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Labels are both easy and comfortable. Christian, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, born again. It isn't hard for a man or woman to call himself or herself a Christian, even a born again Christian. But do they really know what that entails?
Two recent surveys shed light on just how far from Biblical beliefs those who identity as Christians actually are.
The most recent survey was conducted across the United States by the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI) and included 3,000 adult respondents.
Rather than allowing the survey participants to self-identify, an important distinction from other studies, an initial question as to what would happen to them after they die was paired with a set of ten options. The response to this key question began the process of belief classification.
According to that initial question, 30% responded, "After I die I know I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior," a response which identifies them as born-again Christians. What follows from that question, however, became a bit more complex and surprising.
The group of born again Christians still represents the largest group of respondents, with "Do not know" coming in second at just 25%. None of the other groups ranked above 10% and atheists only accounted for 8% of the total survey population.
However, a closer look at the follow-up questions given to the born-again individuals reveals some startling misunderstandings of Biblical teachings and misconceptions of the Biblical world view.
What is surprising is that of the 17 follow-up questions on Christian theology, none of the questions was answered Biblically correct by more than 90% of the born-again Christians.
After analyzing the survey data, the ACFI concluded that only 30% of the born-again population (which is itself 30% of the total) hold Biblical beliefs and the rest claim an odd mixture of other concepts.
Posed as a yes/no question, the Biblical question that most born-agains answered from an accurate Biblical perspective was "God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator and Ruler of the universe", but even this belief was claimed by only 89% of born again Christians.
Here are a few of the notable responses from born again Christian. A yes response to each indicates Biblical belief:
" God is actively involved in our lives today: yes 79%, no 18%
" Satan is alive, not just a symbol of evil: yes 58%, no 42%
" Divorce is not morally acceptable: yes 46%, no 54%
" The Holy Spirit is alive, not just a symbol of God's presence: yes 43%, no 57%
" It is not possible to earn your way into Heaven: yes 37%, no 63%
The second survey was commissioned by Summit Ministries and conducted by the renowned Barna Group. This survey focused more broadly on all Christians and the findings were even more shocking. Barna calculated that 38% of Christians responded with views aligned with or sympathetic to Islamic teachings.
Marxist beliefs regarding private property were held by a staggering 36% of Christians. On the other hand, an equally disturbing 20% of Christians believe that "the purpose of life is to earn the most so that you can make the most of life".
Overall, a generally secular world view was expressed by 29% of the respondents.
A mixture of post-modern and quasi-spiritual beliefs was also a serious issue with as many as 30% of Christians surveyed stating that they believe that "all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being".
Needless to say, this is far from a Biblical world view.
Simplistic labels are, by definition, easily applied, but they are also deceptive. Some of that energy we expend patting ourselves on the back might better be used to restore sound Biblical education in our churches. Obviously, even the basics are lacking as these surveys reveal.
We face the very real possibility of a generation that identifies as born-again Christians while holding a frightening level of un-Biblical beliefs. "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" (Luke 6.46)