Barna: "less than 10 percent of pastors" willing to speak about controversial issues they believe the Bible addresses

"Many theologically conservative pastors agree the Bible speaks to key issues of the day, but research indicates only a handful of them say they will speak [about these issues]."

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Steve Newman's picture

There were a number of troubling issues highlighted by this article.

First of all, the article reveals their bias by calling sin issues "political issues". Pastors do need to clearly speak out against sin. These issues are a battle for the individual mind as much as the "political" mind. The battle for individual hearts and minds is what is being lost. However, we are in danger of going too far in our reaction against conservative political engagement to the point where we are avoiding subjects. That can be a legitimate issue.

Second, this quote:

"There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to [when asked that question about success]," he explained. "Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage.

That's really troubling. This attitude needs to be rid of, and the sooner the better! An excellent book to read on the subject is Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome bu R. Kent Hughes. Success is not measured in relationship to the church, but to the Lord!

Larry's picture


First of all, the article reveals their bias by calling sin issues "political issues".

What are these issues? I don't see where the article identifies the issues. Until we know what they are, how do we know if they are sin issues?

Bert Perry's picture

Agreed fully with Steve Newman on the success issue--no, spiritual success is not measured by the number of people in the pews, the size of the facility, or the amount of contributions.  Those are trailing indicators of whether real ministry is being done, and (see Mark Driscoll trolling thread) we need to be careful that we don't "raccoon" and go after bright shiny things of the world instead of ministering.

Larry also has a great point about what issues are to be addressed.  Are they sin issues, political issues, both, neither?  

One good point of reluctance to address "issues" is that we "fundagelicals" have often gone after the wrong issues.  Sometimes it's that it's more fun to point fingers at sins we're not committing (marijuana thread), sometimes it's where hyper-pietism has given way to a thinly veiled works theology.  So in a way, it can be a mercy to us if pastors really are concentrating on exegesis and training us to read the Scriptures for ourselves--that's what they're supposed to do most of the time.  It doesn't excuse pastors from addressing them Biblically, but if they have to choose one, I'd much rather have sound exegesis and less talk about issues than the opposite.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Here's an issue that should be taught:

  • Two Christians who are married divorce
  • Neither should remarry

I Cor 7:10-11, "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife."

I've seen to much of easy divorce ... and then remarriage sometimes in less that a year. From my own ministry experience just this year:

  • A woman who was but a teenager when I started in the vocational ministry. Married a Christian. Divorced. Just this year married again (she is now 48 or 49)
  • A man who was college-aged when I started in the vocational ministry. Less than a year ago divorced ... married again in the past month or two


Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I agree with you Jim, but you will find precious few pastors who agree that divorce = no remarriage.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Bert Perry's picture

Preach it, Jim!  And, for that matter, the first nine verses of that chapter--I have hunch that Chip is not right only about verses 10-11, but also about the first nine verses, sad to say.  And I would suggest that the failure to preach the first nine verses have something to do with the need to preach the next two.  Starting with the deacons as they approve people for membership and initiate church discipline, right?

Not that we ought to go all Mark Driscoll on the topic and gross out everyone, but that's a passage we ought not avoid.  A similar passage that I went over with the teens in youth group is in Matthew 5.  Nobody died of embarrassment.  

I've also tried to cover the besetting sins of sloth and gluttony, and I dare suggest that we Baptists need more sermons on that.  (or is that too close to the sins we actually practice?)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

When is the last time anyone has preached on modesty? Anywhere?

Bert Perry's picture

Modesty's tough; most of us start from 1 Tim. 2:8-10, and it's strictly speaking about the cost of one's clothing, not the coverage.  I can make an argument from history that it's very likely that expensive clothing would show a little more in that day because owning expensive clothing probably meant you didn't work in the sun all day (eating grapes in the villa as it were), but really the Scripture doesn't say a whole lot about it.

Now that doesn't mean that it's not a good idea to cover up those parts--to uncover them in public would have been unthinkable at the time for many reasons--but you've got to be a bit more sophisticated to get there.  One passage I've found very illuminating is Leviticus 18, where "uncover nakedness" is a euphemism for illicit sex.  It's not the main point of the passage, but we can infer from the use of the phrase that the ancients saw public nudity (say exposure of the upper chest/hips/upper thigh that would ordinarily be covered) as inviting a forbidden relationship.

And we're the same.  What does an entertainer often do when her acting/singing/other talents are not being noticed?  It's how we're programmed.

(IMO, "modesty" is a great place where evangelical parachurch groups may often be doing more harm than good because the exegesis is weak)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Bert, it is interesting to me that right there in the garden, right after Adam and Eve's eyes were opened and they knew they were naked, they tried to solve the problem by sewing fig leaves for aprons. But the last thing God did before he kicked them out of the garden is inform them that their solution to their immodesty was inadequate. So God made coverings for them from animal skins. Of course the Text doesn't describe these coverings, but its not a stretch to see that whatever wisdom Adam and Eve applied to their situation, it wasn't enough to please God. Today our culture tells the church that whatever you wear, it probably covers too much, and it is your right to expose whatever you wish. So rather than considering the wisdom of God (as suggested by 1 Timothy 2), or even the faulty sin-contaminated wisdom of those trying to please God (as illustrated by Adam and Eve), so many just embrace the 'wisdom' of our culture without even giving it a thought.

josh p's picture

My pastor just did the same thing. I think he has done three so far.

Bert Perry's picture

I heard it when I taught the topic of "contentment" in Sunday School.   I made the mistake of pointing out that if most of your stuff goes unused and ends up rotting in the attic, the barn, or in the storage locker, God will hold you accountable for that.  Probably about as popular as a sermon on gluttony right before the church potluck.  :^)

Darrell, that, and the prophetic warnings of being undressed by invaders when God's patience is exhausted, no?  One must do a little more work than to simply stroll down to 1 Timothy 2 and assume that Paul's used of "modest" matches our own, but it's there.  I was very glad to hear last weekend that one of the young ladies in my church's youth group is "getting it" in this regard.  Unfortunately, the hint that she was getting it was also the hint that another young lady was emphatically not getting it.  Pray for that young lady, who for obvious reasons I will not name.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Bert, I just scanned through the comments written by WIlliam D. Mounce in his Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. He has a very long and helpful section on this verse and he does see the principle of modesty commanded in 1 Tim. 2:9 being in force for us today. He concludes this section with the words:   “it does not follow that in addressing a cultural issue the principle behind the application somehow becomes culturally encumbered outside that culture; the principle of modesty would remain a principle even when applied to a culture of braided and jewelry-adorned hair (pages 111-112)."

Something else I might mention is the use of clothing as a metaphor in Scripture. 1 Peter 5:5: "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another" or Proverbs 31:25: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come."

This metaphor of clothing yourself with humility would have no value if the assumption was not that the hearers were wearers of very modest garments. It would be absurd to suggest that it’s OK for believers to have all sorts of pride showing while just a little bit of it was covered with humility.

Being clothed with strength and dignity would be absurd unless clothing was simply understood to be extensively covering the body. Nobody would suggest that it is profitable for the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 to be extensively weak, and generally lacking in dignity, while having just a little bit of strength and dignity to her character.



Bert Perry's picture

Darrell, regarding Mounce's work, take a close look at how Mounce arrives at his conclusion; he more or less admits that the verse is most obviously about clothing of an immodest cost, but then follows a train of historical and Biblical inferences to arrive at the point where he can argue that, historically and Biblically, this would also refer to clothing that did not cover essential areas well.

This is exactly the point I'm trying to make; most "modesty" advocates I've seen (they are ubiquitous in homeschool circles) simply assume that the "modest" in 1 Tim. 2 is the "modest" that means "cover up, girls".  It skips that step, and I'd argue that when we do this instead of attempting a Biblical theology on the subject, we are automatically going to turn off all of the thinking kids who read the verse carefully and realize that it's primarily about the cost and opulence of clothing.

See what I'm getting at here?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Mounce begins the section by saying: "There are three keys to interpreting this verse. (1) aidous, 'modesty,' and sofrosunhs, 'moderation," both carry sexual connotations. (2) Paul shifts from speaking about actual clothing to emphasizing the true priority of good deeds (v 10). (3) kosmein, 'to adorn,' and katastolh, 'attire,' have a dual meaning: clothing and a person's general deportment. Paul's central concern moves beyond appearances to behavior. It would appear that the women were dressing immodestly to the point that it was causing disruption; they were becoming preoccupied with the externals of beauty (the clothing being condemned is opulant, the jewelry excessive)..."

Mounce's point is that there is a principle of modesty that they were not following, as was evidenced by the more specific description later in the verse.

But the raw principle of modesty does stand, and the admonishment has force to it.  John MacArthur states, “Now go back to the beginning of verse 8 and you will notice the verb ‘I will.’ This is boulomai, this is the will of intent, this is the will of purpose, this is the will of determination, this is the will of command. This is not thelo, the will of a wish, the will of emotion. This is ‘I command,’ it carries apostolic intent, it carries divine authority. He is commanding that men pray and that women adorn themselves in a proper way.”

But, I am all for building a Biblical theology on the subject, and the results of such a study, do present the need for women to cover themselves. Sure there will be points of argumentation as to the extent...but I fully expect at the bema, far more will hear Christ say, "your discipleship would have been advanced had you taken seriously the Scriptural commands for modest apparel" rather than "you took this way too seriously and your discipleship would have been advanced had you shown a little more skin."