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Taking Barna’s Survey as Gospel?

by Jay Gary, PhD, March 16, 2008

A new Barna Survey is out, which examines changes in worldview among Christians over the past 13 Years. The report compares present results to similar survey from 1995, 2000 and 2005. The results indicate that the percentage of adults with a biblical worldview has remained unchanged for more than a decade. It concludes: “The numbers show that 7% had such a worldview in 1995, compared to 10% in 2000, 11% in 2005, and 9% now. Even among born again adults, the statistics have remained flat: 18% in 1995, 22% in 2000, 21% in 2005, and 19% today.”

If nearly 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, and only if only 1 in 5 embrace a biblical worldview, what do these numbers mean? Next to nothing, perhaps.

I have no problems with Barna’s methodology. I question the construct validity of how Barna defines a “biblical worldview.” The construct is operationalized by these six points:

a. believing that absolute moral truth exists;
b. the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches;
c. Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic;
d. a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works;
e. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and
f. God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.

This is not a bad list, it is just an incomplete list. I confess these things. At the same time, this list only defines one’s worldview in ideological terms. Furthermore it is couched in foundational language, something that moderns, rather than postmoderns are more comfortable with. Barna Survey may be measuring a tendency for uncertainty adversion (Clampitt & Williams, 2005), a lifestyle trait valued by Baby Boomers, as much as he is measuring one’s worldview.

Ebertz (2006) criticizes the “worldview analysis model” that Barna employs and argues that this reductionist method is an unhelpful way to think about Christian faith and scholarship. Hiebert (2008) offers a better model of how a biblical worldview, marked by love, mercy and justice has cut across ancient peasant worldviews, but continues to have social circulation among modernity, postmodernity, and the emerging glocal context of twenty-first century ministry.

Barna’s survey should not be taken as gospel, when it only measures half a loaf. Barna maybe measuring fundamentalism in America (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 2004) and calling it a biblical worldview, but that is not the same as measuring faith at work (Streib, 2004).

References:

Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (2004). A revised Religious Fundamentalism scale: The short and sweet of it. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 14(1), 47-54.

Barna Survey, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years

Clampitt, P. G., & Williams, M. L. (2005, December). Managing organizational uncertainty: Conceptualization and measurement. Communication Research Reports, 22(4), 315-324.

Ebertz, R. P. (2006, Fall). Beyond worldview analysis: Insights from Hans-Georg Gadamer on Christian scholarship. Christian Scholar’s Review, 36(1).

Streib, H. (2004). Extending our vision of developmental growth and engaging in empirical scrutiny: Proposals for the future of Faith Development theory. Religious Education, 99(4), 427-434.

Hiebert, P. G. (2008). Transforming worldviews: An anthropological understanding of how people change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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