George Barna is a guy who spends a lot of time calling people and collecting data, mainly as it relates to the evangelical church (as if it's monolithic.) I enjoy reading his stuff, mainly because it gives just the hard facts, but leaves interpretation up to the reader. There's an interesting one found here that Mark has suggested I read and comment on. Barna's the expert, but I'm a pretty good b.s.'er, so I'll give it a shot.
I'll start off by telling a story. Several years ago, shortly after graduating from college, I attended some sort of gathering of representatives from differing factions of Texas Baptists. (I know, you are all wetting your pants with excitement and jealousy.) The gathering was called a "Reconciliation Convocation," and it's stated purpose was to try and restore dialogue and trust among churches whose relationships were strained during the political and theological divisions in the Southern Baptist Convention during the 80's and 90's. Exciting stuff, I know.
The organizers of the event wanted to include recent graduates from each of the Texas Baptist Universities, so I represented ETBU. There was one meeting that included about a dozen pastors (all men,) me, and a girl from another University. The time got rather heated. Each pastor shared the ways they have been hurt by others in the denomination. Some of their ire was directed toward specific people in the same room, old college friends who were now living in separate worlds. Big names were dropped in such a way that suggested I should know who was being mentioned. Historic events were dropped nonchalantly to make you think it was 9/11, or the signing of the Magna Carta, or the St. Louis World's Fair-- as in "Well, I've been upset ever since the Convention of '87."
Me and the other recent graduate sat silently through the whole meeting, not really knowing what the hell was being talked about. Toward the end of the meeting someone felt the need to patronize us and ask our opinion on things. My counterpart made such a great statement. She basically told these pastors that they need to get over themselves, that the majority of the people in their congregations don't know and don't care about any of the names, events, and conflicts that were mentioned that day. The air was sucked out of the room and we were both ignored for the rest of the day.
The point? I think those labeled as "leaders" typically think their "followers" should be concerned about the same things they are concerned about and deem important the people they deem as important. But most people resist this. We are typically surprised (and a little offended) when we find others are ignorant of the things we consume ourselves with.
So, back to Barna's survey. It really doesn't surprise me that Rick Warren, author of the biggest selling non-fiction book in history, is only known by a quarter of all Americans and a third of all "born again" Christians." I sell The Purpose Driven Life and I can safely say that a large portion the millions of copies that have been sold are purchased by a.) Pastors buying it for their congregations and b.) Christian parents or friends buying it (as a hint) for gifts to be given to their "lost" loved ones. My guess is that a much larger percentage of people would recognize the book than the person. I think this is probably also true of the other evangelical leaders mentioned in the survey.
What does surprise me is the amount of people who are familiar with Denzel Washington. I wonder if some of the elderly people surveyed thought they were being asked about George Washington? Also shocking is his favorability rating. Who among us knows him enough to have a favorable opinion of him? I guess there's always the possibility that it's not Denzel Washington they love so much (although, who doesn't love Denzel?) but rather the composite of all the characters he's ever played. He's a brilliant actor and has played some pretty great characters, (sans Training Day.)
Hilarious Stat-- 3% of people have never heard of Britney Spears. 57% have never heard of James Dobson. And he things he's so important.
Mark specifically asked my opinion on the second to the last paragraph. I can assume your interest in what I think about this paragraph stems from a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, questioning whether or not I am an evangelical. Since this post is getting rather long, I'll just go right down the list of what Barna includes as requirements for being an evangelical and where I stand on each one...
1. Faith Very Important in their Life.-- Check
2. Believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.-- Check, with reservations about what is meant by "share" and the peril and alienation that comes when we continuously label people "non" anything.
3. Believing that Satan exists.-- Umm, wow. I guess this depends on what kind of day I'm having. So, half-check.
4. Believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works.-- I'm both Baptist AND Emergent. This is a slam dunk. Check.
5. Believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.-- Absolutely. Check.
6. Asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches.-- I think I can live with the wording of this. Check.
7. Describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.-- I think Barna stuck 5 conditions into one here. There are seminary students all over the world tonight debating this stuff, but I think I am comfortable with this, while acknowledging on any given day I would need clarification with the words "all" and "rule." I'm going to have to go with half-Check here.
So, am I an evangelical by Barna's standard? I guess I'm standing at the line. But when I finish this post, the line will no longer matter.
So, how about you, my reader, look at the report and tell us all what you think.
Mark, thanks for sharing it with us.