Are Christians More Like Jesus or the Pharisees?

The 10 statements used to assess self-righteousness (like the Pharisees), included the following research items:

Self-righteous actions:

  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.

Self-righteous attitudes:

  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.

How Christ-like are Christians?

Using these 20 questions as the basis of analysis, the researchers created an aggregate score for each individual and placed those results into one of four categories, or quadrants. (Further definition of the way these findings were analyzed is found later in this article.) The four categories include:

  • Christ-like in action and attitude
  • Christ-like in action, but not in attitude
  • Christ-like in attitude, but not action
  • Christ-like in neither

The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51 percent). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.

On the other end of the spectrum, 14 percent of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.

In the middle are those who have some mix of action and attitude. About one-fifth of Christians are Christ-like in attitude, but often represent Pharisaical actions (21 percent). Another 14 percent of respondents tend to be defined as Christ-like in action, but seem to be motivated by self-righteous or hypocritical attitudes.


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Barna Group is a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California. Started in 1984, the firm is widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. Barna Group's work is relied upon by media, churches and educational institutions for insight into matters of faith and contemporary society. Its public opinion research is frequently quoted in major media outlets, such as USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, and The Los Angeles Times.