Barna: Americans Are Spiritual But Postmodern

American born-again Christians are likely to feel accepted by God, but deny the Bible as the source of truth. Few make decisions based on the Bible and few believe absolute moral truth exists, according to a new national study of 1002 adults conducted by The Barna Group.

Most Americans say they are “deeply spiritual,” feel “accepted by God,” and say they have a clear understanding of the purpose of their life, the survey, released August 9, found.

About half of all adults (54 percent) claim that they make moral decisions on standards they believe in, Another 24 percent make moral choices based on what feels right or comfortable, doing whatever makes the most people happy or causes the least conflict (9 percent), and pursuing whatever produces the most positive outcomes for the person (7 percent).

According to Barna, this is a reflection of the postmodernist belief that reality is subjective, and therefore, there is no absolute truth.

When asked whether they believe moral truth is based on absolute standards or is relative to the circumstances, one-third said they believe in absolute truth, one-third said morality depends on the situation, and another third say they do not know.

George Barna, whose acclaimed book Think Like Jesus described the core elements of a biblical worldview in laymen’s terms, noted that the religious books of greatest influence in the past several years have not addressed people’s fundamental theological views.

“Most of the bestsellers have focused on meaning, purpose, security and the end times,” the researcher pointed out. “While there have been theological views expressed in those books, very few popular books have helped people to think clearly and comprehensively about their core theology. Consequently, most born again Christians hold a confusing and inherently contradictory set of religious beliefs that go unchecked by the leaders and teachers of their faith community.”

Overall, just 16 percent of adults claim they make their moral choices based on the Bible.

The research confirmed that the younger a person is, the less likely they are to trust the Bible as their source of moral guidance or to believe that absolute moral truth exists. For instance, 20 percent of adults 60 or older base their moral choices on the Bible and 18% of Baby Boomers do so, but only 13 percent of Baby Busters and a mere 9 percent of Mosaics follow suit.

College graduates were twice as likely to have a biblical view of life, while “mostly conservatives” were twelve times more likely to have a biblical worldview than were people who said they are “mostly liberal” on such matters.

Additionally, African-American adults, who generally emerge as the ethnic segment most deeply committed to the Christian faith, were substantially less likely than either whites or Hispanics to have a biblical worldview. In total, just 1 percent of black adults met the criteria, compared to 6 percentamong whites and 8 percent among Hispanics, the survey found. (Less than one-tenth of one percent of Asians possesses a biblical worldview.)

The survey outcomes compelled Barna, to remind Christian leaders to stay focused on the things that matter.

“Our studies consistently show that churches base their sense of success on indicators such as attendance, congregant satisfaction, dollars raised and built-out square footage," the researchers said. "None of those factors relates to the kind of radical shift in thinking and behavior that Jesus Christ died on the cross to facilitate. As long as we measure success on the basis of popularity and efficiency, we will continue to see a nation filled with people who can recite Bible stories but fail to live according to Bible principles.”

For a solution Barna suggested applying research findings: “We know that within two hours after leaving a church service, the typical individual cannot recall the theme of the sermon they heard. But if they have a discussion and application to their life, or if they have a multi-sensory experience with those principles, they retain the information and the probability that they will act, rises.”

The Barna Group located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.