Bags of Bran


Stepping well outside my discipline for a moment
October 30, 2014, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Destined to get me in trouble

I recently discovered the confluence of two disturbingly erratic streams of thought among evangelicals. It got me thinking about a trend among evangelicals.

On the one hand, there is David Barton, the manuscript-gatherer, who, among other historical transgressions, repeatedly and ill-advisedly tries to make Thomas Jefferson into a Bible-believing Christian. His books have often and thoroughly been refuted by those knowledgeable in American history, and one has even been pulled from publication by the always-tolerant Thomas Nelson publishers. Yet Barton continues to have considerable traction among those whose commitment to Americana exists primarily at the level of sentiment.

On the other hand, there is George Barna, the data-cruncher, whose commitment to the Christian faith seems to exist at the level of the turnstile. I don’t think it is exceptionally difficult to decipher why Barna is beloved on the leftward margins of evangelicalism, as well as those whose discernment is not trained: numbers don’t lie, right? Honestly, I am not sure what exactly motivates this man, although I would vouchsafe that he is perfectly content to have “more and more people converted to less and less Christianity.” It seems he wants to audition as numerology prophet for the Jesus of Thomas Kincade paintings and Max Lucado books.

Well, these two streams have converged. Bad history, meet bad anthropology. There ought to be money in that, I suppose. Barton’s Americana Pipe Dreams, meet Barna’s lust for a politically-significant quasi-orthodox Christianity. Pretty soon we’ll be reading that Thomas Jefferson was Purpose-Driven, that Benjamin Franklin was converted at a Billy Graham crusade, and that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the prototype of the awesome youth pastor.

Well, that last one is a different book; but I juxtapose them purposefully. Why are evangelicals so militant to evangelicalize the past? I find that there is a dreadful odor of fish wafting from the evangelical telling of history, and it is only noticeable when you’ve stepped away for some time and come back.

Why is this important? Remember the line from Orwell’s 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

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3 Comments so far
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I have always been skeptical of the “data” from the Barna group. Could you recommend some sources of “good anthropology”?

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Comment by Lotus

The folks at LifeWay do a better job. They have historically been much more honest about their findings, even when those findings are ugly for the SBC. The recent joint survey that LifeWay did with Ligonier is an example of this candid approach.

That being said, I think that the best position to take on the bookkeeper’s perspective on the health of the church is a vibrant skepticism. Even when statistical work is done in good faith it tends to skew reality.

Spurgeon warned us not to count unhatched chickens, by which he meant that tallying professing Christians who were not yet glorified would prove to have been a fools game in that great Day.

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Comment by christopheram

Thanks, I will look in the Lifeway study.

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Comment by Lotus




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