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Hi and welcome back! Recently, we looked at a pair of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ who were complaining about all the Christians who just refuse to Jesus correctly. In their post, these guys mentioned a few recent bits of Christian research that they felt bolstered their claims. However, every one of their sources suffers from a big problem. Today, I’ll show you what these studies are, and why they impressed these two Christians so much.

the puzzle of research
(Hans-Peter Gauster.)

Three Studies, One Problem.

Our two TRUE CHRISTIANS™, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris, complained about “Build-A-Bear Christianity.” They felt that way too many Christians these days pick and choose the doctrines and practices of their shared religion. And that is simply not acceptable to King Them. Nor is the ongoing decline of Christianity in general and TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ in particular.

They offered up three pieces of research from purely-fundagelical sources to make the point that with every passing day, Americans drift further and further away from TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.

Our two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are mighty impressed with these studies.

They never even start to begin to consider that maybe, just maybe all of these studies happened for a reason — and that reason isn’t the pursuit and dissemination of pure knowledge.

Arizona Christian University: A Rigorous Study.

The creator of that first study, Arizona Christian University (ACU), is a small, private, hard-right fundagelical institution. It enrolls fewer than 1000 students. It’s not a research institution, though it doesn’t look like the worst-of-the-worst indoctrination-stations of Christendom. Its student body seems fairly average in testing and must swear to be TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to be admitted. I didn’t notice any STEM fields on their list of most popular majors, unless you want to count psychology (as filtered through TRUE CHRISTIAN™ sensibilities, no doubt). I’m not sure how transferable their credits are to universities like Arizona State; they might be.

But recently, George Barna — YES, that guy AGAIN — helped them do their “American Worldview Inventory 2020.”

This survey’s questions are an absolute hoot. I’m not a statistician or pro-level researcher myself, but I bet any real research committee would throw these bozos out on their ears after two minutes’ review of their proposal. As just one example of how awful this study is, check out their “perspective” statements. The study researchers asked subjects if they agreed or disagreed with these statements:

Having faith matters more than which faith you have

You consciously and consistently try to avoid sinning because you know your sins break God’s heart

You have a personal responsibility, in appropriate situations, to share your religious beliefs with people who believe differently than you

A person who is generally good, or does enough good things for others, will earn a place in Heaven

You consider yourself to be a Christian; and when you die you will go to Heaven only because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior

“Your sins break God’s heart.” Oh, my sides! Poor widdle Jesus! Won’t anybody think of the Mad Blood God of the Desert before they seeeee-yinnnn?!?

Incidentally, the above “perspective” questions come from the subsection “Evangelistic Fervor is Missing.” I can’t stop laughing. This is just too funny. Yes, everyone, evangelicals still don’t like “personal evangelism.”

And yes, this is the super-rigorous study that so ruffled the drawers of Messrs. Stonestreet and Mason. Oh my.

What ACU Found, and Why.

ACU’s researchers asked a lot of questions relating to George Barna’s favorite phrase these days, biblical worldview. They discovered very few respondents holding it. Since Barna developed the definition for this phrase purely by describing his own personal beliefs, obviously the further people stand from his mindset the less likely they are to believe just like he does.

George Barna wrote the conclusion to the study. In his statement, he lamented that America was going to hell in a handbasket because TRUE CHRISTIANS™ were losing cultural dominance:

“That philosophy of life [ickie feel-good secularism] contradicts a fundamental basis of what may be the two most significant documents to the longevity and success of America – the Bible and the Constitution of the United States. Those documents agree that this nation will only be healthy and fruitful if it is populated by moral people,” Barna concluded.

Self-proclaimed TRUE CHRISTIANS™ aren’t actually moral at all. They’re the worst hypocrites of all Christians, and always have been. But their self-image runs completely counter to their reality, and always has. George Barna’s talking to the tribe’s self-image as the only moral people in the world: the rightful theocratic rulers of America’s incoming Republic of Gilead.

And the flocks don’t need to worry their li’l heads at all about this here decline! George Barna offers them this slim chance of recovery:

“We can only hope that our critical moral institutions – particularly the family and churches – will wake up and help the nation to get back on track.”

I bet all the culture warriors reading that sentence nodded grimly to themselves and maybe even said a little prayer to Jesus that the rest of the tribe would drill down extra-hard alongside them.

Ultimately, this study pushes the exact same recovery strategy most evangelical Dear Leaders are pushing these days: drill down harder on the culture wars, make more sales pitches, and super-duper-indoctrinate all the kids possible.

Ligonier’s “State of Theology.”

The Calvinist/Reformed group Ligonier Ministries sometimes fancies itself a legitimate research organization. As such, they sometimes dally with studies. One of their long-standing surveys is their “State of Theology” thing. In it, they question Christians to find out how many actually go in for their weird version of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. And every time they run this survey, they get to wring their widdle handsies all over again about the shrinking numbers of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in America.

Ligonier teamed up with LifeWay Research to do this 2020 survey. LifeWay is the faux-research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Both Ligonier and LifeWay exist in the first place to sell stuff to evangelicals that they don’t actually need. So surveys like these help them convince evangelicals of the dire need to buy their stuff.

To that end, we find the specific goal of this study laid out right at the top:

Every two years, we take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship.

“Equip the church” means sell products to Christians.

Interestingly, this study found almost the opposite of the ACU study: the number of Americans holding TRUE CHRISTIAN™ beliefs seems to be rising in some areas, while falling in others. Their conclusion: Gosh, Americans sure show “widespread confusion” about “the Bible’s teaching.” Obviously, then:

These results reveal an urgent need for clear biblical teaching on the person of Christ, the gospel of grace, and the way that the truth of God informs our ethical decisions in everyday life. There is much work to be done in this age of confusion, but we hope the findings of this survey will serve the church in its calling to reach more people with the faithful proclamation of God’s Word.

Translation: Drill down super-hard and buy our stuff. Or else.

And Now, Barna & World Vision’s “The Connected Generation.”

The third research thing that so impressed Stonestreet and Morris comes to us from Barna Group and World Vision. Called “The Connected Generation,” it seeks to help churches figure out how to sell their product (active membership) to today’s young adults.

We’ve talked before about Barna Group. George Barna started them (but isn’t their current leader). They’re a for-profit business that sells their research and analyses to panicky evangelical leaders. World Vision is a evangelical-leaning, worldwide Christian children’s charity. They got a lot of heat a few years ago for walking back a progressive, inclusive policy about letting gay married people work for them.

With World Vision’s help, Barna Group interviewed about 15k 18-35-year-olds across the world. In their writeup of the results, Barna displays their habitual tendency to downplay bad news and super-duper-up-play any hint of good news. As one example, check this out (from “Spiritual Openness”):

Unsurprisingly, more opposition appears among those who do not identify with a faith: Around half of these respondents view religion as bad for people or a detriment to society. Still, even among the irreligious, one-fifth regards religion as a positive thing.

WOOHOO! ONE-FIFTH! Time to celebrate! Y’all, 20% of nonreligious young adults don’t despise Christianity!

Also, according to their survey only 14% of Christian children turn into committed TRUE CHRISTIAN™ adults. But they insist that a child who is indoctrinated their way has a much better shot of being one of the 14%.

(Once again, I am just struck by how little this paper resembles any young adults I’ve ever encountered. Barna Group is selling a narrative of young adults here. And it’s a very popular one.)

It feels like these guys are telling evangelicals that to attract young adults and fully indoctrinate their kids, they’ll need to buy Barna Group’s rather-expensive books and indoctrination materials.

Missing the Point.

Well! These, then, are the studies that so rustled the jimmies of John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris.

I can see why. They were all completely designed from the ground up to impress the flocks with three central ideas:

  1. OMG y’all, we’re in such big trouble if we don’t get on the stick here!
  2. But there is hope for us!
  3. BUY OUR STUFF and FOLLOW OUR INSTRUCTIONS to get the tribe back to winning again!

And because our two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ here happen to members in good standing of the tribe, they fell for all three points.

In their pearl-clutching post (relink), they even tied these three studies into their idiotic anti-LGBT culture wars at one point (by putting asshole quotes around the word “marriage” in describing same-sex marriages). If anything, that third study reveals that young adults reject TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ in great part because of those culture wars, and if any of them want a religion at all, they want one that helps them to help others and make a positive difference in the world for everyone. And unfortunately, evangelical Christianity stands for the opposite of helping people and making a positive difference. Young adults today know that truth very well.

However, these two numnuts missed all of that — just like the studies’ creators did.

Drill Down Harder.

Indeed, the two writers’ takeaway from all three studies was this:

TRUE CHRISTIANS™ need to drill down even harder on exactly the points that have cost their religion millions of adherents and untold levels of credibility.

Also, they need to super-duper-indoctrinate all the children they can. (Hey, Jesus sure can’t convert someone out of the clear blue sky.)

Also also, somehow their particular style of Jesus-ing will totally prevail over all other styles of Jesus-ing because it’s the only correct style of Jesus-ing.  And through this ultra-correct Jesus-ing, the tribe will win through its decline.

And I reply:

Sure, Jan.

Christians’ single-minded obsession with temporal power has never had anything to do with anything. But never mind that.

Nope! TRUE CHRISTIANS™ mustn’t ever let up with the culture wars, nor with their dominance-seeking. Never!

Why TRUE CHRISTIANS™ Love Christian Faux-Research.

It’s just so comical. These two just lack all ability to objectively view any of this research. They never even wonder why so many big-name Christian retailers indulge in research at all.

It sure ain’t because these Christian researchers just ache for pure knowledge.

Thus, the flocks have no idea that George Barna/Barna Group, Ligonier, and LifeWay are all in the business of selling stuff to authoritarian TRUE CHRISTIANS™ just like them. Indeed, it only benefits Christian hucksters when authoritarian sheep like Stonestreet and Morris feel like the embattled, beleaguered remnant fighting the forces of Satan himself for the endangered souls of Gen-Z Americans.

Indeed, that’s exactly the result these hucksters got with these two. They close their opinion post thusly:

And to close, let me say this: We shouldn’t worry whether what the author of Hebrews calls “the first principles of God’s Word,” can survive the scrutiny, doubt, and disdain of the modern world. Christian truth will most certainly survive. It’s survived until now, and it will survive, because, after all, it’s True.

They all but call themselves the “Remnant” here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn they call themselves “Spiritual Warriors” or some other suitably warlike, martial thing.

Nor does it surprise me that these two glommed onto these studies like they did. All three studies told them exactly what evangelicals always ache to hear: you’re right, everyone else is wrong; stay the course; drill down harder; do what we say, and everything will be fine.

It’s an absolutely irresponsible message to send. But hey. If the tribe ever wises up, by that time these three groups will be long gone with their money.

NEXT UP: Lord Snow will be presiding over the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ culture war against rock music during the Satanic Panic. Then, later: No, nobody’s actually “confused.” See you tomorrow! <3

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...