Monday, May 05, 2008

Are there different types of Christians? A several-part series

Several recent studies of Christians have taken the approach of using data to create "types" of Christians, and this seems like a good issue to go into depth with, so I'll post a several part series on it. Basically: Is it worthwhile for empirical studies of Christians to differentiate between different types of Christians.

Today I would like to review several studies that have done so.

1) The Reveal Study identifies six segments of growing in Christ, and these segments are discussed as types of people.

Exploring Christianity - "I believe in God but I'm not sure about Christ"
Growing in Christ - "I am working on getting to know Jesus"
Close to Christ - "I feel really close to Christ and depend on him daily"
Christ-Centered - "Everything that I do is a reflect of Christ"
Stalled - "I believe in Christ but I haven't grown much lately"
Dissatisfied - "My faith is central to me, but my church is letting me down"

2) Christianity Today, via Leadership Journal, produced a study creating a five-part typology Christians.

Active Christians 19%. Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ, Committed churchgoers, Bible reader, Accept leadership positions, Invest in personal faith development through the church, Feel obligated to share faith; 79% do so.

Professing Christians 20%. Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ,Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus, Similar beliefs to Active Christians, different actions, Less involved in church, both attending and serving, Less commitment to Bible reading or sharing faith

Liturgical Christians 16%. Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran,Regular churchgoers, High level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community, Recognize authority of the church

Private Christians 24%. Largest and youngest segment,Believe in God and doing good things, Own a Bible, but don't read it, Spiritual interest, but not within church context, Only about a third attend church at all, Almost none are church leaders

Cultural Christians 21%. Little outward religious behavior or attitudes,God aware, but little personal involvement with God, Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation, Affirm many ways to God, Favor universality theology

3) Barna has identified a group of 20 million or so Christians that he labels Revolutionaries. According to Barna, "These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church." This group has seven passions: Intimate worship, Conversations, Spiritual Growth, Resource Investment, Compassionate Servanthood, Spiritual Friendships, and Family

Each one of these typologies has its own implications for the church, usually implying that the church needs to deal differently with each group.

In my next post, I'll lay out the general, methodological logic of using typologies as well as identifying some alternatives.

P.S., Thanks Stacey for suggesting this as a topic.

P.P.S., If I had to make a typology, it would be: Christians who like ice cream and Christians who really like ice cream.

Next post: Types vs. traits



Ray Fowler said...

You can put me and my Dad in your second group of Christians - ice cream, yum!

Anonymous said...

My question: Do these typologies cover us liberal Christians who are committed and live a faith-centered life, worship regularly, and identify with Christian tradition but have a faith more focused on God than Jesus? Or are we too small a group to show up in the surveys? Would the questions capture us?

Ruud Vermeij said...

I'd suggest anointed christians and non-anointed christians.

Liberal definition:
Anointed - christians that use buzzwords
Non-anointed - christians that don't use buzzwords

Literal definition:
Anointed - christians that pour oil on eachother (either in very small quantities or in large, very hot quantities)
Non-anointed - christians that don't use oil

kent said...

ice cream in waffle cone walking along the beach.

I think such a study is necessary because we are not a monolithic block and it will go a long to explain wy we cannot always play nice with one another.

jeia said...

i'm thinking about myself and about the latest book about mother teresa. is there a category of christians who frequently oscillate between some of these?

Josh said...

Interesting Post... I look forward to hearing more.

Take care!

Jerry said...

I'd agree this is interesting. It reminds me also of Richard Foster's Renovare organization--he's identified several different strains of the church (charismatic, justice, liturgical, etc.)--I wonder how that might play into this. I also wonder how hard core anabaptists (such as the Amish) would fit into these categories or activists informed by liberation theology. But maybe that's placing too much of an emphasis on theology and not enough on personal practice.

You left out one other obvious typology: wine or grape juice. :)

Brad Wright said...

Do the typologies cover liberal Christians? Some do, some don't. Depends, I suppose, on the sample analyzed. If it has liberal Christians, it should have them as a type.

Hm-m-m-m, I hadn't thought about "anointed" as a category.

If the category is people who are between who I am and who Mother Teresa was--that's a very broad category covering most Christians. :-)

Good point, Jerry, about organizations. Perhaps even more so people use types for types of Christian churches.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Are there different types of believers in God (or even different "Gods" being believed in?)

According to a detailed survey performed by Baylor University researchers, the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

Researchers found that none of the "four gods" dominated among believers. The data showed:

• 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God, who is very judgmental and engaged
• 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God, who is not judgmental but engaged
• 23 percent believe in a Distant God, who is completely removed
• 16 percent believe in a Critical God, who is judgmental but not engaged

Source: Baylor University

USA Today breaks down more information about those political and moral attitudes which are associated with each of the four types of God:

The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says.

Those who envision God this way "are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals," Bader says. "(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools."

They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).

The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values.

But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says. They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.

The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.

This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among "moral relativists," those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says. Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged.

Edward T. Babinski said...

The Christian God -- or gods? For out of Paraguayan Catholics, Vermont Congregationalists, Utah Mormons, and New Zealand Anglicans, sprout as many gods as are carved on a Jain temple wall.

John Updike

In practice, Christianity, like Hinduism or Buddhism, is not one religion, but several religions, adapted to the needs of different types of human beings. A Christian church in Southern Spain, or Mexico, or Sicily is singularly like a Hindu temple. The eye is delighted by the same gaudy colors, the same tripe-like decorations, the same gesticulating statues; the nose inhales the same intoxicating smells; the ear and, along with it, the understanding, are lulled by the drone of the same incomprehensible incantations [in the old Catholic Latin mass tradition], roused by the same loud, impressive music.

At the other end of the scale, consider the chapel of a Cistercian monastery and the meditation hall of a community of Zen Buddhists. They are equally bare; aids to devotion (in other words fetters holding back the soul from enlightenment) are conspicuously absent from either building. Here are two distinct religions for two distinct kinds of human beings.

In Christianity bhakti [or, loving devotion] towards a personal being has always been the most popular form of religious practice. Up to the time of the [Catholic] Counter-Reformation, however, the way of knowledge (“mystical knowledge” as it is called in Chrstian language) was accorded an honorable place beside the way of devotion. From the middle of the sixteenth century onwards the way of knowledge came to be neglected and even condemned. We are told by Dom John Chapman that “Mercurian, who was general of the society (of Jesus) from 1573 to 1580, forbade the use of the works of Tauler, Ruysbroek, Suso, Harphius, St. Gertrude, and St. Mechtilde.” Every effort was made by the [Catholic] Counter-Reformers to heighten the worshipper’s devotion to a personal divinity. The literary content of Baroque art is hysterical, almost epileptic, in the violence of its emotionality. It even becomes necessary to call in physiology as an aid to feeling. The ecstasies of the saints are represented by seventeenth-century artists as being frankly sexual. Seventeenth-century drapery writhes like so much tripe. In the equivocal personage of Margaret Mary Alacocque, seventeenth-century piety pours over a bleeding and palpitating heart. From this orgy of emotionalism and sensationalism Catholic Christianity seems never completely to have recovered.

The ideal of non-attachment has been formulated and systematically preached again and again in the course of the last three thousand years. We find it (along with everything else) in Hinduism. It is at the very heart of the teachings of the Buddha. For Chinese readers the doctrine is formulated by Lao Tsu. A little later, in Greece, the ideal of non-attachment is proclaimed, albeit with a certain, pharisaic priggishness, by the Stoics. The Gospel of Jesus is essentially a gospel of non-attachment to “the things of this world,” and of attachment to God. Whatever may have been the aberrations of organized Christianity--and they range from extravagant asceticism to the most brutally cynical forms of realpolitik--there has been no lack of Christian philosophers to reaffirm the ideal of non-attachment. Here is John Tauler, for example, telling us that “freedom is complete purity and detachment which seeketh the Eternal...” Here is the author of “The Imitation of Christ,” who bids us “pass through many cares as though without care; not after the manner of a sluggard, but by a certain prerogative of a free mind, which does not cleave with inordinate affection to any creature.”

Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization

Live long enough and you’ll encounter a lot of folks who say you are not really a Christian for a host of reasons. I’ve found the “no-true-Christian-would-do-or-believe-XYZ” game one of the more popular among, well, Christians.

Jonathan at the yahoo group ExitFundyism

Edward T. Babinski said...


From silent Trappist monks and quiet Quakers -- to hell raisers and serpent-handlers;

From those who believe nearly everyone (excepting themselves and their church) will be damned -- to those who believe everyone may eventually be saved (“Universalist” Christians);

From those who argue that they are predestined to argue in favor of predestination -- to those who argue for free will of their own free will;

From those who argue God is a “Trinity”-- to “Unitarian” Christians (which include not only the “Arian” churches of early Christianity, but also modern day Unitarian-Universalist churches, some modern day Messianic Jewish groups, some primitive Baptist groups, some “cults,” and all of Judaism, since God’s chosen people in the earliest “testament” where taught, “The Lord Your God is One God”);

From those who “hear the Lord” telling them to run for president, seek diamonds and gold (via liaisons with bloody African dictators), or sell “Lake of Galilee” beauty products -- to those who have visions of Mary, the saints, or experience bleeding stigmata;

From those who believe the communion bread and wine remain just that -- to those who believe the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into “invisible” flesh and blood (and can vouch for it with miraculous tales of communion wafers turning into human flesh and wine curdling into blood cells during Mass);

From those who believed that priests who delivered communion should never have ever denied their faith in the past even under threat of persecution -- to those who believed it did not matter whether or not priests forsook their faith when threatened with presecution (I am speaking of a major controversy in early Christianity between “Donatist” and “Catholic” Christiians, both of whom presumed they were the true church on the basis of the division cited above, a division that was never healed, and which ceased only after the North African region where most Donatist churches were located was overrun first by Vandals then later by Muslims.);

From the many Christians that once taught (or teach today as Reconstructionist Christians do) that heretics and apostates ought to be executed -- to Albigensian and Cathar Christians who outlawed violence and taught that the shedding of blood and the killing of any living thing, even the slaughtering of a chicken or ensnaring a squirrel, was a mortal sin (a belief they based on the spirituality and metaphors of Christ’s meekness and forgiveness in the Gospel of John). [See The YellowCross: The Story of the Last Cathars’ Rebellion Against the Inquisition 1290-1329 by RenĂ© Weis];

From Christians who believe in damning their enemies by calling down God’s wrath on them (as in certain imprecatory psalms) and who cite the verse, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” -- to Amish Christians (among others) who believe in helping the families of those who have offended them. (Case in point, in 2006 a man entered an Amish schoolhouse, gunned down several young female students then shot himself. The Amish later asked what they could do to help the family of the shooter. They planned a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’s family with offers of food and condolences.);

From Christians who view Eastern religious ideas and practices as “Satanic”-- to Christian monks and priests who have gained insights into their own faith after dialoging with Buddhist monks and Hindu priests;

From castrati (boys in Catholic choirs who underwent castration to retain their high voices) -- to Protestant hymns and Gospel quartets--all the way to “Christian rap;”

From Christians who reject any behavior that even mimics “what homosexuals do” (including a rejection of fellatio and cunnilingus between a husband and wife) -- to Christians who accept committed, loving, homosexual relationships (including gay evangelical Church groups like the nationwide Metropolitan Baptist Church);

From Catholic nuns and Amish women who dress to cover their bodies -- to Christian nudists (viz., there was a sect known as the “Adamites,” not to mention modern day Christians in Florida with their own nude Christian churches, campgrounds and even an amusement park), and let’s not forget born-again strippers;

From those who believe that a husband and wife can have sex for pleasure -- to those who believe that sex should be primarily for procreation -- to those who believe celibacy is superior to marriage (i.e., Catholic priests, monks, nuns, and some Protestant groups like the Shakers who denied themselves sexual pleasure and only maintained their membership by adopting abandoned children until the last Shaker finally died out in the late 1900s)--all the way to those who cut off their genitals for the kingdom of God (the Skoptze, a Russian Christian sect);

From those who believe sending out missionaries to persuade others to become Christians is essential -- to the Anti-Mission Baptists who believe that sending out missionaries and trying to persuade others constitutes a lack of faith and the sin of pride, and that the founding of “extra-congregational missionary organizations” is not Biblical;

From those who believe that the King James Bible is the only inspired translation -- to those who believe that no translation is totally inspired, only the original “autographs” were perfect -- to those who believe that “perfection” only lay in the “spirit” that inspired the writing of the Bible’s books, not in the “letter” of the books themselves;

From those who believe Easter should be celebrated on one date (Roman Catholics) -- to those who believe Easter should be celebrated on another date (Eastern Orthodox). And, from those who believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Roman Catholics) -- to those who believe it proceeds from the Father alone (Eastern Orthodox view as taught by the early Church Fathers). Those disagreements, as well as others, sparked the greatest schism of church history (the Schism of 1054) when the uncompromising patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, and the envoys of the uncompromising Pope Leo IX, excommunicated each other;

From those who worship God on Sunday -- to those who worship God on Saturday (Saturday being the Hebrew “sabbath” that God said to “keep holy” according to one of the Ten Commandments) -- all the way to those who believe their daily walk with God and love of their fellow man is more important than church attendance;

From those who stress “God’s commands” -- to those who stress “God’s love;”

From those who believe that you need only accept Jesus as your “personal savior” to be saved -- to those who believe you must accept Jesus as both savior and “Lord” of your life in order to be saved. (Two major Evangelical Christian seminaries debated this question in the 1970s, and still disagree);

From those who teach that being “baptized with water as an adult believer” is an essential sign of salvation -- to those who deny it is;

From those who believe that unbaptized infants who die go straight to hell -- to those who deny the (once popular) church doctrine known as “infant damnation.”

From those who teach that “baptism in the Holy Spirit” along with “speaking in tongues” are important signs of salvation -- to those who deny they are (some of whom see mental and Satanic delusions in modern day “Spirit baptism” and “tongue-speaking”);

From those who believe that avoiding alcohol, smoking, gambling, dancing, contemporary Christian music, movies, television, long hair (on men), etc., are all important signs of being saved -- to those who believe you need only trust in Jesus as your personal savior to be saved;

From Christians who disagree whether the age of the cosmos should be measured in billions or only thousands of year -- whether God pops new creatures into existence or subtly alters old ones -- even some who disagree whether the earth goes round the sun or vice versa;

From pro-slavery Christians (there are some today who still remind us that the Bible never said slavery was a “sin”) -- to anti-slavery Christians;

From Christians who defend the Biblical idea of having a king (and who oppose democracy as “the meanest and worst of all forms of government” to quote John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with whom some Popes agreed, as well as some of today’s Protestant Reconstructionist Christians)--to Christians who oppose kingships and support democracies;

From “social Gospel” Christians -- to “uncompromised Gospel” Christians;

From Christians who do not believe in sticking their noses in politics -- to coup d’etat Christians;

From “stop the bomb” Christians -- to “drop the bomb” Christians;

From Christians who strongly suspect that the world will end tomorrow -- to those who are equally certain it won’t.

All in all, Christianity gives Hinduism with its infinite variety of sects and practices a run for its money.


Edward T. Babinski said...

World Christian Encyclopedia states (as of their 2002 ed.) that there are now 10,000 distinct religions and 34,000 Christian denominations.

Kyndria said...

Brad - are the six segments of the Reveal Study meant to portray a linear progression of faith based on age and life stages/experience?