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Are Christians More Like Jesus or the Pharisees?

Who exhibits Christ-likeness?

Despite their shortcomings in the study, evangelical Christians are the most likely Christian segment to be categorized as having both the Christ-like actions and attitudes (23 percent) identified by Barna researchers.

Interestingly, a similar proportion (22 percent) of Christians who have a more liberal political ideology claimed both Christ-like attitudes and actions. Non-mainline Protestants with a practicing faith are also more likely than average to be in this top category (19 percent), as are women (18 percent) and college graduates (18 percent).

Some population segments that are statistically less likely to have both Christ-like actions and attitudes are Elders, ages 67 or older (6 percent), Hispanics (6 percent), Christians with a conservative political ideology (8 percent) and men (9 percent).

What the findings mean.

Kinnaman has spent more than five years presenting to Christian leaders about the perceptions of Christians, based upon his bestselling book unChristian.

“In the research for that book project, our team discovered that 84 percent of young non-Christians say they know a Christian personally, yet only 15 percent say the lifestyles of those believers are noticeably different in a good way. This new study helps to explain that gap. It is not surprising that believers miss the mark in terms of representing Jesus, because transformation in Christ is so difficult and so rare. In particular, evangelicals seem to know the right way to behave, but they often admit to harboring sanctimonious motives.

“Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns. Perhaps pastors and teachers might take another look at how and what they communicate. Do people somehow get the message that the ‘right action’ is more important than the ‘right attitude’? Do church leaders have a tendency to focus more on tangible results, like actions, because those are easier to see and measure than attitudes?

“Finally, the question of authentic faith is a particularly sore topic for many Millennials who are often leaving church due in large part to the hypocrisy they experience. Again, no research is a perfect measure, but this study points out a sobering possibility: that the perception so many young people have of Christians contains more than a kernel of truth. Just as the New Testament writer Paul demonstrates in Galatians 2:11-16, the responsibility of the Christian community is to challenge hypocrisy just as boldly as other kinds of sin.“

Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup

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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.