Review of ‘The Bible in America’ by Barna Group


The-Bible-in-AmericaBarna Group, The Bible in America: The Changing Landscape of Bible Perceptions and Engagement (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2016).

Barna Group’s new report, The Bible in America, contains good news and bad news.

First, the good news: “Americans hold the Bible in high regard.” Eighty-one percent of them consider it a “holy book.” Sixty-eight percent think it’s a “comprehensive guide to a meaningful life.” Fifty-one percent believe it has “too little” influence on American society. Among U.S. adults, 49 percent of men and 59 percent of women consider the Bible either the “actual word of God” or the “inspired word of God.” In both cases, they believe the Bible is inerrant.

Switching from beliefs about the Bible to engagement with it, Barna reports: “More than half of the U.S. population is engaged with or friendly toward the Bible. The term Bible engaged describes a person who “has a high view of Scripture and reads the Bible four or more times a week.” Seventeen percent of American adults fit this description. The term Bible friendly describes a person with “a high view of Scripture but who reads it less frequently.” Thirty-seven percent of Americans fit into this category.

Here’s the bad news, which Barna president David Kinnaman outlines in his introduction to the report:

  1. Increasing skepticism. More people have more questions about the origins, relevance and authority of the Bible.
  2. A new moral code. Self-fulfillment has become the cultural measure of what is good, setting up a conflict between society and the Church.
  3. Digital access. New tools and technologies are making the Bible—and everything else—more accessible than ever before.

Barna’s conclusions track with what other researchers are finding. For example, “increasing skepticism” correlates with what the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life describes as the “rise” of the “Nones,” i.e., adults who have no religious affiliation. Both increased skepticism and decreased religious affiliation are more noticeable in younger generations (e.g., Millennials) than in older generations.

Similarly, the “new moral code” of “self-fulfillment” tracks with what sociologist Christian Smith refers to as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Americans, even younger Americans, believe in God. However, the god they believe in basically wants people to be nice (“moralistic”) and happy (“therapeutic”). In such a culture, Jesus’ statement about denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Him (Matthew 16:24) doesn’t resonate with many.

Kinnaman doesn’t describe “digital access” as bad news. I do. Greater access to the Bible is indisputably good news. It’s the easy access to “everything else”—including skeptical information about the Bible and a media saturated with messages about self-fulfillment—that worries me. Perhaps we should say that digital access is ambivalent, good or bad depending on how it is used.

So, on the one hand, a majority of Americans hold high views of the Bible and are “engaged” with or “friendly” toward it. On the other hand, a rising number of them dispute its divine origins and/or don’t engage with it at all. This is the contemporary cultural context in which Christians live and serve.

Barna concludes its report with ten “insights to propel [readers] to prayer and action.” Let me cite just two.

First, priority should be given to reaching younger generations. “Without intervention, the future of Bible engagement is less bright than the past, and there is no clearer portrait of this reality than the Millennial generation. Although Millennials Christians continue to stoke a bright flame of passion for the Scriptures, their numbers are dwindling and their non-believing and non-practicing peers have put the Bible on a dusty shelf.” To prioritize their concerns requires taking their hard, skeptical questions seriously. It means showing how the Bible addresses their concerns—for justice, for example—in a meaningful, substantive way.

Second, “digital tools are tools, not magic bullets.” Too many churches and Christian leaders think they can reach younger generations with lights, sounds, and a digitally hip ambience to church. The problem with this line of thinking is that the club down the street has a better audiovisual setup. Applied to the Bible, yes, the available digital tools are amazing. But skeptics have good digital tools too. Churches should use digital tools—for worship and for Scripture study—wisely. But they should also remember that tools are just that: means to an end, a method for achieving a solution. They’re not the end or the solution themselves.

The Bible in America was commissioned by the American Bible Society and draws on what Kinnaman describes as “one of the largest sets of aggregate data [Barna] has ever collected on any single topic.” It’s an eye-opening, suggestive report, and if you’re a pastor or church leader, I recommend that you read it.

Check out my Influence Podcast interview with David Kinnaman on The Bible in America!

P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

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Review of ‘The Porn Phenomenon’ by Barna Group


The_Porn_Phenomenon_book_350This article first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

Barna Group, The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age (Ventura, CA: Barna, 2016).

“Thirty years ago, pornography arrived in the mail wrapped in discreet black plastic.” So begins The Porn Phenomenon, a new report from Barna Group, the well-respected evangelical polling firm. “Today, porn slips invited or not onto every screen with an Internet connection. For that matter, much of it originates in regular households with a wireless signal.”

The ubiquity of porn has changed attitudes about it, for the worse. According to Barna, “Only one in 10 teens and one in 20 young adults says their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing.” This casual—even affirmative—attitude about porn masks what researchers are beginning to reveal about its “significantly negative impact on society, relationships, and individuals.” In the words of The Porn Phenomenon’s back page: “The porn crisis is not coming… It is here.”

To help the Church better address this crisis, Barna conducted four quantitative surveys with 2,771 participants that focused on “perceptions of pornography, exposure, use, and attitudes toward use.” It also conducted open-ended qualitative surveys with 32 adults and 20 pastors on the topics of “porn and sexual addiction.” These surveys were anonymous. Supplementing this original research, Barna surveyed existing social science research on the topic and conducted on-the-record interviews with Christian thought leaders on this topic.

The Porn Phenomenon outlines its findings in five chapters: “The Landscape of Porn” (chapter 1), “The Uses of Porn” (chapter 2), “Porn and Morality” (chapter 3), “The Impact of Porn” (chapter 4), and “What Can We Do About Porn?” (chapter 5). Throughout, Barna uses well-designed info graphics to present salient data points, such as:

  • 51 percent of all Americans seek out porn at least occasionally
  • 57 percent of young adults seek porn at least once a month
  • 46 percent of men seek out porn at least once a month
  • 13 percent of practicing Christians seek out porn at least once a month
  • 55 percent of adults 25+ say viewing porn is wrong
  • 32 percent of teens and young adults say viewing porn is wrong
  • Teens and young adults rank not recycling as more immoral than viewing porn
  • 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn
  • 70 percent of self-identified Christians say a pastor should leave ministry if he uses porn

Barna Groups closes The Porn Phenomenon with helpful advice about what the Church can do to stem the tide of pornography. Its final point is to “promote a robust biblical counter-narrative to porn”:

Rather than treating [sex] as [a dirty word], we must celebrate and promote God’s good intentions for sex as a counter-narrative to the false stories told by pornography. Church leaders must steer their congregations in more hopeful directions, away from the distorted picture of sex touted by porn, to a fuller and more biblical vision for sex. This means actually talking about sex and pornography, and contrasting God’s plans with porn’s lies early and often.

Amen to that!

I recommend this report to senior pastors, youth pastors, children’s pastors, and congregational thought leaders, such as board members and Sunday school teachers. Church leaders need to know the nature and scope of the porn phenomenon if they are going to combat it effectively.

The Porn Phenomenon is available for purchase from Barna.org. Listen to my podcast about the study with Roxanne Stone, Editor in Chief of Barna Group.

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