Thursday, June 16, 2005

Spiritual Maturity by the Numbers

A new national survey by the Barna Group asked respondents to rate their spiritual maturity in seven areas: worship, sharing their faith, Bible knowledge, living consistently with the principles of their faith, serving others, maintaining healthy relationships, and providing spiritual leadership to the family. Not surprisingly, the majority of those surveyed ranked themselves as either "Completely or Highly Mature" or of "Average Maturity" in each of the areas considered. Evangelicals claimed to be more mature than average in worship (61%), living their faith principles (61%), maintaining healthy relationships (55%) and serving other people (55%). Numbers were down when it came to sharing their faith with non-Christians. Thirty-two percent claimed to be above average while 14% said they were below.

Barna has done some commendable work in alerting the church to the extent to which it suffers from the lack of a biblical outlook on life. This is something he sought to address in his book Think Like Jesus in which he describes a biblical worldview as "a means of experiencing, interpreting, and responding to reality in light of biblical perspective." Given his expressed concern for the cultivation of a comprehensive biblical perspective on life, I find it surprising that Barna constructed the survey in question as he did.

Notice that worship is segmented from the rest of life. This kind of compartmentalizing is definitely not consistent with the Scriptures according to which worship entails all of the other dimensions asked about. A truly biblical worldview finds the thought of isolating worship from the quality of my relationships unthinkable. This is why the author of Hebrews portrays our good deeds and readiness to share as "sacrifices [which] are pleasing to God" (Heb. 7:16). Yes, worship includes the "sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" (7:16) but it is so much more than that. Paul conceived of his evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles in priestly terms (Rom. 15:16), indicating that sharing our faith is also an aspect of worship.

Unfortunately, by asking its subjects to consider worship independently from the rest of life, this survey perpetuates the kind of fragmented, unbiblical thinking that already riddles the minds of Christ's followers. If we are to think with a Christian mind, we must see worship as that which calls for the totality of our lives as Paul affirms in Romans 12:2. Biblical worship doesn't demand a portion of my life. Biblical worship demands the totality of my life. I have no doubt that George Barna would agree with this but that conviction does not come across in how this survey was crafted.

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