Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The 6%

George Barna teamed up with the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University and conducted 30-minute long interviews with 2,000 people designed to discover what worldview they profess to hold, as well as what worldview they actually end up living in their lives (link to study here). It should not be much of a surprise that they found 88% of Americans “embrace an impure, unrecognizable worldview that blends ideas from these multiple perspectives.” In fact, “Biblical Theism” only scored a whopping 6% in the survey...but that still managed to get the majority out of the worldviews presented.

Those worldviews are:

  • Biblical Theism (6%)
  • Secular Humanism (2%)
  • Moral Therapeutic Deism (1%)
  • Postmodernism (1%)
  • Nihilism (1%)
  • Eastern Mysticism/New Age (< 1%)
  • Marxism/Critical Race Theory (<1%)

This study shows one of the problems with trying to pigeonhole people into one of these worldviews. The vast majority of people are Syncretists, wherein they grab a mishmash of things they like from various worldviews and smash them all together. Barna even explicitly labels them as such in his own results.

Of even greater concern than just the fact that only 6% of Americans can be considered Biblical Theists is the fact that when you take the numbers of characteristics that match “a moderately high number of beliefs or behaviors that meet various worldview specifications, but not quite enough to qualify as being a true adherent of that worldview” then the highest scoring trend in the US is those who hold to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism at 38%. Biblical Theists are in second place at 31%. This means that not only are 94% of Americans not Biblical Theists, but 69% of them aren't even close to being Biblical Theists.

It would be easy to say that syncretism isn't that bad. There's quite a bit of overlap between various views that people hold to, and besides Exodus 20:3 just says not to have another god before Yahweh, not to not have any other gods at all.

Of course the command in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me”, does not mean “Yahweh must be first on the list, but the other gods are okay after that.” “Before me” has a different understanding in older English, meaning “in the presence of”. For example, “I am going to be presented before the king.” Thus, the passage in Exodus carries that connotation, as in: “When you are present before me, you shall have no other gods.”

Still, I gather most readers here already know that. What may be a bit less obvious is the fact that when Israel committed most of her sins against God, such as those that led up eventually to the Babylonian captivity, Israel never really turned her back completely on God. That is, they didn't cease to offer sacrifices to Yahweh in order to add sacrifices to Baal. They simply sacrificed to both. Elijah points this out in 1 Kings 18:21, for example, asking the people of Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

More could be mentioned, but I believe the point is made for the purposes of this post. Namely, the sin that caused the downfall of Israel was the very sin of syncretism that currently plagues the United States. God never made a covenant with the United States, even though He has made a covenant with His Church. How do you think a post-Christian American society will fare in the grand scheme of history?


  1. Having looked at the study, what I found interesting is that Catholics were listed as being likely to have a Moral Therapeutic Deism worldview, and that those over 75 are likely to be secular humanists. The former might have to do with the fact that Catholicism's cultural foothold means that it just ends up enveloping many of those with dubious theological views. It could also just be a reflection of an overly pious devotion to Mary et al.

    I'd be interested to see this done on a larger scale, since the sample of 2,000 seems a bit low to draw large conclusion

    1. 2000 is actually a really high sample size for surveys. For the population of the US (about 330 million), a sample size of 2,000 people finding that 6% fit a given criteria yields a margin of error of just 1.04% at the 95% confidence level (which is the normal level of confidence used for statistics). In other words, finding 6% of 2,000 people in the sample size means that it could be anywhere from 4.96% to 7.04% of the entire 330,000,000 population.

      Of course, there are other factors involved that could skew the numbers somewhat (e.g., it's not truly a random selection of those 330 million people, given that it's only the 2,000 people who bothered to respond to the survey, etc.), but in general, a sample size of 2,000 people is going to give you a fairly accurate rough estimate.

  2. It's almost as if there's a broad path that leads to destruction that many are on, and a narrow path that leads to life that few find.

  3. Thanks, Peter! I hadn't seen that study.

    Since most Americans don't have much interest in religious issues, we have to get them interested. One of the approaches I recommend taking, which can also be used to address some of the other problems with modern American culture, is to use an analogy involving some type of human relationship. Marriage, for example. If you were as uninterested in your wife as you are in God, what would she think of that? If you were as pluralistic in your approach toward marriage as you are in your approach toward religious issues, how would your wife respond? What if you told her that you don't have much concern about the details of her life, her interests, her experiences, etc.? What if you told her you'd be as happy married to another woman as you are married to her? The sort of apathy and pluralism people have toward religious matters would have disastrous effects and be easily recognized as absurd in other contexts in life. You can use a relational analogy or whatever other sort of analogy to illustrate that. Then ask what implications a person's apathy and pluralism have for his relationship with God. If apathy and pluralism would suggest that you have a bad relationship with your spouse, don't they suggest the same about your relationship with God? And if you have such a bad relationship with God, then what does that suggest about your view of yourself as a good person? You're worse than you like to think you are. Other examples of that can be brought up (pride, selfishness, sexual sin, laziness, etc.), but I'd recommend starting with how bad of a relationship people have with God. That's the central issue in life, and it's inherently and explicitly religious. It illustrates how religiosity is foundational to goodness.

    Something else we should take away from research like what's being discussed in this thread is that Christians have a lot of work to do and a lot of opportunities to influence people for the better in such significant ways. What are we doing with those opportunities? How much are you doing to persuade people about the most important issues in life?

    1. Excellent points. For me, one of the reasons why I hold to the depravity of the natural state of mankind is simply because of how easy it is to find other things to interest oneself with than God. When you think about the Person who create everything that exists and His wonder and majesty, and then decide to spend your time chasing dust on the wind (which is something I do far too often), there is something seriously wrong with where your attention is focused. I mean, we have a God who's blessed us with a Sabbath rest so we don't get burned out, but all we want to do is that Sabbath with none of the work.

      I'll get off my soapbox before I say more than I should :-D

  4. How are they defining "biblical theism"?

    1. Barna defines it as: "believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today" (taken from the footnote here: That particular article is from 2017, but Barna's been doing this since the 90s and seems to have been pretty consistent on his definitions throughout all the studies I've looked at (which, granted, is a fairly small sample size still).

  5. 6% is over 1 in 20. I’m surprised it is that high.