism: explaining or sharing the faith, leading people to Christ (25%)

Worship: worshipping G-d, singing (25%)

Relationships: loving others, making and keeping friends (23%)

Service: helping others, helping the poor, serving people (18%)

Stewardship: giving money, time, or resources to others, blessing others (4%)

Family Faith: disciplining your children, shaping family faith (1%)

Other (2%)

Not Sure: (10%)


You can see that the largest emphasis was placed on living a *good* life, living by the ten commandments, not doing wrong things. In fact, Kinnaman's book discusses that many of these *born again* Christians seem to have a works component of their faith: that they must consistently do certain things in order to be considered forgiven. Some think that there may be other ways to heaven besides believing in Christ.

Let me make it clear that every person is entitled to believe whatever he chooses: I am NOT preaching here. However, if these beliefs are held, they are not consistent with Biblical Christianity. I see another blog entry or two discussing the question: what DOES a Christian believe? Will start in on this this week :-)

Any thoughts?


Anne L.B. said...

Amy, you've hit upon a question that's a bit of a sore spot with me. It seems like Christianity often takes one of two extremes: it's focused on the works of living a "good" life; or it's focused on "conversion"--make a profession to "get saved" but don't worry about what it requires of us.

Name the most important priorities for a Christian to pursue in terms of his or her faith.My answer is coming to believe [put faith in]:
• Jesus is Lord and God
• Salvation means we belong to Him, and though we exercise free will, our lives are not our own to do with as we please;
• Salvation is a free gift with a high price to both Giver and recipient.

Amy Deardon said...

Anne, you state the priorities for a Christian so beautifully and succinctly! You are so right -- becoming a Christian is *free* and yet it costs everything; you are changed, and yet you must also facilitate the change --

"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philipians 2:12-13)

It's so hard to explain to those who don't follow, that it is both, and neither, at the same time.

The cost to G-d for our salvation is beyond comprehension.

I too run into Christians who don't seem to understand the basic beliefs of the faith. Kinnaman later in his book divides believers based on professed priorities -- the very Bible-based orthodox beliefs as established in the New Testament (Brit Chadasha)-- and finds only about 3% hold to these additional beliefs. I'll write about this in another blog.

Philangelus said...

Amy, you write:

"I am NOT preaching here. However, if these beliefs are held, they are not consistent with Biblical Christianity."

I disagree with your interpretation of the facts. These people found these things as priorities not because "living a good life" and "learning about Christ" were "works that will get them into Heaven" but rather because they were, as the survey says, "important priorities for a Christian to pursue in terms of his or her faith."

The Bible itself says that faith naturally manifests itself in good works (the book of James) and that our good deeds are the only things that follow us into the next life (Revelation) and Jesus said, "If you love me, do what I tell you."

In other words, these things BECOME priorities because of what we hold dear. They are the proof of our love of God rather than the substance of our love of God or the reason for God to love us. Are they important? Absolutely, the same way you don't love your husband only because he brings you roses on Valentine's Day but you accept those roses as a sign that he deeply loves you and wants to make you happy.

The book sounds interesting, but this particular conclusion is off-base.

Amy Deardon said...

Philangelus, you're correct that the facts presented here in this blog entry do not necessarily indicate an *off* faith. I was speaking of a later point made in the book that many of these *born again* category believers held a works theology, and/or believed there was more than one way to be reconciled with G-d. Mea culpa for not clarifying, and thanks for pointing this out!

Philangelus said...

Then I'm not getting your point in posting these stats. A vibrant faith in Jesus bubbles up as a desire to please God by living our lives in the way Jesus taught us. What's wrong with that?

Tracy said...

Very interesting post! (This is my first visit to your blog, though I've seen you through a few others I visit.)

One thing I have a very hard time with is the amount of Christians (pastors especially) whom I've met who are completely carefree when it comes to sin in their own lives, believing, "oh well, I'm covered by grace."

Salvation is not gained by works but grace. And grace should not be cheapened by carefree sin. Good works should always be prompted by a heart to serve God and a gratefulness to Him.

Looking forward to the next post!

Sarah Salter said...

I think that the way this question was worded (with "pursue" being the active verb) it automatically makes one think of what one must DO to be a Christian. And there's obviously a "do" factor in Christianity: "Be doers and not hearers only" and "Work out your salvation" and "Faith without Works is dead"... But when I re-word that question to myself and say, "What are my priorities as a Christian?" (And get rid of that very active verb "pursue") It's amazing to me that my priorities become more clear. At that point, my priority becomes singular: "abide in the vine." (In other words, live in right relationship with God.)

I love what Anne had to say here... The reminder that Salvation is a free gift. I recently heard a great children's sermon on this topic. The pastor asked the kids, "Who wants $10?" Every hand in the house went up (including the hands of the adults). He randomly chose a little boy out of the group and said, "Son, I want you to do 10 pushups and then run around the room four times. When you are done, you can have the $10." The little boy happily did these things with the whole group cheering him on. When he was done, the pastor gave him the $10.

Then, the pastor held up another $10 and said, "Who else wants $10?" And again, every hand in the room went up. The pastor called another little boy out of the group. When that boy came forward the pastor handed him the $10 and said, "Here you are. You can go back to your seat."

The group was shocked! What in the world had happened? Why didn't the second boy have to do the pushups or run around the room? And then the pastor explained. The second $10 was like salvation: a free gift. And for that reason, he didn't have to do anything to receive it.

Philangelus said...

I'm sorry, I have to come back here again. It's not like you to write "I'm not preaching" and then follow it up with something both inflammatory and incorrect.

Your clarification in comment 4 doesn't really straighten things out for me on reflection. Calling something "unBiblical" is a very serious charge. Doing that in the same sentence as trying to shut down any argument about it isn't what I've come to expect from your blog.

There's no point in sowing division among the members of the Body of Christ. If we were all standing at the foot of the cross, we wouldn't be arguing about the place of good works in a life of faith. We'd be standing silently, tears streaming down our faces, heart-broken at what humanity had done.

Amy Deardon said...

Hi Philangelus -- I may not be understanding your point clearly, and if so I apologize. I'm not trying to sow dissension, just I think it's important to stick to the basics of the faith. I'm not questioning anyone's faith because that's up to God.

I've been writing a book just now to answer you, so how about I just post your criticisms and my answer on tomorrow's blog? And thank you so much for such thoughtful comments! Hope you're well.

Amy Deardon said...

Tracy, thanks for stopping by!

Anne L.B. said...

Amy, I've been thinking about your post. Okay if I chime in again?

As I've said many times, Christianity, as a religion, is better than all others--but it's still only religion. Though I agree with all the categories in the Barna survey as central to the religion of Christianity, I would maintain, with you, that they are unbiblical if they are seen as foundational to faith. By itself, religion has no power to save mankind or to even better him.

After years of being faithful to my religion and finding no true satisfaction in it, I found utter peace and joy when I met Jesus and developed a relationship with Him as the Lord of my life. As I told someone else recently, what He's done for me is Extreme Makeover: Life Edition. The utter contentment I have in Him will never be found in religion.

Rosslyn said...

Amy, I'm really glad you brought up this book. I've been wanting to read it, but haven't yet.

I have to agree with philangelus's interpretation of the original survey question. The topic is a Christian's priorities for living in the world, not the precise nature of a Christian's beliefs about salvation. Amy, you are phrasing your question as "what is a Christian?" which is misleading because it is not the same as "what are a Christian's top priorities?"

As far as the results of the survey go,I'm more disturbed by the fact that the four bottom categories were Service, Relationships (including loving others!!!) Stewardship, and Family Faith. They were outranked by Lifestyle (as in, not sinning), Discipling, Evangelism, and Worship. WHAT?!?

Though all of these things are important, I think we have a clear scriptural injunction to LOVE OTHERS (relationships). "Love one another, for love is of God. He who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." How this question could not score 100 percent is mystifying. Sadly, the reason is probably that this simple commandment is the most difficult to follow. People would much rather focus on not sinning than on loving their enemies...or their spouses, or their in-laws, or their obnoxious neighbors.

If Christians stopped ignoring the command to love others, we would have a much better reputation with non-believers.

Alison Bryant said...

I, too, am really glad you're bringing this up. That particular Barna study offers a lot of food for thought that I think every Christian should take a look at.

Travis said...

To be quite honest, I'm disheartened.

Anne L.B. said...

Travis, can you explain? (I can't stand to hear disheartened ...)

Travis said...

I will try to explain that thought... how do I do it?


Alright, let me try it like this. I heard a story of a man who was swimming though the Lake of Fire in the depths of Hell, who was swimming from one person to the next. At each person, he would grab them by the hair and lift their face. When he didn't recognize that person, he would shove their face back into the lake and swim to the next person—and so forth. Finally, someone asked him what he was doing. He responded, "I'm looking for the preacher who lied to me."

Somewhere along the way, we have compromised the Christian message, and we are now birthing new Christians into the Kingdom who don't understand the holiness of God. Nor the righteousness of God. Nor the wrath of God. But, they are well versed in "naming and claiming" their blessings, and they are all about getting "deliverance from Satan". They miss the big picture of what God and repentance are all about...

And I'm rambling....

But, when I think about how misinformed and misguided these baby Christians are, it disheartens me to think of how the future will play out. If our youth are our future, then what is our future if the Barna research is accurate?

Does that help any?