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Are Christians More Like Jesus or the Pharisees?

About the research.

The OmniPollSM included 1,008 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 in each of the 50 United States. The interviews included 300 interviews conducted by cell phone, to help ensure representativeness of cell-only households. Of those surveyed, 718 self-identified as Christians and were included in this study. The survey was conducted from November 11, 2012 through November 18, 2012. The sampling error for self-identified Christians is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, at the 95 percent confidence level.

Based upon U.S. Census data sources, regional and ethnic quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of adults interviewed reflected the distribution of adults nationwide and adequately represented the three primary ethnic groups within the U.S. (those groups which comprise at least 10 percent of the population: white, black and Hispanic).

To assess the results to 20 different questions, a numeric value was assigned to each response option and the results were tallied. A perfect score was 30 points on the action questions and 30 points on the attitude questions. The equal and opposite result represents Pharisaical actions and attitudes.

Furthermore, respondents were penalized if they agreed with multiple Pharisaical statements. If they did embrace these self-oriented perspectives, their score was downgraded. This was done because, in many cases, people often got the “right” answer to Christ-like questions, but also harbored some self-righteousness in action or attitude. For example, depending upon one’s total aggregate score, agreeing with two or more Pharisaical actions could remove a respondent from being categorized as having Christ-like actions; instead, he or she would be categorized as having Pharisaical actions.

The research was commissioned by Baker Books and John Burke, author of a new book, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing yourself and others through the eyes of Jesus. More about the book can be found here.


People are identified as having a practicing faith if they have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life.

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described below) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Non-evangelical born again Christians” is defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. These adults are born again, but do not meet the additional evangelical criteria.

“Notional” Christians are individuals who identify themselves as Christian yet do not meet the criteria for being “born again.”

Generations: Mosaics/Millennials are a generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters, born between 1965 and 1983; Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; and Elders were born in 1945 or earlier.

About Barna Group.

Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, nonpartisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

If you would like to receive free email notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.  

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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.