Monday, December 11, 2006

An evaluation of Barna's divorce statistics III

(Post eleven of a series on Christian divorce rates)

In examining divorce rates among Christians, George Barna measures “born-again” Christians as

“people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior”

From my perspective, Barna’s definition of “born-again” is okay—it’s his measure of “non-Christian” that causes problems. (Barna uses “non-born again” and “non-Christian” synonymously). Whom does Barna’s definition exclude from Christianity? Again using the MIDUS dataset, I examined the percentage of respondents described themselves as “born again” by denomination. For major Christian groups in the U.S.:

84% of Baptists described themselves as “born-again”
43% of “inter-denominational” Protestants
42% of Methodists
38% of “non-denominational” Protestants
38% of Presbyterians
29% of Lutherans
23% of Episcopalians
16% of Catholics

As such, Barna’s “non-Christians” includes most Catholics and mainline Protestants.

In addition, his criteria exclude many people who attend church on a weekly basis. Again using MIDUS, 60% of the respondents who attended a Christian church on a weekly basis defined themselves as born-again. This means that a full 40% of weekly Christian church-goers are defined as "non-Christian".

From my perspective, Barna’s analysis of divorce statistics is either theologically or methodologically erroneous.

Theologically, to exclude from Christianity so many bible-believing, God-loving and devout Christians is theologically provincial and unhelpfully sectarian.

Methodologically, if Barna accepts most Catholics and main-line Protestants as Christians, then to place them into a non-Christian comparison group is quite a methodological goof.

It’s fine if Barna wants to focus on “born-again” Christians, but if so, he should compare them against 1) other Christians, 2) people of other religions, and 3) people of no faith. To collapse these last three categories into “non-Christian” is a big problem.

Next: A critique of Ron Sider's "Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" I

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