A Pluralistic Population
and American Unbelief
Todays newspaper and Internet news carried a report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The story covered the results of a religious survey of 35,000 Americans. I went beyond the news story and examined the original survey that the Forum has made public and have discovered some very interesting as well as alarming facts that reflect what Americans believe and dont believe.
There would be much value in examining all of the findings of this survey, but, at this point, let me discuss the Forums findings regarding Americas belief in God. (We hope to cover some of the other findings of the survey at a later date.) Everything must begin with God, for He is our Creator and Sustainer (Genesis 1:1). The Bible begins, In the beginning God . Scripture says, For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him (1 Cor. 8:6). If all things are from God and if we exist for Him, we can see how vital it is that we believe in Him and live for Him!
Truth is truth. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, Truth is true truth! Although this seems to be an unnecessary statement, in our contemporary society, it is vital that we speak of truthtrue truth, actual truth, objective truth. In this postmodern age, people often say, What is true for me may not be true for you. What is true for you may not be true for me! This is a contradiction of terms. Truth is true, truth is truth, truth is objectively true. Just as two plus two equals four, so what God says is true is objectively trueregardless of who believes it or who doesnt believe it!
Do Americans Believe in God?
As we go to the survey that the Pew Forum has conducted, we discover some interesting but alarming facts. How many Americans believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit? According to the report, 92% of the population believe in God. Weve seen statistics like this before, thus it is not hard for us to accept this. This would seem to say that only eight percent do not believe in God. Should this give us encouragement?
But when we look at this further, the report says that only 60% believe in a personal God! This means that about six in ten believe that God is a person with whom people can have a relationship. We might think that virtually all church members would believe in a God with whom one can have a personal relationshipbut this isnt the case. Some 79% of Evangelical Protestants, 62% of mainline Protestants, 60% of Catholics, and 49% of Orthodox can say that they believe in a personal God! Shockingly, 21% of Evangelicals, 38% of mainline Protestants, 40% of Catholics, and 51% of Orthodox cannot affirm a belief in a personal God! This means that there is a vast amount of unbelief even in so-called Christian churches!
We know that several of the leading world religions would question the existence of a personal God. The survey found that only 25% of the Jews, 41% of the Muslims, 20% of the Buddhists, and 31% of the Hindus would affirm a belief in a personal God with whom we may have a personal relationship! In fact, Buddhism teaches that there is no personal God; it is atheistic in nature. Surprisingly, 6% of the atheists and 14% of the agnostics say that they believe in a personal God. How one may explain how an atheist who says that there is no God can say that be believes in God is not known.
If so many people in various religions deny the existence of a personal God, what do they believe? Besides not believing in God, some say that they do believe in an impersonal force of some kind. For example, 19% of Protestants do not believe in God but simply believe in an impersonal force. This is the same for 29% of Catholics, 50% of Jewish, and 34% of Orthodox. God, of course, is more than an impersonal force, thus these respondents do not really believe in God and they should be clear enough to affirm this fact. The should not deceive themselves or others by saying that they believe in God when they merely define God as an impersonal force or power.
How should Christians respond to this survey? First, we can see that many churches that are called Christian have a rather large number of outright unbelievers in their membership. Who would have known that 40% of Catholics do not believe in a personal God! Who would have imagined that 38% of mainline Protestants and 51% of Orthodox do not believe in a God with whom they may have a personal relationship!
Second, we should not assume that people whom we know really believe in God. They may say that they believe in God, but they deny that there even is a personal God. They merely believe in an impersonal force of some kind. These are ones who need to know the very basics of truth, for if one rejects even the existence of God, he has denied the truth upon which all other truths rest! If only 25% of Jews believe in a personal God, these people need to know about the God of Israel, the One who called Abraham in the beginning (Gen. 12:1-3). If only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God, these friends need to know that they can have a living, saving, wonderful relationship with the true God of the Bible. If only 62% of mainline Protestants believe in a personal God, they need to know that they cannot depend on their churchly traditions to get them to heaven; they need a saving relationship with the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Third, one cant really believe in Jesus as the Son of God unless he believes that there is a God who has a Son! Before John 3:16 means anything to a person, we need to establish the foundational fact that there is a God who existsa personal Creator and Sustainer to whom all of us must render absolute allegiance! We know that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save us from sin and death, thus we need to establish in the hearts of people the fact that God does exist and gave His Son for our eternal salvation (John 3:16-18, 36).
Fourth, the lie of evolutionary theory has been so promulgated in the school system and the media that large numbers of Americans have been deceived about origins. Along with a belief in evolution comes a disbelief in God as Creator and Maker of all things. Further, if one accepts the lie of evolution, it should not be surprising that they deny the existence of a personal, living God. We need to give reasons for creation to all so that they may be led to a faith in the Creator.
Fifth, we must not assume that a belief in a personal God means that one believes in the God of the Bible. Some people do believe in a personal God, but the God of the Muslim, the God (Gods) of the Mormon, the God of the so-called Jehovahs Witness, the God of the modern Jew, the God of the common man is not the true God of the Bible. Only the God of Scripture is true and only the God of Scripture can save from sin and receive one into eternal life. All of the false philosophies and faulty belief systems must perish. We need to show that the God of the Bible is the true and living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who wants to become our Heavenly Father through faith in Christ (1 John 4:9-10, 14; 5:11-13).
This major survey has served to show us what Americans believe and dont believe. If such a survey had been given in Europe that once was professing Christian (though not truly Christian), we would be even more shocked! A vast amount of outright unbelief exists in these nations. Atheism is rampant. Indeed, even devoted professing Christians are in the minority.
Our task is great. If you are a Christiana true Christiantake this survey and let it inform you of the great need that exists around you. Let us do all we can to proclaim the God of the Bible to one and all, even as Paul did to unbelievers in Athens (Acts 17:16-31). Let us who are believers in God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:21) be willing to speak of our faith in the true and living personal God of creation and of the Scriptures. This is the only God who can forgive, save, and grant life with Him for all eternity!