Review of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, by Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 249 pages, pbk
I am not one to read many books written by sociologists. The occasional work by Os Guinness and the obligatory few by Peter Berger are about it. I recall breezing through one of Barna’s books about ten years back. Quite honestly, though such reading has been profitable, I have come away wondering just how much I could trust the work I had just read.
So when a friend gave me Bradley Wright’s book to read, I wondered whether I would ever get around to it. Well, a gap in my schedule opened up and I cracked it open. And I have to say, I’m glad I did. I found the book at once diverting, encouraging and informative. Wright writes about statistics, but it’s not a big yawn. There are a few good reasons for this. Firstly, the author has a sense of humor. This winsomeness is enhanced with many examples of self-deprecation, such as the inclusion of an 80’s photograph of himself with the comment: “There I am on the right, with a scowl, longish hair, and a disco-print shirt. Now look closely at that picture – do you think the adults of that generation had any faith in the future based on teens like us?” (59-60).
The book is an agreeable conversation all the way through. Yet it is more than that. It is also a serious bit of scholarship by an expert in the field based upon the best sources. No wonder it carries some impressive endorsements by Rodney Stark, Philip Jenkins and others. Wright tells his readers something about good and bad statistics, and lets them know where he’s getting his information from. He has some words of criticism for popular pollsters and certain Christian writers who paint a dreary outlook for evangelical Christianity based on less than stellar research. His own research gives the lie to many of the common myths about Christian declension that have been doing the rounds. He writes,
Essentially, people who associate themselves with Christianity, as compared to the religiously unaffiliated, are more likely to have faithful marriages, commit less crime, interact honestly with others, and get into as much trouble with drugs or alcohol. What’s more, the more committed Christians are to their faith, as measured by church attendance, the greater the impact the church’s teachings seem to have on their lives. (152).
The chapters in the book address topics of interest and importance to believers. They bear such titles as, “Is American Christianity on the Brink of Extinction?”; “Are Evangelicals All Poor, Uneducated, Southern Whites?”; and “What Do Non-Christians Think of Us?” These questions are answered with historical and demographic data, which make it extremely helpful for pastors. Add to this the fact that Wright sees no good reason, if his statistics mean anything, to sound the death-knell of evangelicalism, and the book may be a bit of a tonic for those in ministry who are feeling increasingly embattled by the onset of secularism and relativism. The news is not as grim as we have been told.
Another commendable thing about this author is that he doesn’t go in for extrapolation. He just repeats his findings. But on the whole he believes the church is not doing too badly at all. Indeed, even when it comes to the worrying question about the youth in the church, Wright gives evangelicalism a B- and not an F.
An interesting factoid which emerged from Wright’s research is that the name “Evangelical” conjures up more negative vibe among unbelievers than, say, the word “Baptist.” I’m not sure what one would do with a fact like that, but it might give some Christians pause if they are thinking of following the trend of taking the word “Baptist” out of their church name.
I shall not report on the author’s specific findings because I want you to buy the book and read it for yourself. Perhaps it will encourage you as it did me. I only wish I had picked the book up before giving some talks recently in which I dispensed some of the bad news about the demise of the church in America and the defection of our young people from their Christian upbringings! We live and learn.
What he does confirm is that the most likely place to come across intolerance and animus against evangelical Christianity is among college and university faculty. No surprise there, but it’s nice to have the feeling confirmed by the evidence.
This book will not stop me from bewailing the state of our churches and its shepherds: social science does not present us with the whole picture. And Wright himself does not say that the picture is very rosy in some important areas such as our tolerance of others, and the issue of race. But at least I shall not feel as free to “prove” the general declension via poorly gathered research. And I take comfort in Wright’s reportage of an evangelicalism that is not quite the imploding phenomenon I have been believing it was!