New Study Suggests U.S. Christians Are More Like Pharisees Than Christ


A new Barna study examined the extent to which Christians in the U.S. display the actions and attitudes of Jesus as opposed to the actions and attitudes of Pharisees.

In a new study, the Barna Group examined the extent to which Christians in the U.S. display the actions and attitudes of Jesus as opposed to the actions and attitudes of Pharisees. Researchers developed 20 agree/disagree statements and presented them to more than 1,000 study participants to determine how closely they resembled Christ or the Pharisees.

Jesus-like actions included listening to others tell their story before witnessing, choosing to often spend time with non-Christians, and influencing multiple people to consider following Christ. Jesus-like attitudes included seeing God-given value in everyone and feeling compassion for those who do not know God. Pharisaical actions included telling people that God’s rules are paramount in their lives, avoiding spending time with homosexuals, and preferring to serve people who attend the church rather than those outside of it. Attitudes like the Pharisees included refusing to take responsibility for those who keep doing wrong, feeling grateful to be a Christian when observing others’ failures and flaws, and feeling it necessary to stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.

The survey found that 51 percent those surveyed qualified as tending toward self-righteousness rather than Christlikeness. Just 14 percent represented the attitudes and actions consistent with those of Christ. About one-fifth of Christians surveyed (21 percent) are Christlike in attitude but like Pharisees in action. Evangelical Christians were slightly more likely (23 percent) to be Christ-like in attitude and action, but were also likely to be Pharisaical in attitude but Christlike in behavior.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, commented on the creation of a “Christ-like” scale: “Our intent is to create some new discussion about the intangible aspects of following and representing Jesus. Obviously, survey research, by itself, cannot fully measure someone’s ‘Christ-likeness’ or ‘Pharisee-likeness.’ But the study is meant to identify baseline qualities of Jesus, like empathy, love, and a desire to share faith with others — or the resistance to such ideals in the form of self-focused hypocrisy. The statements are based on the biblical record given in the Gospels and in the Epistles and our team worked closely with a leading pastor, John Burke, to develop the survey questions.”

“Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness,” Kinnaman also said. “It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns. Perhaps pastors and teachers might take another look at how and what they communicate. Do people somehow get the message that the ‘right action’ is more important than the ‘right attitude’? Do church leaders have a tendency to focus more on tangible results, like actions, because those are easier to see and measure than attitudes?”

View two interesting infographics regarding this study at The Barna Group site.

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