Americans increasingly redefine and reject biblical view of God, new Barna research shows

by Adam Ford · Apr 26th, 2020 11:25 am
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New Barna research about American faith and worldview shows that a slim 51% majority of Americans believe in the most basic biblical attributes of God — down from 73% three decades ago.

Some interesting and telling findings from the research:

  • Americans are more confident about the existence of Satan than they are of God, with 56% contending that Satan is an influential spiritual being, yet almost half (49%) are not fully confident that God truly exists.
  • 44% of Americans believe Jesus Christ sinned while on Earth.
  • 52% said that "the Holy Spirit is not a living entity, but merely a symbol of God's power, presence or purity."

More from the report:

According to the latest release of findings from the American Worldview Inventory 2020 by Dr. George Barna, Director of Research for the Cultural Research Center, some of the largest drops in belief in a biblical description of God in the past 30 years are among youngest Americans ages 18 to 29 (down 26 points), oldest Americans, i.e., born before 1946 (down 25 points), and women (down 25 points). The largest drop was among those attending Pentecostal or charismatic Protestant churches (down 27 points). Only those in households with income at least 20% above the national average saw an increase (up 2 points).

Other key findings:

  • Those who say "a higher power may exist, but nobody really knows for certain" has exploded from 1% of the public 30 years ago to 20% today.
  • Americans are almost evenly divided on the nature of Jesus Christ. Overall, 44% agreed that "when He lived on earth, Jesus Christ was fully divine and also fully human, and therefore committed sins, like other people." Slightly fewer (41%) viewed Jesus as fully divine and fully human, and sinless while on earth.
  • Among those least likely to possess an orthodox biblical view of God:
    • "nones," i.e., atheists, agnostics, with no religious interest or associations (9%);
    • political liberals (35%);
    • adults who self-identify as LGBTQ (36%);
    • and adults 18 to 29 years old (38%).
  • Which people groups are most likely to embrace the orthodox biblical view of God?
    • SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians – 92%);
    • born-again Christians (84%);
    • political conservatives (70%);
    • blacks (62%);
    • upscale individuals (i.e., college graduates with above average household income, 59% having a biblical God view);
    • Republicans (67%);
    • and people 50 or older (57%).
    • The South is the only region that has more than half of its residents maintaining an orthodox biblical understanding of God (59%).

Even among Americans who hold to basic biblical beliefs about God, there are inconsistencies:

  • Only half (51%) of those with a biblical view of God also believe that it is possible to be certain that God exists. That means nearly half of those who believe in a personal, powerful and perfect God – 45% – also believe that certainty about the God they believe in is impossible.
  • A mere one out of three (34%) who have a biblical view of God also believe that He is involved in their life.

More data about the roughly half of Americans who do not hold to a basic biblical view of God:

  • One-fifth of the public (20%) embraces a conventional agnostic perspective: "a higher power may exist, but nobody knows for certain."
  • One-tenth (10%) possess a common "new age" or modern mystical point of view, claiming that "‘God' refers to the total realization of personal, human potential or a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach."
  • A traditional atheistic view – i.e., that "there is no such thing as God" – is a view held by 6% of U.S. adults.
  • Less common views include the 4% who possess a polytheistic view ("there are many gods, each with different powers and authority") and 3% who are pantheistic ("everyone is god").
  • The remaining 6% of the public does not know what to think about the notion of God.

About the research:

AWVI 2020 was undertaken in January 2020 among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults. The survey included 1,000 interviews with a nationwide random sample of adults via telephone, plus another 1,000 adults interviewed online through use of a national panel of adults. A survey of 2,000 individuals has an estimated maximum sampling error of approximately 2 percentage points, based on the 95% confidence interval.


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