My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

03 January 2007

Becoming a fearful statistic

In the latest Books & Culture, Christian Smith (professor of Sociology at Notre Dame) contributes an oustanding article, "Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics." Dr. Smith documents then laments the generally pathetic manner of evangelicals and statistics. His example is an advertisement for a ministry conference heralded by these words: "Wake Up Call - Christianity Won't Survive Another Decade Unless We Do Something Now." What proof could be marshalled to support such an appalling view of the future? "...current trends show that only 4 percent [of teens] will be evangelical believers by the time they become adults. Compare this with 34 percent of adults today who are evangelicals." Of course, Dr. Smith did some digging and found that this "statistic" came from a book on youth ministry wherein the author recounts an informal survey of 211 teenagers in 4 states, finding that only 4% of them were, at that time, born-again believers. Smith believes, and I concur, that this is one example among many of "Evangelical leaders and organizations routinely [using] descriptive statistics in sloppy, unwarranted, misrepresenting, and sometimes absolutely preposterous ways, usually to get attention and sound alarms, at least some of which are false alarms."

He then goes on to dig a little deeper - the band-aid prescription is for the leaders of the church to simply be wise about how statistics should be gathered and use. But the deeper prescription has to address the deeper problem - why is this a trend in the evangelical church? "Evangelicals, by my observation, thrive on fear of impending catastrophe, accelerating decay, apocalyptic crises that demand immediate action (and maybe money)." I have, in past conversations, labeled this tendency as "fear-mongering"; peddling platitudes and statistics designed to scare someone into committing themselves to extra-Biblical doctrines and commands. Keep your eye open for it and you'll see it in many different ministries from many different corners of the church.

Ironically, just today I read that good-for-a-laugh Pat Robertson has made his yearly prediction, that God has told him of mass killings in America in 2007, perhaps even nuclear attacks. Putting aside, if we are able, the theological problems and sheer silliness of Robertson and his club, what's the point of his prediction? Isn't it to scare people into (1) greater Christian service [the best option] or (2) giving more money to the 700 Club so they can get the word out [the more probable reason]?

This isn't a problem only among the theologically wayward like Robertson. Fear-mongering and alarmism can be heard from many parachurch ministries and many churches themselves. Every time a Christian leader prophesies and proclaims that this is the doomsday, this is the worst generation ever, we are facing a moral decline unlike any in the history of Western civilization, etc., we need to name those platitudes for what they are: rubbish. Is our country in a sorry state? Yep. Is it the worst country ever? Nope. More importantly, are we, the children of God, to be operating from the assumption of pessimism and fear of the world or from the foundation of optimism and confidence in Christ our King? When we make decisions based on fear of anything/anyone but God, we are foolish and have our head in the sand, Biblically speaking - whether that decision is about what ministries to support or how and where to educate our children, fear-based decisions aren't Christian decisions. Not that we don't take into account possible downsides of certain decisions, but that our decisions must ultimately be motivated by confidence in the promises of God, not fear of what man can and is doing.

May God grant for His church to begin operating on confidence and certainty in the kingdom of Christ and her King. May we be alarmed at what is truly alarming: the prospect of eternal punishment for those who refuse to bow their knee to the King. Beyond that, let's meditate and act upon God's promises and not oft-repeated predictions of doom. Serve in the church, not because the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but because Christ promised to make all things new and we get to take part.


Anonymous said...

I read that prediction from Pat Robertson too. I have to say his track record isn't good. He is quoted later in the article that he must have missed one. How can that be if what he says is inspired and a message from God?! God is never wrong.

Anonymous said...

That was me in the message above. Forgot to sign my name. Sorry. -Marlene

Kurt said...

Interesting anecdotal contrast in light of Jared's thesis, showing what happens when the Church is in retreat:

From the American Minute, September 14, on the anniversary of the namesake of Harvard University, John Harvard’s death:

1)Sixteen years after the Pilgrims landed, Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in America, was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts… Similarly, 106 of the first 108 schools in America were founded on the Christian faith. The Rules and Precepts for Harvard students, adopted September 26, 1642, stated:
"Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3."

2) From the Wednesday, January 3, 2007 Presbyterians-Week Listserv by the Christian Observer:


According to American Family Association Journal, prospective applicants to Harvard Business School no longer have to declare themselves to be either male or female, but now they have a third choice. The three choices are male, female, or transgender. The application also asks prospective applicants if they would be interested in learning more about the school's lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community.

+ Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163 (617) 495-6000

BamFam said...

Hey Kurt, whats up.

Yes Harvard is sad, but isn't it great to be part of the church that is on the offensive? I'm not speaking specifically about RPs but about the God-fearing, Bible believing church that is still the fastest growing (sorry I hope I'm not quoting a bogus statistic, I didn't verify this) religion in the world.


Kurt said...

Hey Brandon,

I'm not sure what your eschatology is, but if we are not affecting our surrounding culture (in Harvard's case and many others, our culture is affecting us!), we're not doing our jobs. That was Jared's point. He doesn't think our world (culture) was getting worse, but the Harvards say otherwise.

Make sense?

P.S. In other words, it's not just about "savin' souls." (which only is known by God, anyway, not by how many are sittin' in the pews).

Jared said...

Kurt - Like Brandon, I think I'm confused as to the point of your first comment...whether you agree with my thinking or not.

The point of my post was to call the church to proactiveness rather than reactiveness, to not be led into Christian service through manipulation and fear. I did say that our country is bad and getting worse by the moment - but if we let that motivate us rather than the promises and faithfulness of God, then what happens when things turn around? What reason will we have to serve the kingdom when blue skies are shining?

Tamara said...

Well I happen to believe in a great falling away in the church. So I fully expect it to get worse. That way God's chosen and true believers will shine even more as a final army. It doesn't offend me or scare me that such studies and claims are being made. Our church is not more glorious if it has more followers. It has to do with the quality of those followers. Though I will hardly agree that God wishes none to perish. But God's kingdom WILL NOT disgrace itself by lowering standards to fill heaven. God's kingdom will reign even if only a few faithful are found. Read the ending. It is truth and it is coming to pass sooner than we think.

Kurt said...

Jared, I think we generally agree. But, we have to be honest in that the use of fear does not always equate to manipulation. If we use the fear of hell and eternal damnation to a certain extent, to "motivate" the unregenerate, can't we use indicators such the debasing of our society when we're trying to "rally the troops" from our complacency to action?

P.S. It is a fair statement to say there was never a time such as this where homesexuals were demanding to be married and to have equal status in society.