Whoa unto you, you generation of vipers

I saw an interesting study today that claimed that 51% of Christians were actually acting more like Pharisees than Christ.  It was based on a survey given to almost 800 people of a variety of Christian persuasions (practicing Catholic, practicing Protestant, notional (identifies as Christian but does not go to church), Evangelical, and born-again but non-Evangelical), and it asked them a series of 20 questions to assess their attitudes and actions, and gave them a score of “Pharisee-like” or “Christ-like”.  Here’s what they found:

They did some interesting breakdowns here, and had some good documentation of their methods.  My only qualm really, is how did they get the assessment questions?  
Here they are:
Actions like Jesus:
  • I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  • In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  • I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  • I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  • I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
Attitudes like Jesus:
  • I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  • I believe God is for everyone.
  • I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  • It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  • I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
Self-Righteous Actions:
  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
Self-Righteous Attitudes:
  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.

Now I don’t know how many of these statements most people would or would not agree with, but I thought a more interesting list could have been generated by asking various scholars in each of the surveyed denominations what their definitions were.  Different people have different interpretations of things, and statements like “I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.” seem pretty likely to mean different things to different people.  I mean, I’m not friends with people who steal my stuff or are continuously mean to me.  Is that self-righteous?

6 thoughts on “Whoa unto you, you generation of vipers

  1. Umm. Those questions… Umm… Acting like Jesus?

    Let's take a simple one: “I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.” Jesus did things like tell the disciples to start by going to the lost sheep of Israel. The “to the ends of the earth” charge came later. Paul wrote “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

    I know about doing good to those who cannot repay, but that doesn't abrogate the other principle. I think maybe running those questions by several sets of scholars would have been an excellent idea too. A little pruning, a little grafting in, and a little more clarity would improve the list. And maybe make it more accurate. (I'd expect 100% of people seriously trying to follow Jesus to say they aren't much like Him.)


  2. Every single one of their “like Jesus” descriptions is at least debatable, if not flat wrong.

    That said, of course we are more like Pharisees than like Jesus. That's rather the point of the New Testament, isn't it?

    I like my own parsing of 1st C Palestine better (of course). I have twice done an adult studies course that starts with a multiple-choice questionnaire. Being “like Jesus” isn't in the test. Each answer gives you a point toward being a Pharisee, a Sadducee, an Essene, of a Zealot. Everyone corrects his own paper, we each get to see where out main temptation lies, and the discussion begins. My scores have moved over the years, but I have fallen into each heresy at one time or another.

    There must be a way to put that quiz online…


  3. Is that “Woe unto you”, or “Whoa unto you”?

    However, “whoa” (which is mostly used to denote a command given by draft-animal drivers to get the animal to stop) isn't out of line here…

    And “woe” mostly shows up in older literature and translations, so we're stuck between one uncommon word and another.

    Anyway, how often did Jesus listen to people before he began teaching them? The Gospels focused on what He said/taught, rather than entire conversations. So we don't really know if point 1 of the “actions like Jesus” list is accurate.

    A couple of times, Jesus apparently knew the minds of his interlocuters well enough to address their unasked questions, often distinct from the question asked. If believers don't do that, are they less like Jesus in their behavior?


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