Friday, July 06, 2007

Evangelical scandal

Ron Sider wrote a volume called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. In his chapter on “The Depth of the Scandal” he starts off with a quote by Michael Horton: “Evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.” Then come the statistics and other data from the research:

  • Conservative protestants are more likely to divorce than the rest of the population and the rates are higher where conservative Protestants make up a higher percentage of the population in the country.

  • As evangelicals have gotten richer, we have spent more on ourselves and given smaller percentages to the church. Evangelicals give about two-fifths of a tithe.

  • Born-again adults cohabit with members of the opposite sex without marriage only a little lower than the general public.

  • 26 percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong and 13 percent says it is okay for married persons to have sex with someone other than one’s spouse.

  • The percentage of Christian men involved in pornography is not much different than that of the unsaved.

  • Coach Bill McCartney of the Promise Keepers thinks a major reason attendance dropped dramatically in his organization’s stadium events was their stand on racial reconciliation.

  • Husbands who attended conservative Protestant churches or held conservative theological views were no more or less likely to engage in domestic abuse than others. Theologically conservative Christians commit domestic abuse at least as often as the general public.

Sider also quotes Peter E. Gillquist who says that “All the evangelism in the world from a church that is not herself holy and righteous will not be worth a hill of beans in world-changing power.” Modern evangelicalism, is in a “modern Babylonian captivity and we do not yet know it.” But Sider ends with what he deems a “ray of hope.” Cited is research in the early nineties by George Gallup Jr. and Timothy Jones called The Saints Among Us. A twelve-question survey was used to identify heroic and faithful individual Christians.

1. My religious faith is the most important influence in my life.
I seek God’s will through prayer.
3. I believe that God loves me even though I may not always obey him.
I try hard to put my religious beliefs into practice in my relations with all people, regardless of their backgrounds.
I receive comfort and support from my religious beliefs.
I believe that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine.
I wish my religious beliefs were stronger.
I believe in the full authority of the Bible.
I do things I don’t want to do because I believe it is the will of God.
God gives me the strength, that I would not otherwise have, to forgive people who have hurt me deeply.
I try to bring others to Christ through the way I live or through discussion or prayer.
12. I wish my relationships with other Christians were stronger.

“Saints” were those who agreed with every question. “Super-saints” was the name for those who agreed “strongly” with every question.

The “saints”, found Gallup and Jones, lived differently:

  • 42 percent of the strongly uncommitted (answered all questions with disagree or strongly disagree) spent “a good deal of time” helping needy people compared with 73 percent of the “saints” and 85 percent of the “super-saints”

  • 63 percent of the spiritually uncommitted reported they would not object to having a different race neighbor. But 84 percent of the “saints” and 93 percent of the “super-saints” said they would not object.

  • 71 percent of the spiritually uncommitted believed it is important to forgive people who had hurt them. 98 percent of the “saints” and 100 percent of the “supersaints” agreed.

  • 71 percent of the spiritually uncommitted and 100 percent of both the saints and supersaints “try to follow a strict moral code.”

The idea of “saints” for Gallup and Jones are what we call, in this volume, “witnesses.” The content of the “witness’” character is different and uncommon. And it makes a difference in life. Gallup/Jones says that

There appears to be a great deal of self-centered, provincial faith – extrinsic religion…that makes little difference in people’s lives. Extrinsic faith tends to be more institution-centered, and primarily something to be called on in crisis.

But, say the authors,

For a society tempted to think that only a highly visible few – the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas – make a difference, our research shows otherwise. Our interviews with the friends, associates, and neighbors of the saints among us lead us to conclude that they have an impact on society far out of proportion to their numbers.



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