Most American Christians Don’t Believe Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist – Why?

A few days ago in this post I shared some alarming numbers from the latest Barna Study. This new study further corroborates their previous conclusion that most American Christians do not have a biblical worldview.

Check out this excerpt from page 75 of Kinnaman and Lyons’ 2007 book UnChristian:

“A person with a biblical worldview believes that 1. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, 2. God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules it today, 3. salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned, 4. Satan is real, 5. a Christian has a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people, 6. the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches, 7. unchanging moral truth exists, and 8. such moral truth is defined by the Bible. In our research, we have found that people who embrace these eight components live a substantially different life from other Americans – indeed, from other believers. What we believe influences our choices.”

A few lines later they go on to say:

“Our research shows only 3 percent of Busters and Mosaics embrace these eight elements. That is just one out of every twenty-two young adults who have made a commitment to Christ. Although older adults are more likely to have such a perspective, it is also a small slice – only 9 percent – who do. That means that out of ninety-five million Americans who are ages eighteen to forty-five, about sixty million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important; however, only about three million of them have a biblical worldview.”

According to their research, most people in our country who say they’re Christians – the vast majority – don’t believe the foundational, core teachings of the Bible! Yikes!

My question is simple – why?

Here’s what’s rumbling in my head right now:

1) I think a lot of people say they’re Christians when you ask them because their grandmother was.

These are the folks who mark “Christian” on the census, but rarely interact with a faith community (maybe they attend a church service on Christmas or Easter, or maybe they did … once … ten years ago). When asked about their religion or faith background, Christianity is their pat answer. Maybe they “accepted Jesus” as a teen or young adult – attended a concert or rally as said the sinner’s prayer – but it never really went any further than that.

In my opinion, making a “decision for Christ” (to use the language of many evangelical Christians today) is quite a bit different from committing your entire being and reason for existence to Him. I believe many of the people interviewed by the Barna Group have likely made a ‘decision for Christ’, but have probably never made a real commitment to Him – at least not one that’s been lasting.

2) I’m afraid many people claiming to be Christians don’t have a high view of Scripture.

With so much emphasis on experiential worship and missional living in the form of community service in Christian circles nowadays, I’m afraid there’s been an unhealthy shift in thinking regarding the Bible – especially among younger believers. In conversations I’ve had with many young men and women in their twenties, there seems to be such a desire to avoid conflict and simply be in community with others. While relationships and community are extremely important – especially today – Scriptural teaching (regarding sin, false doctrines, etc.) is oftentimes shelved in the name of keeping the peace.

I could give you several real life examples of this that I’ve witnessed, but here’s the bottom line: in order to preserve relationships, young believers are often not standing up for what the Bible  teaches. For those of you reading this who are part of the fellowship of the Churches of Christ, I’m not just talking about the importance of baptism (which is often overemphasized to the point that baptism almost becomes and idol in place of Jesus!!!) – I’m talking about what the Bible says about purity, what the Bible says about how you use your words, what the Bible says about drug and alcohol abuse, what the Bible says about homosexuality, etc. – you get the picture.

Things remain unsaid, conversations that need to occur never do, and that’s because the things the Bible has to say on these issues either 1) aren’t viewed as serious or important, or 2) young Christians are ignorant the Bible says anything about them in the first place because personal Bible study isn’t viewed as important.

Of course, inaction is often seen as appropriate in the name of love, but my question is this: if you’re not leading someone closer to God – the source of love – Love Himself – are you really loving them in the first place?

When you think about the Bible as one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind (behind His love, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and MMA), His book – literally, what He thinks about the world and how He views things – if you believe that, you’ve got to think maybe it’d be important for you to know what that book says!

I really appreciate Mark Driscoll for championing the idea that, for Christian leaders and teachers, the Bible is really the only resource available to you that gives your words and teachings any authority – authority on loan from God Himself!

3) Most people who call themselves Christians don’t believe what Christianity teaches? Why be surprised? Hell is a real place, and most people will go there.

Woah – now you’re wondering why you bothered reading the rest of what I had to say. Kind of a shocking claim to make, isn’t it?

But seriously, hell is a real place, and most people will go there. I’m not making this up – Jesus said it Himself:

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Not exactly what I would consider the most feel-good message one can find in the Bible!

New studies are published constantly telling us what a bad state the church is in, what a bad state the world is in, how most people don’t claim to follow Christ, and those that do don’t live like it.

Let me shift into the role of prophet for a moment: those studies will never end. The numbers will always be bad, the future will always be portrayed as grim, and groups of well-intentioned people will always be preaching that the death of the church is just a generation away.

It isn’t. That view doesn’t represent reality.

The reality is, however, most people are lost, most of them are going to stay that way, and our job as Christians is to reach who we can – as many as we can, as effectively as we can (not that we humans are the only ones working in this endeavor – God Himself is working in the hearts of men)! It is God’s will that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), but God cannot accept an unrepentant heart (Rom. 2:5)! Our job is to share Jesus with the world making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), to call the world to repentance (Acts 17:30), and to teach new believers to prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).

So make a splash. Live a life that bears eternal fruit. Ask yourself who you’ve impacted for Jesus today.

You’ll never do enough to make God owe you anything, you can never do anything to make God love you, much less, like you, more than He already does, and your good works could never earn you a spot in heaven – Jesus paid it all – BUT you can still make it your goal to make a splash.

Call people to commitment in Jesus’ name, teach others to view His Scriptures highly, teach faithfully from the Bible with authority, and don’t fret when the numbers are bad. They always will be.

I’m done – the ‘submit’ button is calling …

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3 thoughts on “Most American Christians Don’t Believe Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist – Why?

  1. Royce says:

    The fact that people who don’t know what they are talking about call other people “Christians” who are very likely not, complicates the discussion.

    As you point out correctly, there will be many more lost in the end than saved. I have no reason to doubt that many, many church members will be lost. Why because they were committed to an idea, an ideology, a cause, a church, a heritage, but never to Christ.

    Only those who are actively trusting Christ and learning to think of their sins the way God does are Chirstians. All other “so called Christians” are only actors, not the real item.

    Great post,

  2. WesWoodell says:

    That’s good insight, Royce. Thanks for the comment.

    I think you’re right – there’s a BIG difference between being committed to a tradition and being committed to Jesus.

  3. Terry says:

    Wow! Great insights, Wes.

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