Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 1 of series: The Barna Update: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities
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The latest Barna Update is out. It highlights four “mega-themes” in our culture. They are:

â?¢ Americansâ?? unconditional self-love
â?¢ Nouveau Christianity
â?¢ The five Ps of parenting
â?¢ Designer faith with rootless values.

I encourage you to read the whole update. Rather than summarize every point, I’ll take an excerpt from the update and suggest an opportunity it presents for the church.
Americans’ Unconditional Self-Love
The Barna Update says:

The prevailing paths to maturation, however, are usually not characterized by planned or intentional development; instead, engagement in a series of adventurous experiments seems to be the norm. When it does occur, growth takes place rather unpredictably, and the changes accepted are typically adopted on the basis of feelings. Most Americans, it seems, are willing to change as long as the pathway promises benefit and enjoyment, and generally avoids pain, conflict and sacrifice.

george-barnaShouldn’t the church be the place where people find a path to maturity that isn’t so random? Shouldn’t we be able to say to people, both Christian and not, “Here is a way to grow up, to have a meaningful and productive life”? Of course if this is going to happen, then the church needs to know how it can help people grow as human beings as well as people of faith. Do we have this knowledge? Perhaps, sometimes. But I fear many churches contribute to the “adventurous experiments” reality. (Photo: George Barna)
Of course the church faces a huge challenge if, as Barna indicates, most Americans want to change without experiencing pain, conflict, and sacrifice. All of these are necessary parts of life. I daresay they are necessary if one wants to grow. So how can we help people embrace the whole of life, including the parts we don’t like?
How tempting it is for the church to play into the “life without pain, conflict, and sacrifice” ethic of our culture! Yet how damaging to genuine disciples and community.
Nouveau Christianity
Here are some excerpts from the Barna Update:

. . . those who choose to remain Christian – however they define it – are also reformulating the popular notion of what “Christian” and the Christian life mean. Some of those changes are producing favorable outcomes, while others are less appealing.
Traditional ventures such as integrating discipline and regimen in personal faith development are becoming less popular. Repeating the same weekly routines in religious events is increasingly deemed anachronistic, stifling and irrelevant. Rigidity of belief – which includes the notion that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths – perceived by a large (and growing) share of young people to be evidence of closed-mindedness.

To the extent that our vision of Christianity is more a matter of Christian culture and tradition than biblical teaching, a bit of “nouveau Christianity” won’t hurt us. In fact, Jesus speaks of the wine of the gospel needing new wineskins, or in Franglish, “nouveau wineskins.”
But the nouveau Christianity of which Barna speaks is less a return to biblical faith and more a recreation of Christianity in our own image. It’s hard to imagine how one can be a disciple of Jesus Christ without “integrating discipline and regimen in personal faith development.” Can we grow as Christian disciples without discipline and holy habits? I doubt it.
And since Jesus Himself repeated weekly routines (going to the synagogue, honoring the Sabbath in its original intention, etc.), one would be hard pressed to argue for the rightness of a non-routinized Christianity.
Finally, any sort of biblical Christianity is rather suck with “the notion that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths.” If looks like “closed-mindedness,” that’s a problem. And it becomes tempting for missional Christians to give up our commitment to truth. This would be a giant mistake, though I can understand the temptation.
The great challenge for the church is to distinguish between the wine and the wineskins. We need to be always open to new forms and expressions of faith. But the faith must be the same classic, genuine, truth-filled faith that Christians have held for centuries. Finding the right combination of new and old is not easy, but it’s essential if the church is going to be the church, the authentic church, in today’s world.
What can help people, Christians and otherwise, be open to disciplines, routines, and absolute truths? I don’t think telling people they should be so open will do much good. What is needed is the living demonstration by individuals and churches of how disciplines, routines, and absolute truths can change lives, and communities, and societies.
I expect Barna’s research is on target in many ways. But I’ve found that many Christians, even and especially those of the younger generations, are much more open to disciplines and routines than Barna suggests. They do seem to stumble when it comes to absolute truths, at least some of the time. I think some of their hesitation has less to do with the truths and more with the way they are presented. A humble, authentic statement of absolute truth is much more palatable than a bombastic, arrogant one. Sadly, many Christians seem to act as if a commitment to absolute truth gives them a license to be obnoxious.
Tomorrow I’ll highlight and comment on the other of Barna’s two “mega-themes.”
Many thanks to George Barna and his people for making this information readily available. They have lots more fascinating material on their website, as well as links to items for sale. Check it out!

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