The lives we lead

George Barna and his team of researchers have dug up some fascinating new statistics about the world in which we live. The entire report can be found here. In particular, however, I wanted to note a couple of interesting statements from his survey which tracked social trends in 2207. They found four dominant themes that kept showing themselves over and over again. Consider these two, if you will.

1. Americans Accept Themselves Unconditionally Barna studies underscored the fact that Americans have a high opinion of themselves - and lingering reservations about others.....The prevailing paths to maturation, however, are usually not characterized by planned or intentional development; instead, engagement in a series of adventurous experiments seems to be the norm. When it does occur, growth takes place rather unpredictably, and the changes accepted are typically adopted on the basis of feelings. Most Americans, it seems, are willing to change as long as the pathway promises benefit and enjoyment, and generally avoids pain, conflict and sacrifice......Another oddity observed through the research is that adults - especially those under 30 - regularly strive to be connected to a substantial number of other people and yet possess a nagging sense of loneliness, isolation and restlessness. The constant involvement with social networking via the Internet, text messaging and phone calls via mobile devices, and frequent appearances at common hangouts (think Starbucks, movie theaters and favorite restaurants) are manifestations of the investment in relationships and connections that are important but somehow not as fulfilling as desired.

These are interesting thoughts. What does this say about the concept of depravity? I'm also curious how you think we can communicate the concepts of the cost of discipleship, dying to self, etc. in this kind of culture? Additionally, do you think we can help promote and develop authentic community with people who reflect the values mentioned at the end of that paragraph?

2. Nouveau Christianity The research discovered that people are reframing not just faith in general, but Christianity in particular. While slightly fewer adults - and many fewer teens - are identifying themselves as Christians these days, the image of the Christian faith has taken a beating. This battered image is the result of a combination of factors: harsh media criticism, "unchristian" behavior by church people, bad personal experiences with churches, ineffective Christian leadership amid social crises, and the like. The result is that those who choose to remain Christian - however they define it - are also reformulating the popular notion of what "Christian" and the Christian life mean. Some of those changes are producing favorable outcomes, while others are less appealing.

For instance, a generational analysis of the Barna data showed that spiritual practices among those who claim to be Christians are shifting dramatically. New practices are in vogue: embracing racial diversity and tolerance within congregations; pursuing spiritual diversity in conversations and relationships; valuing interpersonal connections above spiritual education; blending all forms of the arts and novel forms of instruction into religious events; and accepting divergent forms of spiritual community (e.g., house churches, intentional communities, marketplace ministries). Traditional ventures such as integrating discipline and regimen in personal faith development are becoming less popular. Repeating the same weekly routines in religious events is increasingly deemed anachronistic, stifling and irrelevant. Rigidity of belief - which includes the notion that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths - perceived by a large (and growing) share of young people to be evidence of closed-mindedness.

I'm afraid that this emphasis on what Barna calls "Nouveau Christianity" will quite possibly lead us away from orthodox faith and into uncomfortable realms, from a biblical perspective. Do you think it will be possible for churches to stand on the authority of scripture and still communicate to the generations of people who hold this worldview?

I think the  reality is that we have no choice, but at the same time I'm afraid we may find the work more difficult than ever before. What do you think?