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Barna’s Mythical Creature: The Church-Rejecting Jesus-Lover

When the Barna Group calls us to Meet Those Who “Love Jesus but Not the Church," they might as well include leprechauns, elves, and temporary tax hikes.

Because there’s no such thing.

Why does Barna Group imagine they do exist? Because: proof! What proof? Cryptozoology fans offer as proofs! grainy photographs and fourteenth-hand eyewitness stories. The Barna organization holds out polls. This latest specimen lauds these elusive creatures as “fascinating” (why? how? to whom?). We’re told that 89% of folks who self-report as having “made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important to their life today” have not been to church for at least six months. (For the sake of this discussion, I take this to be a voluntary absence—not, for instance, due to hospitalization or a secret trip to Mars.)

This tiny but inflating minority has distended by 3% since 2004. Nearly 2/3 are women, versus 2/5 men. Were this a competition, the combined Gen-Xers/Boomers count of 80% would beat the millennials’ 14% handily – winning what, one wonders? Perhaps an “F.” (For fascinating, remember.)

“Despite leaving the church,” Barna labels them as maintaining a “robustly (!) orthodox view of God” – defined as believing in only one God (93%), seeing Him as the omnipresent (95%), “all-powerful, all- knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today” (94%).

A bare 18% talk often with others about “spiritual matters,” while 34% do so “rarely” or “never.” Unsurprisingly, only 28% affirm any obligation to evangelize.

The Barna Group’s editor-in-chief, Roxanne Stone, insists that they “still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture,” but do not attend church because “they can find God elsewhere or…church is not personally relevant to them.” She feels that the "critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all." Stone asks, "What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own?"

So do they do anything? Though Stone said they “still believe in Scripture,” only 26% read Scripture much. Yet more than eight out of ten pray! (Not having read Proverbs 28:9, one presumes.)

Oh boy. Where to begin?

Let’s start here: Won’t Barna’s definition of orthodoxy mean that we must label Satan as “robustly orthodox”? No? Why not? Satan knows all the truths Barna’s Jesus-loving/church-rejecting sorts know. In fact, Satan’s legions find those truths very deeply moving (James 2:19b). Satan knows there is one God, knows of God’s power and wisdom – and, like Barna’s faith-fairies, Satan talks to God (cf. Job 1:9, etc.).

What’s missing here? A lot. Fundamentally, what is missing is a Biblical understanding of faith. The Barna definition seems to think that faith is defined as the maintaining of an opinion – which, given Barna’s title, also defines love.