Barna Research on American Christians’ Phariseism

Barna - Phariseism

A recent Barna research studied to what extent are American  more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees (see HERE the summary report).

As Melissa Steffan explains in a recent Christianity Today article on this topic, ‘t’s important to note that “Pharisaical” does not necessarily mean “hypocritical.” In a recent blog post, Scot McKnight cautions against misusing the term “Pharisee,” which should be used “only for those who through the abuse of their teaching authority are leading people astray.”

“Jesus accuses the Pharisees for ‘hypocrisy’ because they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, not living according to what they taught, and for the desire for power,” McKnight says. “To be ‘hypocrite’ is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to ‘contradiction between appearance and reality.'”

That’s what the Barna survey appears to measure. Barna used a four-quadrant graph to analyze how well participants agreed with 20 statements that represented “Jesus-like” or “Pharisee-like” actions.’

Here are the 20 statements used in this research, as presented in the summary report:

Fleshing Out Christ-likeness
To flesh out the objectives of the study, a nationwide, representative sample of Christians was asked to respond to 20 statements. They could rate their agreement on a four-point scale. The 10 research statements used to examine Christ-likeness include the following:

Actions like Jesus:

  • I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  • In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  • I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  • I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  • I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.

Attitudes like Jesus:

  • I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  • I believe God is for everyone.
  • I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  • It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  • I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.

The 10 statements used to assess self-righteousness (like the Pharisees), included the following research items:

Self-Righteous Actions:

  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.

Self-Righteous Attitudes:

  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.

At least one person (called Bob) criticises in a comment on the article in Christianity Today the adequacy of the statements used in this research. Nevertheless, the research results are interesting, in spite of such possible weaknesses.

It would be interesting to see the results of such a study in Romania. Yet, in our country the sociology of religion is poorly represented and usually specialists are rather captive to their own denominational commitments.






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