Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bradley R. E. Wright to Christians: Sky Not Falling

tothesource provides a timely precis of a new book from church-going sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . And Other Lies You've Been Told.

In sum, Wright finds that many of the common horror stories about contemporary American Christianity don't hold up to rigorous analysis. This conclusion applies not just to the horror stories told by those who oppose the faith but also--maybe especially--to the scare tactics in some of the most widely referenced statistical surveys offered as a service to churches.

That's the Barna Group, if our reference is opaque.

Yes, the folks whose aim is to inform church leaders about present reality so that they can respond to it have, in Wright's view, done the Chicken Little thing in declaring that American Christianity presently trends in a way that suggests it is realistically a generation away from extinction.

To Wright's clear-eyed corrective SWNID offers a hearty "hear, hear!" We have had enough of pandering to the fears of Christians as a means of motivating them, especially when what they fear is not the wrath of God but the loss of their comfortable lifestyle in the next generation.

Why would anyone wanting to serve the cause of the church offer flawed statistical analysis? We think that the Barna Group understands that its product is not accurate statistics so much as useful ones, and "useful" here means rhetorically useful for shaking complacent Christians out of their doldrums and into action. Studies showing that Christianity in America is largely static, changing at the margins in light of very broad, slow cultural moves--such would be impossible to sell (except as a corrective, as Wright offers, and with a juicy title to boot).

To be sure, Christians still have plenty to get busy with. Wright's analysis doesn't invite Christian complacency. But America's church leaders will need to stir up the flock to love and good works on some basis other than the fear that America is on the brink of Total Secularization.

Maybe we could try the vision of God's kingdom, a.k.a. "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


carl said...

i thought another good read was dave olson's "the american church in crisis". however, the conclusion i drew was that the american church is in fact not in crisis, as his numerous stats, graphs and maps on the growth of evangelicalism show.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Interesting: we imagine that the title, The American Church Gets a B would not sell as well.

mbeau24 said...

Is there a more dynamic, healthy, catalyzing fear than the fear of God? This post is right on a number of levels, thanks for the SWINDish insight!

Anonymous said...

The statistics that I have found most startling deal with how secular society perceives the Church, which have allegedly, lately shown that we Christians are largely viewed negatively by the unfaithful. The weight of the matter though is not so much the accuracy of those alleged perceptions but the fact that cynicism hinders the Churches work in our society. I would be greatly relieved if Wright refutes the suggestion that secular society views the Church through such cynical eyes. However, I would find it rather unremarkable if his studies simply showed that the aforementioned perceptions are false. A negative perception, whether accurate or not, still hinders the work of the Church in society. Thank you for pointing out this article. I hope to get a copy of this book soon.

Signed, Gentle Reader.

Raymond said...

Made me think of this article by Ed Stetzer in Chritianity Today earlier this year:

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Anon, Wright shows improvement in at-large attitudes toward evangelicals, which he attributes to the lessening of evangelical prominence in politics.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Raymond, spot on.

Bryan D said...

I had to go and re-find this post because someone passed along this link on fb and it was just so absolutely vapid that I was left fuming, shaking my fists at the heavens and crying "Why can't there be a voice of reason on this subject?" Then I remembered SWNID. Then I largely plagiarized SWNID to provide a "zinger" of a response.

This is the story. I've actually heard of McCracken before, I was fine with him when he was marketing himself as a clown. I'm not so sure we can get along now that he's an "expert."