Recently, I saw a quote from George Barna, where he said “The United States is one of the largest mission fields in the world. If you took all the unsaved people in the U.S. and made them a nation of their own, it would be the fifth most populous nation on earth today.” To be honest, I didn’t care for it at first. But, a little reflection changed that. The statement contains truth , but I suspect Barna and I would disagree with what that truth is.
You may not know who George Barna is, but it’s quite possible he’s had some influence on you one way or another. That’s because he founded The Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm that focuses on American religious beliefs and behavior and the intersection of faith and culture. I’ve used their research a few times myself and, while it may be a bit prejudiced, it does provide a jumping-off place for some conversations. In other words, it’s not all bad.
A few sentences ago, I told you Barna and I would probably disagree about the truth of what he said. But, what is likely more vexing to some of you is that I think there’s any truth at all in Barna’s words. So, in the words of the inimitable Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain”. Barna’s use of the phrase of “unsaved people” has probably ruffled some feathers, as it implies that we need saving. The thing is, he’s right; we do need saving. If you don’t think so, you need to come down from your ivory tower and rub shoulders with the common folk
. We need saving because we live in one of the most prosperous countries on the planet, yet some us live in tents. We need saving because, in a place where there is more than enough food, people still go hungry. We need saving because one of our founding principles is the equality of everyone, yet we discriminate based on race, class, gender, etc. instead of living together as the Beloved Community. We need saving because violence,rather than harmony, is the order of the day and we’re okay with that.
I have some issues with what George said, though. Namely, the idea that only a fifth of us need to be saved and what that “saving” might entail. For Barna, I’m pretty sure it’s all about saying the sinner’s prayer and accepting Christ as your personal savior. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not enough. That’s because my salvation is inextricably entwined with yours. How can I be saved when my brothers and sisters are suffering?
But, Barna and I really part company over what we’re being saved from. For him, it’s about what happens after you die; for me, it’s about what happens while you’re alive. Because, the Gospel isn’t a get-out-jail-free card, it’s a lifeline to people who are drowning. And, one way or another, we’re all going under.