Thursday, August 11, 2005

Barna Study on Beliefs

Alex's post from earlier today on the importance of what Christians believe takes on even more significance after you read a new study released by The Barna Group Tuesday.

The Barna Group reports: . . .

The Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts, funding for stem cell research, the war in Iraq and against terrorism, sexual abuse by clergy, the Terri Schiavo case, gay marriage, and many other recent issues have brought people's moral convictions into play. Yet, in spite of the fact that most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, very few adults base their moral decisions on the Bible, and surprisingly few believe that absolute moral truth exists.

Here are some of the study's findings:

  • Only 16 percent of American adults say they make moral decisions based on the Bible.

  • Of evangelicals, 60 percent rely on the Bible for moral principles, while 20 percent of non-evangelical born-again Christians, 6 percent of Christians who are not born again ("notional Christians") and 2 percent of those from non-Christian faiths rely on the Bible as a moral compass.

  • 23 percent of Protestants versus 7 percent of Catholics base their morals on Biblical teaching.

  • In the area of absolute moral truth, 35 percent of adults believe in absolutes, 32 percent say it depends on the situation, and 33 percent say they don't know if moral truth is absolute or relative.

  • 70 percent of evangelicals believe in absolute moral truth, while 42 percent of born-again nonevangelicals, 25 percent of notional Christians, 16 percent of those from non-Christian faiths and 27 percent of atheists or agnostics believe in moral absolutes.

  • The younger a person is, the less likely they are to rely on the Bible for moral guidance or believe in absolute truth.

  • Some of the more interesting findings in the study concern whether American adults possess a Biblical worldview. Here's the criteria The Barna Group uses to determine who has such a perspective:

    The organization defines such a life perspective on the basis of several questions about religious beliefs. The definition requires someone to believe that absolute moral truth exists; that the source of moral truth is the Bible; that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches; that eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned; that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth; that every person has a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others; that Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil; and that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful maker of the universe who still rules that creation today.

    Some of the major findings in this area include:

  • Only 5 percent of American adults have a Biblical worldview.

  • 8 percent of Protestants possess a Biblical worldview, while only less than one-half of 1 percent of Catholics do.

  • College graduates are more than twice as likely as other adults to possess a Biblical worldview.

  • Those who consider themselves "mostly conservative" on political or social issues are 12 times more likely to have a Biblical worldview than people who say they are "mostly liberal" on such matters.

  • Of American adults, 8 percent of Hispanics, 6 percent of whites, 1 percent of African-American and less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Asians possess a Biblical worldview.

  • Researcher George Barna, who's the author of Think Like Jesus, makes the following observations and suggestions in his organization's report:

  • Many believers have been influenced by popular religious books in recent years that have not addressed basic theological views: "Most of the bestsellers have focused on meaning, purpose, security and the end times," Barna says. "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."

  • Christian leaders should stay focused on things that matter, not on "indicators" such as "attendance, congregant satisfaction, dollars raised and built-out square footage."

  • To combat widespread ignorance of Biblical principals, the Sunday-morning sermon needs to have more impact: "We know that within two hours after leaving a church service, the typical individual cannot recall the theme of the sermon they heard," Barna says. "But if they have a discussion about a principle and its application to their life, or if they have a multi-sensory experience with those principles, they retain the information much longer and the probability that they will act on that information rises dramatically."

  • Ministry leaders should focus on Biblical principles believers can grasp as the foundation of their faith, using creative and practical ways to reach them: "Few people in churches have a Biblical worldview because most preachers seem intent on teaching broadly rather than deeply," Barna says. "That's emotionally and intellectually appealing, but until people have a mental framework through which they can process the numerous principles, ideas and stories provided in the Bible, preaching is typically an exercise in information overload. We have to prepare people to know what to do with the information. A Biblical worldview gives them the filter they need to know how to categorize and implement the facts and ideals they receive."

  • To read the full report, click here.

    Hat tip to


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