Are Christians More Like Jesus or the Pharisees?

Evangelicals and others.

Looking at America’s evangelical community—a group defined by Barna Group based on its theological beliefs and commitments, not self-identification with the terms “evangelical”—38 percent qualify as neither Christ-like in action nor attitude, according to their responses to these 20 questions. 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).

Evangelicals are notably distinct from the norms in two ways: First, they were slightly more likely than other Christians to be Christ-like in action and attitude. However, among those in the “middle ground,” with so-called jumbled actions and attitudes, evangelicals are the only faith group more likely to be Pharisaical in attitude but Christ-like in action.

Kinnaman explains: “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.”

The research shows that nonevangelical born again Christians and notional Christians were not much different from one another and not too distinct from national norms among all Christians.

Practicing Catholics were more likely than average to have Christ-like beliefs, but to demonstrate Pharisaical tendencies (i.e., they were 10 points above the average in terms of being Christ-like in attitude but Pharisaical in action).


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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.