In George Barna’s most recent work, FUTURECAST – what TODAY’S TRENDS mean for TOMORROW’S WORLD (Tyndale House Publishers) we are, once again, provided with a synthesis of piles – mounds – mountains of research regarding the spiritual health of America – from the Christian perspective.
Needless to say, America is struggling through difficult times.
Enter George Barna and FUTURECAST. At his own admission, Barna has a new perspective on a fundamental element seemingly overlooked or currently missing as a key to the “spiritual health” of America…a return to “the way Jesus did things – changing one life at a time.”
In the first part of the book, Barna characterizes the distinct changes that have become resident in America since 2007: loss of illusory wealth, heightened uncertainty, a decline in hopefulness (optimism), fear, etc.
Barna cites a “polarization within the American population regarding moral and spiritual matters that boils down to an inconsistency between how people see themselves and how they behave. (p. 11-12). Furthermore, he characterizes this phenomenon in this way: “Americans have become comfortable maintaining a belief in opposites.” Translation: saying one thing and behaving contrary to that verbal utterance.
The book delves extensively into the issues of American family life, attitudes and values, media,technology and entertainment, Religious beliefs, Religious behavior, Institutional faith, Demographics and a conclusion that “Together we can redirect these trends.”
Frankly, there is much that is new in this book. To attempt to summarize it here would be a task that I become weary even contemplating. THIS IS A BOOK WORTHY OF STUDY.
As a point of full disclosure, my personal library contains almost every book George Barna has ever published. I find both the research that his writings synthesize so succinctly, – and the heart of a man who cares passionately about the spiritual health of this nation – unavoidably essential reading.
Trained as a sociologist in graduate school with a focus on social research and survey research, The Barna Group’s work has had an intellectual and spiritual attraction for me. HOWEVER, that’s not to say that I agree with everything Barna has to say.
FUTURECAST highlights one of the truly problematic issues faced by social researchers attempting to measure Christian America’s spiritual health. As Barna states on page 124:
“there must be a connection between claiming the name of Jesus and one’s lifestyle and choices. Yet, it appears that millions of self-described Christians are more like Lincoln’s five-legged dog: They embrace the title without backing it up with visible proof of their allegiance.”
Asa Barna’s protege David Kinnaman has stated in hs book unChristian – What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity – And Why It Matters: “We can’t change what we are known for unless we change how we live.” (p. 231).
The two appear to be of one mind on the theisi of changing one life at a time. Listen to the following from David Kinnaman’s most recent book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith:
“We are at a critical point in the life of the North American church; the Christian community must rethink our efforts to make disciples. Many of the assumptions on which we have built our work with young people are rooted in modern, mechanistic , and mass production paradigms. Some (though not all) ministries have taken cues from the assembly line, doing everything poissible to streamline the manufacture of shiny new Jesus-followers, fresh from the factory floor. But disciples cannot be mass produced. Disciples are handmade one relationship at a time.” (pp.12-13).
Yet, here’s the challenge I referred to several paragraphs above regarding the measurement of an individuals spiritual state:
1. If you know that the verbal responses you receive from those you interview varies distinctly and significantly from their behavior – has the degree of the reliability of the findings you are reporting been compromised?
2. Answer to # 1 above…”No, not if you are measuring their behavior as well and thus, have a basis for comparing verbal responses to actual behaviors.”
3. Yet, there’s a third possibility that Futurecast brought to light for me: Perhaps we are at a point where new methods of behavioral data collection are essential and helpful in measuring the “faith equation” for human beings.
FUTURECAST cannot be accurately characterized as “just another condemnation” of Christianity in America, the Church or self-proclaimed Christians. It’s a gut check, a reality check – not simply painting a brutally truthful, yet hard to swallow reality (that’s what prophets do you know); but a treatise that contains solutions to the conundrums so identified by the years of research Barna meticulously sorts through and interprets for the reader.
Finally, one would be remiss to recognize the sheer dedication of the author, as evidenced by his book (also published in 2011 by George Barna) entitled Maximum Faith – Live Like Jesus – Experience Genuine Transformation. It’s in this volume where Barna reveals the results of research that show, “Of all the adults who make a profession of faith in Christ – that is, they become “born again” – there is surprisingly little to show for the effort. On numerous occasions Jesus talked about the fact that you can tell Christians by the spiritual fruit they bear, but the data suggest that just one out of every ten adults who accept Jesus as their Savior make any substantial changes in their spiritual routines.” (pp.25-26)….”It’s time to acknowledge that the institutional, programmatic approach to facilitating true faith is as broken as it can get – much more broken than the people being numbered among God’s chosen one’s.” (p.185).
My suggestion: Read Futurecast before you read Maximum Faith. Actually, Read them BOTH. You really can’t get the entire picture of picture of the challenge and the solutions being defined by George Barna unless you do! Claim to Be A Christian? Grab BOTH these books today.
George Barna – A bold and courageous man, eminently gifted, who believes all things are possible – with Jesus Christ.