Jonathan Merritt (citing Barna, in a study I missed a few years back) says that the percentage of pastors in America claiming Reformed theology did not rise between 2000 and 2010.
I appear to be the go-to place on the Internet for SBL Bible book abbreviations, but the number of people out there looking that up can’t be all that massive. It’s a fairly arcane piece of information. Yes, it’s an academic standard for the theological studies guild, but the number of people in that guild can’t be over—what?—10,000? And the subset of them who need a list of SBL abbreviations in any given month has to be a lot smaller. And yet that number swamps my blog.
The ESV looms pretty large in my life, and has for over 10 years. I just got a cool new edition to review. The energy surrounding the ESV in my slice of American Protestantism is pretty strong, and it only seems to grow. I was truly shocked to find out that ESV ranks so low among English Bible readers (it ranks higher among buyers).
In fact, if Merritt and Barna are right, the whole YRR (with which the ESV is often—with some fairness—associated) may be something of a tempest in a teapot. Calvinist bloggers like Kevin DeYoung, Justin Taylor, and Tim Challies may command wider attention than other religious bloggers for some reason other than constituency size. I do think—and Merritt points this out—that Calvinists provide a disproportionate share of the intellectual and theological energy in Christian writing today. But the stats, apparently, don’t back up the impression that TGC and T4G are producing a massive shift in American Protestantism. Stats are tricky (and read the whole Barna piece); Calvinists still make up a third of Protestants outside the mainline, and I haven’t seen the fifty-year stats, if they even exist. Also, pastors in the poll were asked to describe their churches, not necessarily themselves. I’m not putting a lot of weight on this point because of these qualifications; I just offer it as a FWIW.
I am willing to spend all my blogging time serving the small audience I have, I really am (we’re right at 300; I dropped a fourth of my past subscribership of 400 by switching domains). That’s in part because I get more benefit from my blog than anyone else. It’s a “weblog,” a kind of journal for my thoughts and illustrations; writing helps me think. And I access my blog all the time for my writing and preaching. But I’ve always felt that I needed to disclaim numbers as a measurement of my success—and that goes for whether I have a lot of readers or only a mother-in-law (love you, Mom!). Each situation presents a temptation.
Disclaiming size as a measure of success is probably a good idea for you and your ministry, too, whatever that ministry is. Faithfulness is a much more important measure. The stewards who earned one and two talents for their master, respectively, earned the same reward as the steward who earned five (Matt 25:20–23).
Thank you, however, for reading my blog. I have come to believe that service to the body of Christ should be the overriding motivation for any theological writing. And if you don’t read, I’m not doing that service. I love you, whoever you are, and I want to edify you. It’s a real privilege, an honor, that you let me.
Author: Mark Ward
PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.
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