Sociological Data and Biblical Manhood: Insight Into the Issue or a Pathway to Problems?
During the fall of 2007, the book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman was hot off the press. I can still remember my peers telling me that they couldn’t wait to read it. As an employee at the Biola bookstore (what memories!), I figured I might as well give it a once over to see what it had to offer. I read one chapter. Hated it. While it is certainly not fair for me to critique the entirety of what Kinnaman had to say since any honest reviewer ought to read the whole book, I do want to challenge the general idea behind such writing. Since Kinnaman is the president at The Barna Group, the perspective from which he writes is not exclusive to his book. Indeed his, along with George Barna’s, “sociological” analysis of the church has inundated an entire generation with ideas that are informed from a deluge of statistical data.
Some are probably wondering where the biblical manhood series has gone that I have been posting on for the past couple of weeks. It is still here. This is part three. But why an intro that focuses on statistical data and analysis? Some have asked me to perform a sociological analysis of men in the church to see if my points against the biblical manhood movement actually bear up against reality. This is my attempt to do that but not in the way that most would think. In this post I want to argue that the statistical data, when understood against solid theological underpinnings becomes utter drivel.
In last week’s post, I gave an assortment of theological reasons as to why I didn’t think regenerate men were as bad as the biblical manhood movement was making them out to be, as their writings frequently transpose symptoms of unbelieving men directly on to believing men. It was crucial for me to lay out the theological arguments first because in a way, the field of theology directly informs good sociology. Without the right theological foundations, sociological conclusions turn into nothing more than a house of cards.
Data about men in the church certainly exists. However it is, believe it or not, fairly sparse. This is why it is so curious when Mark Driscoll states in an interview with Relevant Magazine that, “Perhaps to some degree it is young women as well, but we’re finding more women are getting better grades, more women are graduating high school, more women are graduating college, more women are buying homes, more women are doing things that are more adult and responsible.” The reality is that, at least to my knowledge, Driscoll is not pulling from data about Christians when he says that more women are graduating high school, more women are getting better grades, etc. This may in fact be the case anecdotally but let’s be clear about one thing up front, it is not known from any sort of statistical data. Like I have said from the outset, there may be data like this for the general population but the data can’t be found for true believers. Again, who is the movement talking about? Believers or the world?
Of the data that does exist in the church, it is generally unhelpful in deducing anything meaningful about men in the church. David Murrow, the founder of www.churchformen.com has a whole host of facts about men in the church. Among the data he cites are the following:
- The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.
- Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
- More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.
- Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man.
Even Barna’s recent study entitled State of the Church Series, 2011 states general things about men’s church attendance but nothing concrete about the behavior of the men who are there. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that this data is used to figure out something about men and the church. If you recall, I argued that theology is of utmost importance when understanding data like this. And if we use a basic framework of conversion that I argued for last week, we would simply have to conclude that the reason that there is 39% male and 61% females in church is because there are more born again women then there are men. It has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of manliness in Christian men that needs to be corrected. If someone claims to be a Christian and does not show up to church, can anyone take such a claim seriously? One thing is for sure, the New Testament writers would never have considered such a thing (again, see my previous post for arguments). And herein lies the whole problem. The sociological data is skewed toward definitions of what a Christian is that cannot be backed with a single shred of biblical evidence. Thus, the sociological data provides no worthwhile insight into this situation and many others like it. If the meaning of “Christian,” is distorted from the outset, of what value can the conclusions possibly be? Answer: None.
Point three of the above data also goes to illustrate the exact thing that I am pointing out. The data says that the average man accepts the reality of Christ but fails to see value in church attendance. Not to beat a dead horse but if this is the case, then those men who see no value in church attendance have not believed in Christ on His terms. And thus it is safe to conclude that they are in no way united to Christ in a salvific sense. All I am trying to say is that, effectively, there is no data points on the nature of men who are actually believers.
Further, all sociological data that claims to be about men in the church or men and the church is unable to adequately grasp the situation because at its core, polling is not pastoral in nature. It takes a shepherd to truly grasp the nature of what is going on in an individual man’s heart. But polling does not have time for that. It needs data and it needs it now. The whole idea of using sociological data to determine the state of men in the church will never work because the very nature of collecting the data is diametrically opposed to a true diagnosis of the human heart. And it is this diagnosis that is required to rightly categorize an individual into the categories of “likely regenerate,” or “likely unregenerate.”
The definitional dislocation in the sociological data causes a seismic shift in categories which can lead to devastating consequences. While I want to discuss some of the specific applicational consequences in next week’s post, I want to take a bit of a brief detour and note two consequences this can have for the overall church.
The first consequence is that when using data like this about men and the church, it can often lead to a faithless methodological pragmatism that is very cloak and dagger. There is currently a large push to get men back in church and for many, this means making the church more “manly.” I’m not saying this shouldn’t happen but I am saying that it shouldn’t happen in order to draw more men into the church. It should happen because God does uphold very manly characteristics such as bravery, courage, leadership, etc. But there is a fine line between doing something to bring men back to the church and doing it because it is Truth. In one sense, the first approach is nothing more than a practical outworking of what so many in the church decried about their seeker-sensitive counterparts. It is a fundamental change to how we “do church” in order to draw in a particular group or demographic. It is not done out of a commitment to truth but some bizarre idea that we need to change the church so that we get men back in it. Wrong. We need to preach God’s view of manhood in all its glory because it is his Truth. And this in reality is the only thing that will stand out to men in a world now drowning in gender confusion. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a desire to reach men and creating a ministry to do so. But when the church begins to deliberately craft itself into a manlier image in order to draw more men, it becomes an entirely different beast. A subtle line has been crossed.
The second consequence that naturally results is a very, once more, subtle, slip into moralism. The stakes for the gospel could not be any higher when the problem of moralism is in view. How does moralism creep into the picture? It does so by forging the idea that somehow we need to get all those men who aren’t in church back in church. They are leaving and we want them to stay in the church. But if we believe that conversion results in some sort of a life lived to God, then what difference does it make if men leave the church in mass exodus? All this tells us is that, “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19). And further, what is the use of trying to retain the unregenerate? We don’t need men who aren’t believers to stay in the church. What the church needs is a massive working of God not seen since the days of George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards to sweep over our communities and regenerate the hearts of men so that they may come into the church’s communion as believers. The statistic above that 70% of boys will abandon the church in their teens and mid twenties tells us we have a serious spiritual problem of eternal consequence in that these boys who are leaving were never believers in the first place. So the issue is not with getting them back into the church but reaching them with the gospel. And if God so pleases to save a number of men through his gospel then may his church be blessed by an influx of Godly men. But if God in his sovereignty chooses not to do a work in the hearts of American men, though we faithfully proclaim the gospel message, then so be it. I would also argue that those who want to change the church so these men will stay ultimately have a theological problem. They have a theological problem when it comes to rightly understanding conversion. Or if they do understand it rightly, they have failed to think through its practical implications.
Now that we have considered the problems with the sociological data and men in the church, we can turn toward the very practical problems that arise in the biblical manhood movement. In the coming post I hope to show why the conflating of regenerate men and unregenerate men can have a very heart breaking effect when it comes to young men thinking through biblical manhood. I hope you will joint me next week as this will very much be where the rubber meets the road!