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Grand Rapids, Mich., May 7, 2013. Television shows make light of it, and studies of attitudes toward religion in today’s culture have acknowledged it for years, but a new study done by the Barna Group in cooperation with pastor and author John Burke proves the disparity Christians have long felt: 51 percent of those who report being Christian say they have attitudes and actions more consistent with the Pharisees than with Christ. For the purposes of the study, the term Pharisee refers back to the Jewish leaders spoken of in the New Testament whom Christ criticized for their self-righteous beliefs and behaviors. Another 35 percent say they struggle with having either a Christlike attitude but hypocritical actions (21 percent) or a hypocritical attitude, but being Christlike in action (14 percent). Only 14 percent identified themselves as being Christlike in both dimensions consistently. Meeting nine key criteria to qualify as an Evangelical Christian significantly raises the percentages in Christlike attitudes and actions (23 percent) and lowers the numbers reporting Pharisaical attitudes and actions (38 percent).

“What the study makes painfully clear is that Christians are aware that they are falling short of being consistent in following Christ here, but they struggle with how to live their beliefs out,” says Burke, the author of the new book Mud and the Masterpiece. “I think the work of this generation is to figure out how we who follow Christ can find better alignment between the heart of Christ and the way we treat the broken and hurting people he sends into our path each day.”

Burke is quick to point out, however, that focusing solely on the self-righteous qualities of the Pharisees misses the heart of what motivated those leaders and what often motivates Christians today. “The Pharisees were not all bad. When we see them through such polarizing glasses, we set ourselves up to be blind to the same tendencies that deceived many well-intentioned religious people in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were actually reformers—that’s why Jesus’ harsh confrontation of them shocked so many,” says Burke. But sadly, “They were Missional on the wrong mission,” he emphasizes.

Of those in the study who met the nine different criteria for Evangelical Christians, there were some notable breakdowns by age. Elders, age 67 and older, showed up as less likely to be Christlike in attitudes and actions as well as less likely to have Pharisaical attitudes and Christlike actions, both at 6 percent. Mosaics, ages 18 to 28, on the other hand, reported as more likely to have Pharisaical attitudes and Christlike actions (23 percent).  Other correlations with age showed up in the category of Pharisaical in both attitudes and actions with Elders at 66 percent and Mosaics at 36 percent.

Research also showed significant correlations between Pharisaical attitudes and actions and qualities like household income, political ideology, education levels, gender and employment status.

John Burke is the author of No Perfect People Allowed and Soul Revolution and the founder with his wife, Kathy, of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas. Since 1998, Gateway has grown to over 4,500 members, made up mostly of unchurched people who began actively following Christ at Gateway. Burke is also the President of Emerging Leadership Initiative (ELI), a non-profit organization, working to help church planting pastors and ordinary Christians "raise the church out of the culture." Burke has spoken in fifteen countries to over 200,000 church leaders and Christians about reaching a postmodern, post-Christian culture. He and Kathy have been married twenty-one years and currently reside in Austin, Texas with their two teenagers Ashley and Justin.

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