I am a white, male, middle class, East Coast, Southern, formally educated, married, American, baby boomer, Baptist Christian. This does not make me better than anyone. It does, however, mean I view the world from a different perspective than people who are African-American, female, Hispanic, adolescent or non-Christian. Every person has a host of experiences that provides them a unique perspective on life.
This understanding of the world or set of values and norms is called a worldview. Our worldview, though we rarely pause to summarize or ponder it, guides our attitudes and behavior in profound ways.
We are not born or born again with a Christian, or a biblical, worldview. These come from the nurture we receive from parents, Sunday school teachers, pastors and our practices of Christian disciplines such as worship, Bible study, prayer and ministry.
Your worldview is important, and the task of forming a Christian worldview distinct from the popular culture is a challenge for 21st-century followers of Jesus.
So I took notice when a new poll by George Barna showed that only 51 percent of our nation’s pastors hold a biblical worldview.
The most recent Barna Poll, a Christian’s counterpart to the famous Gallup Poll, reports that the highest percentage of pastors holding a biblical worldview are Southern Baptists (71 percent), while only 28 percent of pastors from mainline denominations hold a biblical worldview.
Some talking heads are using Barna’s recent poll as Exhibit A to argue that many pastors–the Christian leaders most responsible for nurturing a biblical worldview–do not have one. “George Barna has discovered a critical issue in the American church today–many senior pastors do not hold to the basic tenets of historic Christianity,” concluded Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
The recent poll, however, has several problems.
First, Barna’s list of what is contained in a biblical worldview is flawed. For the purposes of his organization’s survey, Barna said a pastor had a biblical worldview if he or she embraced the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone and a personal responsibility to evangelize.
This list seems less about the essential truths of Scripture and more about ecclesiastical and theological issues of importance to evangelical Christians in the last century. Debates among American Christians, including controversies over biblical authority, open theism, Calvinism and evangelism, account for most of Barna’s minimal requirements for a biblical worldview.
Look at what is left out. God’s essential attributes are power and knowledge, but not God’s love. And what about the resurrection? One would think a living Lord would be at least as important as a living Satan.
A shrunken doctrine of God is matched by Barna’s almost non-existent list of biblical behaviors. There is no mention of the gospel’s demand that believers put off some actions and attitudes while we put on others. Personal evangelism is required, but not justice toward those Jesus called “the least of these.”
Second, Barna is concerned that pastors possess a biblical worldview when he should be more concerned about a Christian worldview. The latter embraces the former. It views the world through the eyes of Jesus.
A Christian worldview acknowledges Scripture as one of the means by which God is continually being revealed to the world. But it also recognizes that God is revealed in other ways. It recognizes that God’s activity is more important than God’s attributes; that God is creator, redeemer and sustainer. It understands that human beings, though created in God’s likeness, are sinners. It values the unseen as well as the seen. A Christian worldview emphasizes God’s kingdom, not just a church or denomination. It cares not only that we believe right, but that we behave like God’s own. It accepts the law, but it relishes grace.
Finally, Barna’s attempt to measure a biblical worldview leads the church down the blind alley of judgment. The results of the poll are likely to be used by opportunistic laity and denominational leaders to stalk and single out the 29 percent of Southern Baptist pastors who did not agree with Barna’s narrow definition of a biblical worldview. Attempts to measure a biblical worldview by statistical means are always arbitrary.
One of the reasons Baptists have a clergy shortage is because we allow an atmosphere of suspicion to exist unchecked. Rarely are simplistic measures of doctrinal orthodoxy fair or reliable measures of personal holiness or pastoral fitness.
The issue of worldview is important. This attempt to analyze it, unfortunately, is flawed.
Michael Clingenpeel is editor and business manager of the Religious Herald.