People Are Confused About Christians. Why?

                In any conversation that includes a discussion of religious comparisons, the comments about Christianity often reveal that non-Christians have a lot of misconceptions about Christians. This high level of confusion results in confrontations and accusations that bewilder Christians and do not further the public dialogue on important issues. Public conversations about civic problems often fracture along lines that reveal wildly disparate worldviews. Interestingly, the Christians in the mix do not always appear to hold the same worldview, and that fact contributes to some of the confusion in the minds of non-Christians. A major truth about politics is that it is predominantly an attempt to reconcile reality to a particular worldview, so the worldview of participants in the discussion is important.

                In 2008, Barna Group conducted a survey with the intent of uncovering the degree to which Christians hold a Christian worldview, and the startling outcome of that survey strongly substantiated the results of three previous similar surveys. What was so startling? It is hard to believe, but most Christians do not hold a Christian worldview.

                What constitutes a Christian worldview? When you read the list, you may dispute one point or another, but most likely you will agree that the six points in the survey are principles many Christians consider indisputable. Nevertheless, the evidence of the responses to the survey reveals that Christians are not in complete agreement on these points:

  • The creator of the universe is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is still in charge of the universe.
  • Biblical principles are accurate and sound.
  • Moral truth is absolute and not modified by circumstances.
  • Satan is real – not an idea, but an actual adversary.
  • It is impossible to do enough good works or the right good works to earn your way to heaven.
  • Jesus lived a sinless life on earth.

Think about these issues, and think about various topics in this blog. This blog includes posts which assert that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself, and that his revelation is unchanging. The verity of assorted biblical teachings has been affirmed as a starting principle, not as a philosophical conclusion. Satan is referred to in a personal way. Any discussion of Christ’s work and purpose has started from the premise that he lived a sinless life and that his death, resurrection and ascension accomplished the work of salvation, which is granted as a gift in response to faith because of his love for all people. When this blog discusses the universe and the God who created it, he is respectfully referenced as the one who was, who is and who is to come. This blog stands unapologetically on a Christian worldview.

The people who responded to the Barna survey responded in ways that demonstrated that their idea of a Christian worldview does not necessarily include all these points. It is no trick to conclude that when Christians want to speak as a group, differences on these points make it impossible to speak with one voice. According to this survey, only 9% of American adults have a biblical worldview, Contrast this number with statistics from various sources that say that about 76% of American adults self-identify as Christians. Not all Christians self-identify as born again, and this is the group the Barna survey singled out for comparison with all other adults.

How large are the differences on these crucial points?

  • In the adult population as a whole, there seems to be general agreement that the God who created the universe is still in charge of it. 70% of all adults agree with that point. The proportion rises to 93% among born again Christians.
  • A solid 50% of all adults say that they believe the Bible is accurate in its teachings. This is not a question about verbal inspiration or an inerrant record. It is about the teachings of the Bible. Among born again Christians, 93% have complete confidence in the teachings of the Bible. (People who probe deeper would probably discover that while 93%  of Christians agree that the teachings are accurate, there would still be disagreement within that 93% about exactly what the Bible teaches. Statistics can only be followed so far before they lead to insanity.)
  • In the population of US adults in the 48 contiguous states, 34% believe that moral values are absolute. Among Christians, only 46% hold this principle, which is extremely surprising. In most conversations, the public perception is that Christians reject relativism, yet the survey shows that less than half of all Christians are actually convinced that moral truth is absolute.
  • Christians who may have heard one or more pastors dismiss the idea that Satan is as real as Jesus won’t find it surprising that adults in general reject the reality of Satan as well. Only 27% of adults think of Satan as a real personality. It is perplexing to discover that among Christians only 40% recognize Satan as a real adversary.
  • It isn’t surprising to read that many adults believe a person can earn his way into heaven, but the proportion, 72%, is startling when compared with the 76% of adults who are supposedly Christians. In fact, among Christians it is shocking to read that 53% of Christians nonetheless believe that good works help pave the way to heaven.
  • Probably most shocking is the discovery that only 62% of Christians believe that Jesus led a sinless life. To learn that only 40% of all adults believe that Jesus was sinless is not too shocking, although that number reveals immediately that some Christians are in that statistic, but to find that 38% of Christians nevertheless believe that Jesus sinned is quite disturbing.

To sum it all up, only 9% of all American adults agree on all six of these points, making it safe to say that in discussions of political issues, less than 10% of the voices will speak to a consistently Christian worldview. Even more startling, less than 20% of all Christians who define themselves as born again consistently agree on these points. This fact explains a lot of the confusion among non-Christians about what “Christians” believe and what Christians want for the country. It may help to explain why reporters breathlessly ruminated over the possibility that a new Pope for the Catholic Church might pronounce new teachings, presumably on the theory that the teachings originate in the words of the Pope, not in the teachings of the Bible.

Why does this study matter? It matters, because Christians who read it carefully will realize why there is no single “Christian” voice in the public forum when issues are being discussed. When Christians speak, each one must elaborate his own stance. As soon as someone identifies his viewpoint as Christian it may be assailed from several sides, because it can probably be shown that not all Christians agree with this Christian.

It seems important here to reaffirm that this blogger holds all six points to be true. That being said, it seems equally important to remind readers that to hold all six points to be true is not to say that this blogger agrees with every possible perception of the meaning of the six points. That is the reason any political discussion can bog down even among people who ostensibly agree. Very often, it turns out that people using the same words do not mean the same ideas. This human semantic trait is used to great advantage in sales campaigns as well as election campaigns. This is the reason this blog includes so many posts that disassemble words.

What is your worldview? Do you hold all these six points to be true? Do you believe they sufficiently define a Christian worldview? What would you add for a better definition? What would you take out? Your comments are important. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

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2 thoughts on “People Are Confused About Christians. Why?”

  1. The essential doctrines of the church my former pastor says “typically have to do with such matters as the nature of Christ or salvation.” To me this means Christians have a wide open ability to believe many different things. I was told not to date a Catholic or I might marry one as they have the doctrine of Jesus plus works. So only God knows the heart and we cannot know if someone is a Christian. I find that when I test the spirits I can agree with some who say they are Christians and disagree with others who say they are. So I’m leaving it up to the Holy Spirit to deal with each of us according to His will and for the glory of God.

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  2. I agree with your 6 points too. I discussed with the pastor at my former church if we could determine heresy in the church. He said that only the tenets of the faith–Virgin birth, death, and resurrection,were necessary, as I recall. I’ll try to find what else he said.

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