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We live in a world of competing ideas and worldviews. In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, Christians are more aware of (and influenced by) disparate views than ever. But just how much have other worldviews crept into Christians’ perspectives? Barna’s research shows that only 17 percent of Christians who consider their faith important and attend church regularly actually have a biblical worldview1. So, if Christians are open to nonbiblical perspectives, what are they believing?
In partnership with Summit Ministries, Barna conducted a study among practicing Christians in America to gauge how much the tenets of other key worldviews—including new spirituality, secularism, postmodernism and Marxism—have influenced Christians’ beliefs about the way the world is and how it ought to be. Barna’s new research found strong agreement with ideas unique to nonbiblical worldviews among practicing Christians. This widespread influence upon Christian thinking is evident not only among competing worldviews, but even among competing religions; for example, nearly four in 10 (38%) practicing Christians are sympathetic to some Muslim teachings (an aspect of the study Barna will explore elsewhere).
Here are a few notable findings among practicing Christians:
- 61% agree with ideas rooted in New Spirituality.
- 54% resonate with postmodernist views.
- 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism.
- 29% believe ideas based on secularism.
Before diving into the four worldviews, and as illustrated in the charts below, there are a few key demographic themes that emerge from the data. First, Millennials and Gen-Xers, who came of age in a less Christianized context, are, in some cases, up to eight times more likely to accept these views than Boomers and Elders. The same is true of gender; males are generally more open to these worldviews than women, often at a 2:1 ratio. Another trend is that Americans who live in cities, often melting pots of ideas and cultures, are more accepting of these views than those in either suburban or rural areas. And finally, when looking at ethnicity, Americans of color are, in about half of the cases, more likely than white Americans to embrace these worldviews.
Practicing Christians find the claims of New Spirituality among the most enticing, perhaps because it holds a positive view of religion, emphasizes the supernatural and simultaneously feeds into a growing dissatisfaction with institutions. For instance, almost three in 10 (28%) practicing Christians strongly agree that “all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” Further, the belief that “meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is” has captured the minds of more than one-quarter of practicing Christians (27%).
The New Spirituality worldview has also inched its way into Christian ethics; one-third of practicing Christians (32%) strongly agree that “if you do good, you will receive good, and if you do bad, you will receive bad.” This karmic statement, though not explicitly from scripture, appeals to many Christians’ sense of ultimate justice. For example, another Barna study found that 52 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that the Bible teaches “God helps those who help themselves.”
Overall, at least 61 percent of practicing Christians embrace at least one of the ideas rooted in New Spirituality.
The secular worldview prioritizes the scientific method as an explanatory framework for life and advances a rational and materialistic view of the world. For the most part, practicing Christians resist scientism and a Darwinian belief: Only one in 10 (10%) strongly agree that “a belief must be proven by science to know it is true.” Believing that human beings are made in the image of God, and not just highly evolved matter, Christians see value as inherent; only 13 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that “a person’s life is valuable only if society sees it as valuable.”
However, a larger contingent of practicing Christians are more inclined toward materialism, the view that the material world is all there is. For them, “meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life,” a view held by one-fifth of practicing Christians (20%). Black (24%) and Hispanic (27%) practicing Christians, as well as Catholics (31%)—who are inclined to embrace a more works-based approach to faith—are the most open to this view. Younger adults and city-dwellers also have materialistic inclinations; Millennials and Gen-Xers (34% and 32%, respectively) are three times as likely to strongly agree with this premise than Boomers and Elders (10% and 11%, respectively), and those who live in cities (31%) are twice as likely as their suburban or rural counterparts (14%).
The researchers found that 29 percent of practicing Christians believe at least one of the secular statements assessed in the project.
Emerging as a critique of rationalism—the belief that everything can be explained objectively through the scientific method—postmodernism advances the idea that there is no such thing as objectivity. Postmodern thought argues that claims on ultimate reality are subjective by virtue of their context—that is, we are all limited by our experience, and at best we can know only what is true for ourselves.
For example, almost one-fifth of practicing Christians (19%) strongly agree that “no one can know for certain what meaning and purpose there is to life.” A similar perspective also resonates with many Christians when it comes to views of morality: Almost one-quarter of practicing Christians (23%) strongly agree that “what is morally right or wrong depends on what an individual believes.” Less educated Americans (high school or less) are more likely to affirm this view than their college-educated counterparts (31% compared to 21%).
Compelled by a larger story or metanarrative about the world, Christians are more inclined to defend objective truth, but are somewhat sympathetic to the postmodern insistence that capital “T” truth claims lead to oppression. Just 15 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that “if your beliefs offend someone or hurt their feelings, they are wrong.” Black practicing Christians, historically on the receiving end of hurtful ideologies, are more likely to agree than white practicing Christians (22% compared to 13%).
As a whole, more than half (54%) of practicing Christians embrace at least one of the postmodern statements assessed in the research.
Bernie Sanders came very close to winning his party’s nomination last year in the democratic primaries. Running on a platform of democratic socialism, he won a great deal of support (particularly among young voters) by tapping into a deep discontentment with the economic realities of capitalism. Marxism as a worldview stands in opposition to the economics of capitalism and falls more in line with socialist or communist political ideologies. Marxism, though, is also founded on an irreligious—or even religiously hostile—foundation. Though not a single practicing Christian says they would actually vote for a communist party candidate (0%) and only 3 percent for the socialist party, some of the key economic and political tenets of a Marxist worldview are supported by practicing Christians, though less so than other worldviews.
For instance, only one in nine (11%) strongly agree that “private property encourages greed and envy.” This is more pronounced among practicing Christian Millennials (20%) and Gen-Xers (22%), who are four to six times as likely to believe this when compared to Boomers (4%) or Elders (5%). For socialists, reigning in greed is the purview of the state, and 14 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that “the government, rather than individuals, should control as much of the resources as necessary to ensure that everyone gets their fair share.” Black Americans are twice as likely to affirm this economic view than are white Americans (23% compared to 12%). Furthermore, one in six practicing Christians (15%) strongly disagrees that “if the government leaves businesses alone, they will mostly do what’s right.” In other words, this proportion believes significant government regulation is necessary for the good of society. Again, a lack of trust in the impartiality of economic policies or businesses is more common among black Americans than white Americans (26% compared to 12%), though it could be seen as a pushback against a political and economic system that has failed them, rather than a rejection of biblical perspective.
In total, Barna found that 36 percent of practicing Christians embraced at least one of the Marxist statements assessed in the research.
What the Research Means
“This research really crystalizes what Barna has been tracking in our country as an ongoing shift away from Christianity as the basis for a shared worldview. We have observed and reported on increasing pluralism, relativism and moral decline among Americans and even in the Church. Nevertheless, it is striking how pervasive some of these beliefs are among people who are actively engaged in the Christian faith,” Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research for Barna, says.
“What stood out most to us was how stark the shift was between the Boomer and Gen-Xer generations,” Hempell remarks. “We expected Millennials to be most influenced by other worldviews, but the most dramatic increase in support for these ideals occurs with the generation before them. It’s no surprise, then, that the impact we see today in our social fabric is so pervasive, given that these ideas have been taking root for two generations.
“The challenge with competing worldviews is that there are fragments of similarities to some Christian teachings, and some may recognize and latch on to these ideas, not realizing they are distortions of biblical truths. The call for the Church, and its teachers and thinkers, is to help Christians dissect popular beliefs before allowing them to settle in their own ideology,” Hempell says. “Informed thinking is essential to developing and maintaining a healthy biblical worldview and faith as well as being able to have productive dialogue with those who espouse other beliefs.”
About the Research
Research with practicing Christians (who go to church at least monthly and consider their faith very important in their life) included 1,456 web-based surveys conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States. The survey was conducted in March 2017. The sampling error for this study is plus or minus 2.4%, at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.
1Barna has tracked beliefs that make up a “biblical worldview” since 1995, with the data included in this article (17% of practicing Christians have a biblical worldview) coming from an OmniPoll conducted in an online study of 1,066 U.S. adults in July of 2015. Barna defines “biblical worldview” as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.
Barna asked if Americans agree that scripture says “God helps those who help themselves” in a January 2013 survey sponsored by American Bible Society, including 1,005 telephone surveys of U.S. adults.
This research was commissioned by Summit Ministries, a worldview-apologetic outreach in Colorado. For more information about their newest book, The Secret Battle of Ideas About God, go to summit.org and secretbattlebook.com.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2017
I easily become overloaded, overburdened, and go overboard with busyness. I’ve often thought to myself that life would be perfect if bad times had fast forward buttons and good times had pause buttons. I’d also like to clone myself to get more done and never have to sit back and wait for anything. But is that really what I want?
Wait is a tough word to deal with in today’s busy world. Being too busy can distract us from the really important things in our lives—people. Do I really like being so busy that I’m worn out by noon? No. I know deep within my heart that being overloaded is a way for the enemy to distract me from those most precious to me. If I’m really honest, I would have to admit I learn more during those calm and peaceful times when my heart, soul, and mind all unite to seek God’s will than I do when I’m stretching my mind to hold more and more while I’m falling apart. One thing I have to remember on a daily basis is that wait is not an ugly word and “busy” is not a spiritual gift. After all, God says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Isn’t being still waiting? When you have a personality like mine, it’s hard to be still, but it is only during those moments alone with God that I can truly feel a peace that surpasses all understanding. Busy is the enemy of peace. Busy steals precious time. Busy robs my blessings.
Waiting Time Is Never Wasting Time
In this fast paced, jungle-like world we build for ourselves, we rarely have “waiting” time anymore. We expect instant gratification and instant results—at lightening fast speed! We become so engrossed in paperwork that we delete all the “people” work in our lives. We become so busy that we can’t remember the last time we took a full day off or sat at the dinner table with the family.
Life can bring about big storms and the waves hit hard if we don’t slow down. Busy can beat upon us like a drum. When those closest to us have stopped asking for our time, it’s because they know we are too busy for them. That’s crushing to the heart. We all need “waiting” time, whether we think we do or not. Waiting time is when we say adamantly, “It can wait!” and we step back and do what is really important.
I discovered this after I found myself checking my appointment book to see if I could squeeze in lunch with my 18-year-old daughter. I knew then that I had to back up and take a good look at my priorities. The world would momentarily stop if something ever happened to her, so why can’t I stop when she wants me to have lunch? It’s amazing how busy I allow myself to be. To actually clear my schedule for a day or two feels impossible. I feel as if everything would fall apart if I said, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t do that task,” or if I refuse to answer my phone. God puts his healing hand under my chin and assures me of one thing—he will never leave me and he wants me to trust him as he helps me clear my overloaded plate to a manageable amount.
The storm that rages inside me is shouting, “Slow Down!” and demands my attention. But if I heed that call, the Creator of peace will shower me with a peace that surpasses all understanding if I just trust him. The fragrance of grace and mercy will overflow in me when I come to peace with being less busy. Breaking old patterns is hard, but God reminds me that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
Morning by Morning New Mercies I See
I began to sing the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as I awoke each day. I asked the Lord to help me give up a life of unbridled busyness and to show me how to achieve balance between worshiping God, loving my family, and enjoying my work. Somehow during the course of my life, I mixed those up and put work at the beginning. From this day forward, busy was not going to win out any more. Busy was not going to push me around till I was worn out from the struggle. I stood up tall, held my shoulders back, and smiled. I began to seize the opportunity to truly listen to God’s plan for my life. Someone once told me peace smells like cupcakes. Step back and welcome that smell. Let your house begin to take on the odor of a bakery and watch how you begin to see and taste that the Lord is good once you grow still and begin to slow down.
If you are in a season of fast-paced insanity, no fun frustration, and running around like a road runner, I encourage you to seek God with all your heart and ask him to help you clear the unnecessary chaos that you have brought to your life. Sit and wait as he begins to show you the things to remove, and be ready to listen. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes. Do you love some of the things he might remove? Yes. But trust him and hang on to your faith with an iron fist as you seek to glorify the Lord with your life. Begin to say, “Use me, Lord!” not, “Why me, Lord?”
God is going to see you through and when he does, you will stand taller and bolder, and be more faithful. You’ll begin to smell the roses, taste the rain, laugh more, and not miss out on the important things in life. You’ll overflow with good things rather than be drained from exhaustion. You’ll come out of the desert singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and knowing that God is in control after all. It’s such a relief to not have to try to control everything. And the best part is that one day, as you awaken to sunshine peering through your window, you’ll feel the joy of the Lord has returned to your life. You’ll know that joy comes in the morning when you realize that busyness is not a spiritual gift.
The ultimate peacemaker said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled …” (John 14:27). He releases you to run free from chaos and to break free from busyness so you can experience a peace that surpasses all understanding. So, when your heart is calm, thank him. And once you’ve done that, go to lunch with a loved one and don’t forget to turn off your phone.
Tammy Whitehurst, a Christian speaker, is the founder of Joy for the Journey Ministries. You can read more about her at tammywhitehurst.com.
Fingernails scratching on the chalkboard? Soup served cold when you’re famished? Important cell phone calls dropped?
Did I get your number yet?
Maybe for you it’s not one of these but rather an empty toilet paper roll when you’re in desperate need of some? Or the feeling you get when someone just stole your parking spot and you’re running late?
Do any of these raise your stress level?
For me, none of these compare to my biggest stressor: being stuck. I hate being stuck, because stuck stinks! Stuck is slow death and chronic Pain.
Not only do I detest it, but I also loathe when other people are stuck. The only difference between being stuck in a rut and stuck in a grave is six feet. I like to see potential flowing smooth and free, unlocked and unleashed. I like to imagine the possibilities and taste the variety of options because I’m fueled by progress and adrenalized by production.
But I know the opposite too. I know plenty of people who are stuck. And I’ve not only seen the other side; regrettably I’ve taken up residence there in times past. I’ve camped in its courtyards and made my bed in its brokenness, most nights unconsciously. I don’t think any of us willingly choose to be stuck. I believe we slip into it rather unintentionally. Given a little time, though, we become full-fledged residents. This doesn’t excuse our condition; it only explains it.
I’ve discovered that many of us cling to 7 myths that keep us stuck.
I bet people taught you the same warmed-over clichés they taught me. See if you can finish these statements:
1. No Pain, no ______.
2. Winners never quit, and quitters never___.
3. If you can dream it, you can do ______.
4. No guts, no ________.
5. The early bird gets the _________.
6. It’s not what you know, it’s who you ____.
7. Be at the right place at the right _______.
Funny how much these myths shape our ideology and direct our actions, many times even indirectly. Although a tiny nugget of truth might reside within each phrase, breaking them down reveals some interesting false assumptions.
1. No Pain, no gain.
Key point: Hard work
False assumption: Pain produces promotion.
Truth: Choosing the right Pain produces promotion.
Story: I know people who work incredibly hard, never reach their potential, and die with their music still inside them.
2. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.
Key point: Persistence
False assumption: Stick with something long enough and you will win.
Truth: Healthy self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses combined with persistence can convert into winning.
Story: I know people who never gave up their dream but failed to acknowledge they were completely unqualified to achieve it.
3. If you can dream it, you can do it.
Key point: Imagination
False assumption: Imagination guarantees you will achieve what you want.
Truth: Vision is only the first step in possibly achieving what you want.
Story: I know people who have an unlimited amount of ideas that never amount to anything.
4. No guts, no glory.
Key point: Risk
False assumption: Risk will yield reward.
Truth: The right risk at the right time in the right way with the right people will yield reward.
Story: I know people who take all kinds of risks and simply take recklessness with them wherever they go.
5. The early bird gets the worm.
Key point: Scarcity
False assumption: There is only one worm.
Truth: A mindset of scarcity, fear, and competition will produce a toxic attitude of threat and defensiveness.
Story: I know people who rush to take first and are in last place because of it.
6. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Key point: Luck
False assumption: You can blame your plateau on the person you don’t even know yet.
Truth: Before others will choose to believe in you, they will naturally judge if you believe in yourself.
Story: I know people who emitted the right frequency and attracted the right people to them because of it.
7. Be at the right place at the right time.
Key point: Chance
False assumption: You stumble into greatness when you stumble into the right space.
Truth: If you’ve prepared for the moment, then the moment is prepared for you.
Story: I know people who won while in the wrong place at the wrong time and others who lost when they were in the right place at the right time.
Taking the Deeper Path prepares us how to identify and overcome these myths that keep us stuck. Isn’t it time to break free?
Kary Oberbrunner founded Redeem the Day, a movement connecting people to a process that ignites their souls on fire. Author of Your Secret Name, The Fine Line, Called and The Journey toward Relevance, Kary earned a Doctorate in Transformational Leadership and a Master of Divinity. Besides life coaching, he serves as a pastor at Grace Church in Ohio.