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Are Christians Really Hypocrites? Barna Researchers Examine Actions, Attitudes

Barna survey suggests that overcoming self-righteous tendencies is difficult for Christians–regardless of denomination or demographics. (Infographic)
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A new report from Barna Group indicates that most of today's Christians are more like the Pharisees than Jesus.

Barna surveyed 718 self-identified Christians from a variety of denominations to find what extent their actions and attitudes line up with Jesus's. Researchers found only 1 in 7 Christians manages to hold Christ-like beliefs and also act in Christ-like ways. Yet, 1 in 2 Christians tends "to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness." (See the full infographic at the bottom of this post.)

"This research may help to explain how evangelicals are often targeted for claims of hypocrisy; the unique ‘sin' of evangelicals tends to be doing the ‘right' thing but with improper motives," says Barna Group president David Kinnaman.

However, it's important to note that "Pharisaical" does not necessarily mean "hypocritical." In a recent blog post, Scot McKnight cautions against misusing the term "Pharisee," which should be used "only for those who through the abuse of their teaching authority are leading people astray."

"Jesus accuses the Pharisees for 'hypocrisy' because they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, not living according to what they taught, and for the desire for power," McKnight says. "To be 'hypocrite' is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to 'contradiction between appearance and reality.'"

That's what the Barna survey appears to measure. Barna used a four-quadrant graph to analyze how well participants agreed with 20 statements that represented "Jesus-like" or "Pharisee-like" actions.

Self-identified evangelicals fared better than their non-evangelical, born-again counterparts, but not by much: "About one-quarter (23 percent) of evangelicals are characterized by having Jesus-like actions and attitudes, which was higher than the norm. About half were a mixture of Christ-like actions and Pharisaical attitudes (25 percent) or vice versa (15 percent)."

(Courtesy of Barna Group)

January/February
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