Seven paradoxes for America’s faith

Seven paradoxes for America's faith

Seven paradoxes for America's faith

I consider the following
abbreviated article so pertinent to this time and season here in
America that I have included it, with permission from Barna
Research, instead of my own article this month - Jeff

In most of his recent studies,
renowned researcher George Barna noticed a
pattern of paradoxes, contradictions and deception in people's
attitudes, opinions and beliefs related to their faith. Until
these misunderstandings and misperceptions are addressed, he
contends, it will be difficult for churches and individuals to
focus effectively on faith development.

The success paradox

Barna discovered that people's
views of success had little to do with their faith but focused
more on personal accomplishments, family solidarity and emotional
fulfilment. "The Christian faith commends sacrifice, servant hood
and sharing as the means to significance," he noted. "How is it
possible to have more than 120 million adults attending Christian
churches on a regular basis, but only 15 million who grasp the
message that success is not about personal accomplishment or
material possessions?"

The commitment contradiction

Various studies pointed out how a
large majority of Americans identified faith as a key factor in
their life. Yet, less than 50% who described themselves as
Christian, also described themselves as "absolutely committed to
the Christian faith." Less than 10% 'tithe' to their church. A
majority of teenagers attend a Christian church today, but only
one-third is likely to do so once they reach adulthood. The
persecution delivered by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has
produced no increase in spiritual practices. Barna suggested that
many Americans may have fallen in love with faith rather than the
object of their faith. "It's much less demanding to be devoted to
the idea of faith than to invest yourself in a true relationship
with the living God." 

Deceptions regarding truth

Almost everyone in the U.S.
believes that truth exists. However, a large majority of
Christians and non-Christians contend that there is no absolute
moral truth. While most of these people describe themselves as
followers of Christ and say that the Bible is accurate in all of
its teachings, they nevertheless believe that truth is based on
feelings, experience or emotion.

"This is one of the great
deceptions of our age," Barna pointed out. "Embracing relativism
under the guise of Christian faith facilitates comfort with sin.
By claiming the authority to determine right from wrong, we crown
ourselves the kings of reality, yet we have no such authority,
and we constantly pay the price for the arrogance of believing
and acting like we are in control of our destiny and experience.
What an affront it is to God for us to claim His name and
protection but to resist His moral truths on the basis of human

The deception of the worship wars

While many people believe that
churches are paralyzed by infighting over the style of music in
worship services, the study found relatively few churches
experiencing such angst. The bigger issues were people not
understanding what worship is and who it is for - resulting in
the failure to connect with God through genuine worship - and the
widespread use of 'blended worship,' which winds up hindering
rather than helping people's worship. The American Church
desperately needs a back-to-basics movement to fill in the cracks
in our spiritual understanding.

The contradictions regarding religious beliefs

More than 80% of Americans claim
to be Christian and 40% born again Christians. Most adults read
the Bible during the year and a huge majority claim they know all
of the basic teachings of the Bible. How, then, can most people
say Satan does not exist, that the Holy Spirit is merely a
symbol, that eternal peace with God can be earned through good
works, and that truth can only be understood through the lens of
reason and experience? 

"In a sound bite society you get
sound bite theology," Barna lamented. "Americans are more likely
to buy simple sayings than a system of truth that takes time and
concentration to grasp. People are more prone to embrace
diversity, tolerance and feeling good than judgment, discernment,
righteousness and limitations. People are more focused on
temporal security than eternal security and its temporal
implications. Hopefully, once Christian leaders comprehend this,
we can be more devoted to effectively challenging the superficial
spirituality of our nation." 

The paradox of ineffective outreach

A survey among Protestant pastors
showed that evangelism and outreach ranked as the top priority of
churches. More than $50 billion was spent on domestic ministry in
2002. However, Barna says that the proportions of both
non-Christian adults and unchurched adults have remained
unchanged since 2000. "In fact, because our population has
increased, the number of unchurched and non-Christian people in
the nation has actually grown. Regardless of its true character
and intent, the Christian community is not known for love, or for
a life-transforming faith," explained the researcher. "Outdated
means of outreach, inappropriate assumptions about people's
faith, and a lack of passion for helping non-believers to receive
God's love and acceptance are hindering the Church from
fulfilling its mandate. America remains one of the largest
mission fields in the world, and the American Church remains the
most richly endowed body of believers on the planet. There is no
lack of potential." 

The deception of effective leadership

A national survey among pastors
revealed that a majority feel they are doing an excellent or good
job in leading people spiritually. In fact, the larger the church
is, the more likely the pastor is to feel pleased with his
performance as its leader. Barna confessed confusion over that
outcome. "Pastoring is a difficult job," he acknowledged, "and
it's important not to become discouraged by the magnitude of the
spiritual battle in which we are engaged - after all, we know
that we are aligned with the winning camp. However, it's a bit
troubling to see pastors feel they're doing a great job when the
research reveals that few congregants have a biblical worldview,
half the people they minister to are not spiritually secure or
developed, kids are fleeing from the church in record numbers,
most of the people who attend worship services admit they did not
connect with God..." 

"Pastors, alone, cannot be held
accountable for the spiritual disrepair of America. But it's
worrisome when there is a strong correlation between church size
and self-satisfaction, because that suggests that attendance and
budget figures have become our mark of success. It's troubling
when our spiritual leaders cannot articulate where we're headed
and how the Church will fulfil its role as the restorative agent
of our society. Maybe the comfort afforded by our buildings and
other material possessions has seduced us into thinking we're
farther down the road than we really are."

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