Barna Polls and Spirituality
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.