I was rereading some of Michael Horton's Christless Christianity the other day and I ran across this passage where Horton talks about some of George Barna's research on the current state of the church and Christians and what they believe. It was interesting to me and the implications are pretty huge. I will reprint it here, but know that this is Horton quoting and interacting with Barna. Until I pick up again at the end, this is not mine.
It comes from pages 30-32.
Based on numerous studies conducted by his research group, George Barna concludes, "To increasing millions of Americans, God – if we even believe in a supernatural deity – exists for the pleasure of humankind. He resides in the heavenly realm solely for our utility and benefit. Although we are too clever to voice it, we live by the notion that true power is accessed not by looking upward but by turning inward."
Unless something changes, Barna thinks,
It will be every man for himself, with no second thoughts or regrets about the personal or societal implications of this incredibly selfish, nihilistic, narcissistic way of life . . .
Most Americans have at least an intellectual assent when it comes to God, Jesus Christ, and angels. They believe that the Bible is a good book filled with important stories and lessons. And they believe that religion is very important in their lives. But this same group of people, including many professing Christians, also believe that people are inherently good; that our primary purpose is to enjoy life as much as possible.
Eighty-two percent of Americans (and a majority of evangelicals) believe that Benjamin Franklin's aphorism, "God helps those who help themselves," is a biblical quotation. A majority believe that "all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being" and that "if a person is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven." It should not surprise us, then, when President Bush says, "I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe."
After citing a series of reports, Barna concludes,
In short, the spirituality of America is Christian in name only . . . We desire experience more than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths. We seek comfort rather than growth. Faith must come on our terms or we reject it. We have enthroned ourselves as the final arbiters of righteousness, the ultimate rulers of our own experience and destiny. We are the Pharisees of the new millennium.
… Barna's studies suggest that most Americans value time and efficiency over everything else, minimizing long-term commitments, maintaining "independence and individuality at all costs," even to the point of being skeptical of institutions, people, and authorities. After all, people are being told every day, "You are unique" and you shouldn't submit to the expectations of others. Above all, "Trust your feelings to guide you. Relying upon absolute principles places unrealistic limitations on you. Only you know what's right or best for you at any given moment, in those circumstances." Finally, "Set goals and achieve them . . . Have fun . . . Stay in good health . . . . Discover and revel in the purpose of your life." These are the principal values according to Barna's survey of American adults today…
…The challenge before us as Christian witnesses is whether we will offer Jesus Christ as the key to fulfilling our narcissistic preoccupation or as the Redeemer who liberates us from its guilt and power. Does Christ come to boost our ego or to crucify our ego and raise us up as new creatures withour identity in Him? According to the Apostle Paul, there is a glory awaiting us, to be sure, but it is the glory that comes to us by virtue of our being in Christ: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him n glory" (Col. 3:3-4). Our righteousness before a holy God is not inheient; it is a gift to those who are in themselves unrighteous."
Me again: So, the question is, "Are we trying to find self-fulfillment, or fulfillment in God alone?" Reading the above, I can hear the hiss of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden as he tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He questioned what God really said. He questioned God's goodness. He told them that God was holding something out on them, that He didn't want them to be like Him (even though God had made them in His likeness). So, He tempted Eve to grasp for life outside of what God had provided – to grasp for what she could get for herself. Adam went right along with her. The result was shame and blame and running from God and trying to cover ourselves with fig leaves, which are just the ways that we try to improve ourselves and cover our shame on our own. Spiritual and physical death resulted and Adam and Eve were banished from God's presence. But, God covered them with the skin of animals, which required the shedding of blood, foreshadowing that the only way that we could be covered is through the sacrfice of Christ on our behalf – only God could heal us (see Genesis 3).
Since then, we have set out on a quest for self-fulfillment and personal improvement projects. We have even tried to use God (religion?) to have our best life now so that could gain more prosperity and self-esteem. But, all the while, the Cross of Christ stands on a lonely hill beckoning us to come to Him for life. We must die to self and embrace Christ and who He is and what He has done. He is our only hope – not gaining happiness for ourselves in this world.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Jesus alone makes this possible. We need Jesus.