Study: Fewer Americans Embrace Traditional View of God

Less Americans embrace a traditional view of God and Bible reading is becoming less popular, a new study revealed.

In a national study of 1,006 adults, the Barna Group found that while two-thirds of the American population firmly embraces the idea that their most important purpose is to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, the public's beliefs have changed in the past year.

The 2007 study, conducted in January, showed 66 percent of Americans believe that God is best described as the all-powerful, all-knowing perfect Creator of the universe who rules the world today. The proportion is down from 71 percent a year ago and represents the lowest percentage in more than 20 years of similar surveys, according to the report.

Additionally, 37 percent strongly disagree that Jesus sinned; 24 percent strongly reject the idea that Satan is not a real spiritual being; 29 percent have greater reluctance to explain their faith to other people; and 27 percent have a willingness to reject good works as a means to personal salvation - all the aforementioned percentages are down from 2006.

Despite the changes, the proportion of American adults who believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches remains unchanged at 45 percent.

Still, a shift away from biblical perspectives are likely to result in significant alterations to the spiritual landscape since a person's beliefs dictates a great deal about their behavior and allegiance, stated David Kinnaman, who directed the study, in the report.

"To give purpose to the spiritual lifestyle of Americans, there are few tasks more important than helping Americans develop a biblical view of life. Otherwise, millions of people, including many within the youngest generations, will conclude the Christian faith does not represent deep, consistent truths about the spiritual and natural world," he said.

Meanwhile, engagement in spiritual activities has largely remained the same compared to 2006. Such activities include prayer with 83 percent saying they prayed in the last week; attending a church service (43 percent); personally explaining their faith to someone else in the past year with the hope that the person would accept Jesus Christ (61 percent); and participating in small group (20 percent).

Volunteerism and Bible reading, however, went down.

The survey revealed 22 percent of American adults had volunteered free time to help a church and 23 percent, some other type of non-profit.

Only 41 percent said they read the Bible outside of church worship services in a typical week. Last year, Bible readership rose to its highest level since the 1980s with 47 percent. Increases in Bible reading began after engagement in the activity hit a 20-year low in 1995 with only 31 percent.

The drop in Bible reading over the past year reflects a trend of religious illiteracy that was bluntly described by Stephen Prothero in Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't. The Boston University professor said Americans know little to nothing about religion, and while an overwhelming majority the nation's population claim they are Christian, only half of the adults can name one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and most Americans do not know the first book in the Bible (Genesis).

"Most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs, largely because they do not possess a coherent biblical worldview," stated Kinnaman. "That is, they lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith. Millions of Americans say they are personally committed to Jesus Christ, but they believe he sinned while on earth. Many believers claim to trust what the Bible teaches, but they reject the notion of a real spiritual adversary or they feel that faith-sharing activities are optional. Millions feel personally committed to God, but they are renegotiating the definition of that deity."

The Barna study found 83 percent of Americans identified as Christians. But only 49 percent of them described themselves as absolutely committed to Christianity.

"[O]ne reason why beliefs fluctuate is that most Americans' hold few convictions about their faith," Kinnaman noted. "For instance, even among those who disagree with orthodox views, many do so while hedging their bets. Most Americans have one foot in the biblical camp, and one foot outside it. They say they are committed, but to what? They are spiritually active, but to what end?

"The spiritual profile of American Christianity is not unlike a lukewarm church that the Bible warns about," the director added.