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Barna Polls and Spirituality

July 8, 2015

Barna polls often come up in discussions of the “evangelical crisis” as some, including Horton (who referred to them, and the whole “our own people cannot even name the 10 Commandments…” phenomenon he stressed in Beyond Culture Wars) call it. But I don’t think those are saying as much as citers think.

An Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy

A lot of those people who dont know the 10 Commandments, or think Sodom and Gomorrah are a married couple [never even heard that one before!], may have identified as “Christian” on the survey, possibly even “born again” or “evangelical”, but sound more like just your average “secular” people who may give a nod to the Bible, but obviously know nothing about it (and thus have no real claim of following it. A lot of people can identify as those things, but are really “nominal” (or “cultural Christian”), and it’s not really accurate to take the data from them, and attribute it to all “evangelicalism” as a whole.

There may be a lot of problems in evangelicalism (including moral and doctrinal compromise), but from what I’ve seen, none of those who are active in conservative Church circles enough to be identifiable as “evangelical” are that bad.
I mean, to be fair, the politically active Christians trying to keep the Ten Commandments in the public square are most likely not the same people as the ones polled who cannot remember all of the commandments. (Of course, there may be some nominals among them, who blend in as “conservatives” because of their political position, but these are probably very few). Horton’s “our own people…” statement might have a nice ring to it, but I’ve always felt it was a bit of a stretch.

Part of the problem may be this “us/them” division we make between “Bible believers” (“us”) and “everyone else”—”secular”. It seems to ignore that there are a lot of VARIATIONS inbetween. Everyone not a born again evangelical is not a “God-hating” atheist, or part of another religion. So there are many “secular” who will identify or “give the nod”, but these are the ones who really don’t think much of or know the Bible in practice.
(This is part of what made it hard to “witness” for me, because most people I ran across “believe in” Jesus and will “nod” to just about any doctrine in scripture, but didn’t seem to be Bible-toting “born again” evangelicals, and I had no solid basis to judge them either as “saved” or “lost”).

Also, regarding “God helps those who help themselves” or “the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family”, and its effect on the doctrine of “salvation by grace and justification by faith”; the Bible is primarily about God and His dealing with man, through the Plan of salvation in Christ. To say “God gave us the Bible as a guide book on how to live our lives” (i.e. the view of the critics, here) is to make the exact same errors, and is likely in fact what led to those other two assumptions to begin with. (It goes right along with the other cliché that also often gets criticized in these studies, that “Jesus is a ‘guide‘ who shows us the way”, rather than a Savior, who IS the Way, as Horton laments). It becomes all about us and our behavior (works) moreso than His, so naturally, that will affect people’s concept of “grace”, all the way down, from most conservative in doctrine, to the least.

Look at the common “Christian growth” teaching, that aims to put in practice the Bible’s “instructions” on “how to live”. You basically seek “God’s help” in changing your behavior, and if you don’t take the right “steps” (such as sufficient devotion time, and trying to “change your attitude” toward situations in life), then you won’t “grow”, and some teachers even claim you “quench the Spirit”. —Who becomes like a power or energy source we “tap into”, and Jesus as a “life coach” as Horton points out in Christless Christianity). Isn’t this pretty much the same as “God helps those who helps themselves”?
We cannot criticize the modern Church (let alone the “world”) when we are operating off of such a misguided defnition of the purpose of the Gospel!

The Gospel was needed precisely because man often doesn’t live his life the way he’s supposed to, even if he is reading and well versed in the Bible (or as it was known under the Old Covenant, “the Law”). Living our lives a certain way is to be out of love for God and fellow man, but is not itself the main purpose of the Bible.

  1. Hey, I really appreciated the electronics info on your blog. A link to posts like this one appeared, and I thought I’d take a look. I was kinda disappointed that you were into this religion stuff. Anyway, I really think you should stick to the technology and electronics stuff. You can do a lot more good by applying knowledge of the natural world, than from understanding very old books (that I would argue are simply hodgepodges of myths).
    It seems to me you’re a pretty smart guy. I read that you already refute creationism, are skeptical of religion-based counselling, believe that one should question what they’re told, and seek a variety of sources to determine the validity of information. I would recommend taking a few steps back and asking why you believe that Christianity is true, and what evidence makes you certain it’s not just one of the countless religions thought-up by civilizations over the years. Honestly, I think you may find religion to be just a waste of time. You’ve admitted that Bible illiteracy is on the rise- I would say for good reason.

    • Thanks for the comments.
      I had a father who thought the Bible was just “old myths”, and I learned then that you can’t prove it or disprove it (as he said), and I don’t know why the Creator of the universe left things that way. But looking at the real message of the Bible, it’s not what much of religion says it’s about (behavior change), but rather that we do still have a sense of guilt (which even nonreligious acknowledge), and that there’s a”grace” that frees us from that. That’s timeless experience, and so I see no need to reject it. The other religions (including the popular corruptions of Christianity) are all about appeasing a higher power in some way. What I believe can’t be a waste of time, because its not about “doing” anything, and thus takes no “time”.
      A question to ask, is why people are trying to get others to not believe in something, It seems unbelievers can be just as ‘dogmatic” as believers.

      • C Leitner permalink

        My main reason for commenting was (as I said before), I think you could do a lot more good by applying knowledge of the natural world (or blogging about science and technology, which you do well), rather than from reading very old books (and blogging about religion which must take at least some of your time)
        Although, of course, we’re just random people on the internet, and you can write about whatever you want.

  2. Well, the Bible is still widely talked about, and so it’s another topic where I see a lot of clarity can be brought.

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