A new poll has found that only 80 percent of those who identify themselves as Christian say they believe in the God of the Bible. One percent said they do not even believe in a God or higher power of any kind. Meanwhile, about one-fifth of the religious “nones” said they believe in the God of the Bible, and more than half of them said they believe in a higher power or a spiritual force.
A vast majority of U.S. adults (80 percent) said they believe in God but that the Bible did not always determine the type of God they believe exists. Just over half (56 percent) said they believe in the God of the Bible, while 32 percent said they believe in “some higher power or a spiritual force.” Many who point-blank said they do not believe in God still said they believe in an impersonal higher power or spiritual force.
Even a substantial portion of those who identify as Christians said they do not believe in the God of the Bible. Only 80 percent of self-identified Christians said they believe in that God, while 18 percent said they believe in some other higher power. Roman Catholics (69 percent) and mainline Protestants (72 percent) were least likely to say they believe in the God of the Bible, while historically black Protestants (92 percent) and evangelicals (91 percent) were most likely to say they believe in the Bible’s God, according to the Pew Research Center.
More than a quarter of Catholics (28 percent) and mainline Protestants (26 percent) said they believe in some other higher power, while 13 percent of Protestants did so, along with 8 percent of evangelicals and 6 percent of historically black Protestants. Two percent of Catholics said they “do not believe in God or other power of any kind,” along with 1 percent of mainline Protestants.
These numbers seem to confirm the idea of a cultural Christianity — that many Americans identify as Christian and go to church, but do not actually believe in Christian doctrine. While the Roman Catholic Church values tradition on the same level as the Bible, official Catholic doctrine still involves the God of the Bible. Why do Christians disagree with the doctrine that defines their religion?
Many Americans go to church occasionally, have Christian friends, and think of themselves as Christian, while rejecting what the Bible teaches about God. Nevertheless, unlike Jews, Christians are only defined by their religion. Therefore the fact that only a third (33 percent) of Jewish Americans told Pew they believe in the God of Bible should not be as surprising. A full 56 percent of Jews said they believe in a higher power different from the Bible’s God, and 10 percent said they do not believe in any kind of God. While Judaism is an important and historic faith, one need not believe in God to be a Jew.
Atheists, unsurprisingly, told Pew they do not believe in the God of the Bible (0 percent), but 18 percent of them did say they believe in another higher power, while 81 percent said they do not believe in a God or other higher power. Interestingly, 3 percent of agnostics said they do believe in the God of the Bible, while 62 percent said they believe in a higher power, and only 30 percent said they do not believe in a God of any kind.
Americans who did not identify with any religious group or belief — those who said they believe in “nothing in particular” — proved surprisingly likely to believe in the God of the Bible (28 percent). Another 60 percent said they believe in a higher power, while only 9 percent said they do not believe in any kind of God.
These numbers should encourage Christians who do believe in the God of the Bible and the salvation in Jesus Christ. Even many of the unaffiliated said they believe in God, and even the God of the Bible. If they believe in the God of the Bible, they may take the Bible seriously, and be willing to consider the words of Jesus Christ.
Even so, these numbers suggest Christians will have to evangelize among … those who already identify as Christians. This involves not just preaching the gospel, but encouraging discipleship — telling Christians they need to take Jesus’s words seriously and put His teaching into practice.
Among self-identified Christians, the vast majority described God as loving all people (93 percent), knowing everything in the world (87 percent), and having power to direct or change everything in the world (78 percent). Most Christians (74 percent) said they believe in an all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent God. Interestingly, Catholics proved least likely to identify God as loving (88 percent) or omniscient (78 percent), and they proved less likely to believe God is omnipotent (67 percent). Only mainline Protestants (64 percent) proved less likely to believe in an all-powerful God.
Americans in general proved far more likely to believe in an all-loving God (77 percent) than in an all-knowing God (71 percent) or in an all-powerful God (61 percent). Even those who said they did not believe in the God of the Bible proved likely to believe in a higher power that “loves all people, despite their faults” (69 percent). This belief seems strange, as love would likely require a personal spiritual force or higher power, suggesting the term “God” would indeed be more appropriate.
Most Americans also said they believe in a God who will judge all people based on their deeds (61 percent). Nearly four-in-five Christians (79 percent) said God will judge, while only 37 percent of Jews said so. Even 39 percent of those who reject the God of the Bible said a higher power will judge everyone.
These results suggest widespread acceptance of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” the belief in a Grandfather in Heaven who upholds morality but stays uninvolved in the world, merely wanting people to have a good time.
A vast majority of Americans (74 percent) told Pew that they pray, or talk to the ultimate being in whom they believe, but only 28 percent said God or the higher power talks directly with them. Historically black Protestants (60 percent) proved most likely to say God speaks directly to them. Only 40 percent of those who said they believe in the God of the Bible also said God speaks to them.
While only 33 percent of Jews said they believe in the God of the Bible, 63 percent of them said they pray to God or a higher power. Even 30 percent of agnostics, 65 percent of those who say they believe “nothing in particular,” and 3 percent of atheists told Pew that they pray. Just as surprisingly, a full 5 percent of those who claim to believe in the God of the Bible said they do not speak to Him…
Most Americans reported having been protected (77 percent) or rewarded (67 percent) by God, while many fewer said God has punished them (40 percent). Historically black Protestants proved most likely to say God has punished them (61 percent), while just over half of evangelicals agreed (56 percent). Even some atheists said God protected (4 percent), rewarded (1 percent), or punished (1 percent) them, and some agnostics agreed (30 percent, 25 percent, and 17 percent respectively).
Americans remain a religious people, even if many self-identified Christians do not believe in the God of the Bible. The religious beliefs of atheists and agnostics proved particularly interesting, and may provide important inroads for potential evangelism. Even so, Christians need to tend to their own, teaching biblical doctrine and making sure cultural Christians understand and accept the gospel.