The Challenge of Sharing Faith in America Today | Influence Podcast


“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong,” reads the headline of a storyabout a new report from Barna Group. Titled Reviving Evangelism, that report details the erosion of support for evangelism among next-generation Christians. In Episode 169 of the Influence Podcast, I’ll be talking about this report with David Kinnaman.

David is president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including Good Faith,You Lost Me, and unChristian. He and his wife live in California with their three children.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted form InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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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.

Review of ‘Good Faith’ by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons


Good_Faith_Bad_Faith_350David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Extreme and Irrelevant (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

I recently testified before a state legislative committee in favor of two religious freedom bills. Twenty-five years ago, support for religious freedom was widespread. A nearly unanimous Congress passed the federal Religious Freedom Act, for example, and a Democratic president signed it into law. Today, any religious freedom bill, whether at the state or federal level, is sure to spark heated opposition because opponents argue that religious freedom is simply a mask for discrimination against the LGBT community. That shift of thinking is both tectonic and, to Christians like me, worrisome.

Something else concerns me too, though. After the first hearing, a woman from the LGBT community approached the huddle of lawyers I was talking to, politely interrupted us, and made the following statement: “I need to tell you gentlemen something,” she said. “If you had lived the life I have lived, you wouldn’t think the way you do.” Then she walked away. None of us knew how to respond, or whether she wanted us to respond, so we said nothing. Even deeper than my worry about tectonic shifts in legal norms is my worry that the Church is missing the opportunity to share Christ’s good news with people whose experience is so contrary—alien, even—to our own. I confess that I missed a chance that day.

Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). While we might prefer to carry out the Great Commission in a society that provides robust protections to our religious freedom, the fact of the matter is that we are under the Lord’s orders whether or not the law protects us or our society approves of us. And let’s be honest, a large chunk of American society is moving in a direction that is not favorable to Christian faith and practice.

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ first co-authored book was unChristian, which examined how unbelieving Millennials viewed Christianity. The portrait they painted was not flattering. According to their research, unbelieving Millennials viewed Christians as hypocritical, anti-science, too focused on conversion, anti-gay, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Their negative view of Christians is more than a PR problem, of course. It is a missional problem. How do we “make disciples of all nations” when the nations view us as irrelevant at best or extreme at worst?

Good Faith outlines Kinnaman and Lyons’ answer to that question. Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, “a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services.” Lyons is founder of Q, “a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance good in society.” Based on their research and biblical reflection, they identify three ingredients that must characterize the Church’s mission in contemporary America:

How well we love + What we believe + How we live = Good Faith

Stated as one-word imperatives, these elements are love, believe, and live. Each imperative must be fulfilled for good faith to be present. In other words, we can’t reduce Christianity to what some have called orthopathy (right affections, love) or orthodoxy (right doctrine, believe) or orthopraxy (right behavior, live). Good faith consists of the three imperatives acting in tandem at all times. Stated so simply, the need for these imperatives is obvious. And yet, how difficult we find it to put them all into practice.

Take my encounter with the woman after the legislative hearing, for example. I know what I believe regarding both religious freedom specifically and LGBT issues more generally. I’d like to think that I translate those beliefs into moral behavior on a day-to-day basis. But, if I’m honest, I find it easier to explain and defend my beliefs than to love the person on the other side of those issues. Kinnaman and Lyons write something that I need to take to heart: “There is a world of difference between confidently asserting what we believe and being aggressive in faith-driven ‘beast mode.” I hope I never go into beast mode on any issue—through I constantly feel the temptation on issues about which I have strong opinions. Still, I wonder: Am I like the Ephesian church which had “biblical orthodoxy” nailed down tight but had “forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:6)? Am I cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, which is love (Galatians 5:22)? Other Christians may struggle with understanding and defending biblical orthodoxy or with putting their faith into action. Regardless of which of the three imperatives you do best (and which worst), the point is to keep them all together.

Kinnaman and Lyons apply the love-believe-live formula to a host of issues. In the final chapter, they sum up the point of the entire book by writing: “The Christian community is called to be a counterculture for the common good. We are countercultural when we…”

  • love others well
  • remain committed to orthodox beliefs
  • make space for those who disagree
  • stand out from the crowd
  • ask the right questions
  • live under God’s moral order
  • offer a vision of human intimacy beyond sex
  • practice hospitality
  • do the good, hard work of racial reconciliation
  • value human life in every form, at every stage
  • love our gay friends and trust God’s design for sex
  • build households of faith
  • are theologically grounded and culturally responsive
  • make disciples
  • practice the sacred art of seeing people
  • make disciples and faith communities that are Christlike.

Good Faith is a good book. For someone like me who is worried about the culture but more concerned about the Church bearing witness to Jesus in the midst of it, the book provides diagnostic criteria and a checklist for self-examination. On any issue, do I love the person on the other side of the issue? Do I know what biblical orthodoxy actually requires of me? Do I live my Christianity in an authentic and attractive way? If I cannot answer “yes” to each of these questions, I have work to do. And so, it seems to me, does the American church.

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

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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