The third and latest report in Dr. George Barna’s American Worldview Inventory 2020 evaluated the perceptions of God that people have in the U.S. Among the survey’s most surprising findings are that more Americans believe in Satan than believe in God and that more people believe that Jesus was divine and a sinner than believe he is divine and sinless.
“All of the spiritual noise in our culture over the last few decades has obviously confused and misled hundreds of millions of people in our nation,” said Barna. “The message to churches, Christian leaders, and Christian educators is clear: we can no longer assume that people have a solid grasp of even the most basic biblical principles, such as those concerning the existence and nature of God.”
Barna: Church Leaders Cannot Make Assumptions
The American Worldview Inventory 2020 is a series of 12 bi-weekly reports Barna is releasing through the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University. Barna is the Director of Research for the CRC, which studies the relationship between faith and culture in the U.S. The latest report, “AWVI 2020 Results – Release #3: Perceptions of God,” explores whether or not Americans’ views of God are orthodox.
The study found that 51 percent of Americans believe God is an “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who still rules the world today.” This is a significant decline from 30 years ago when the number was 73 percent.
When asked about the existence of Satan, 56 percent said, “Satan is not merely a symbol of evil but is a real spiritual being and influences human lives.” Forty-nine percent, on the other hand, said they are not entirely sure that God exists. The authors conclude, “Americans are now more confident about the existence of Satan than they are of God!” There has also been a striking rise in the level of skepticism about God’s existence. Thirty years ago, only one percent of Americans said “a higher power may exist, but nobody really knows for certain,” but now 20 percent agree with that view.
Confusion also exists as to the nature of members of the Trinity. Forty-four percent of Americans said that, during his time on earth, Jesus was fully God and fully man and that he sinned. That is compared to 41 percent who said he was fully God and fully man and that he did not sin during his time on earth. Furthermore, fifty-two percent of those who answered did not view the Holy Spirit as a personal being, but rather as a manifestation of God’s power.
The report outlined which U.S. demographics are most and least likely to hold a biblical view of God defined as “one who created and controls the universe; is omnipotent, omniscient, and without fault; and is just in His decisions.” The group with the highest percentage of this belief in God (97 percent) is, unsurprisingly, people who hold a biblical worldview. The South is the only region of the U.S. where over half of the residents have this view of God. The group that is least likely to have this understanding of God is adults ages 18 to 29.
Another notable finding of the study has to do with which denominations saw the greatest decline in a biblical view of God. The data show, “The largest declines in possession of an orthodox, biblical perspective on the nature of God since 1991 were among individuals who attend Pentecostal or charismatic Protestant churches (down by 27 percentage points).” Adults ages 18 to 29 came second at 26 percentage points, followed by adults born before 1946 (25 points) and women (25 points). Only one group saw an increase (two points) in orthodox belief in God, and that was adults whose income level is at least 20 percent above the national average.
Majorities of Americans believe God loves them unconditionally (71 percent) and has a purpose for everything that happens to them (66 percent). However, the study also found that “a mere one out of three (34 percent) who have a biblical view of God also believe that He is involved in their life.”
What Does This Mean for Church Leaders?
Pastors and church leaders cannot assume that people in their congregations believe even the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. Dr. Tracy Munsil, the Executive Director of the Cultural Research Center, concludes,
Biblical beliefs that used to be thought of as ‘no brainers’ can no longer be classified as such. The fact that four out of ten adults believe that Jesus Christ—who came to earth to save us from our sins—was Himself a sinner and therefore in need of salvation is mind-boggling. Add to that the fact that more people believe in the existence of Satan than the God of Abraham, and you cannot miss the breadth of the spiritual crisis in America today.