rebelling against low expectations

Religion in America: The Four Gods


Religion in AmericaThe Baylor University Religion Study, believed to be the most-detailed study of American religion ever undertaken, released a report on Monday that is making headlines in newspapers across the country and causing waves in the blogosphere.

This study serves as both a reminder and an opportunity for Christians to engage the culture in a needed dialogue on issues of faith and salvation. To that end, I want to take a closer look at some of the study’s discoveries and conclusions.

In Four Gods We Trust.
A national survey released in 2004 indicated that over 14 percent of Americans were non-religious, up from 8 percent in 1988 (the year Brett and I were born). According to researchers at Baylor, their more-detailed survey indicates that only 10.8 percent of the population are non-religious, effectively “discovering” 10 million more religious Americans—mostly Evangelicals—than were previously known.

Here is a quick summary of some of their key findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans (47.2%) identify themselves as ‘Bible-believing’.
  • Fully a third of Americans (33.6%), roughly 100 million people, are Evangelical Protestant by affiliation.
  • Fewer than five percent of the U.S. population claim a faith outside of the Judeo-Christian mainstream.
  • Barely one in ten Americans (10.8%) is NOT affiliated with a congregation, denomination, or other religious group.
  • The majority (62.9%) of Americans NOT affiliated with a religious tradition believe in God or some higher power.
  • According to the study then, almost 92 percent of Americans believe in God. These numbers seem to argue that America has not yet slipped into secularism to the extent that some have assumed. This is encouraging news.

    At the same time, however, the Baylor study paints Americans as deeply divided on the question of what God is like. Based on survey participant’s responses to two sets of questions—God’s level of involvement and God’s level of anger—the researchers identified four different views of God, dubbed America’s “Four Gods.”

    The results are below, with definitions of each category:

  • 31.4 percent were categorized as believing in an Authoritarian God, who is engaged in the world and very judgmental.
  • 25 percent were categorized as believing in a Benevolent God, who is engaged in the world but not judgmental.
  • 23 percent were categorized as believing in a Distant God, who is not engaged in the world and who doesn’t care what we do.
  • 16 percent were categorized as believing in a Critical God, who is judgmental but not actively engaged.
  • The God of the Bible
    Researchers at Baylor have drawn all sorts of interesting parallels and conclusions from their analysis of the “Four Gods,” but for now I want to focus on the fact that none of these “views of God” rightly describe the God of Scripture.

    We do not serve a distant or disengaged God. Rather we serve a God who is actively involved in His creation. It is in Him that “we live and move and have our being” (Act 17:28). It is He who “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) and who works all things “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

    God is both loving and holy, and His wrath against sin is the result of His holiness. The Bible teaches that we are all by nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) destined to “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). And yet the glorious news of the gospel is that God “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

    Christ’s perfect life and excruciating death—an expression of God’s immeasurable love—paid the price for our sins. He bore the holy wrath of God for the sins of everyone who will put their faith in Him. You see, Jesus did not die because God doesn’t hate sin. He had to die because God does hate sin.

    I love how John Piper puts it in his article, Defending My Father’s Wrath:

    There was only one hope for me—that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God. This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever.

    Unfortunately, the Baylor study seems to confirm the sobering fact that many millions of God-believing Americans have an incomplete or inaccurate view of God, and consequently, a misunderstanding of the gospel.

    A New Series: God and the Gospel
    This widespread confusion in America over the nature of God should motivate us to do three things: First, to carefully examine our own understanding of God in the light of His Word. Second, to pursue a stronger grasp of biblical theology (i.e. the study of God). And third, to effectively and creatively communicate that right understanding of God to the world around us. These are hard things, but they are incredibly important, especially for those of us who call ourselves rebelutionaries.

    In the upcoming week we’re going to embark on an new series titled “God and the Gospel,” that will help us do all three of those things. Using the Baylor study and others like it—including the National Study of Youth and Religion—to gain a better grasp of what our generation believes about God and Christianity, we will then respond to some of the most common misconceptions with the truth of God’s Word.

    A Closing Challenge
    For now, I would encourage all of you to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the attention that the Baylor study has received and actively seek to share the gospel with someone this week. Ask them if they’ve heard about the big study on religion that’s been making headlines. If they have, ask them to share what they believe about God. If they haven’t, fill them in, then ask them.

    As you listen, be thinking about the verses I shared earlier in the post—they will help you identify any misconceptions the person may have about God or salvation. When they’re done talking, use the verses to explain what the Bible says. A lot of times, people just don’t know. The most important task on earth is to tell them.

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    About the author

    Alex and Brett Harris

    are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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    • God bless you both. I praise Him who created this good work in you. Thank you for your boldness and thoroughness.

      Katie Pourcho
      Indianapolis, IN

    • Hey guys. Great article. I find that true about all the people that say they believe in God. Sure they do, they believe in their god. Not the God of the Bible though. Sometimes these people can be the hardest to witness too.

    • I am really looking forward to this series. I’m currently taking a class in which my classmates include a mormon, a believer in the elements of rain, sun, etc. and a wiccan. I’m definitely looking forward to using this study on religion as a way to share the gospel. Thank you much!

    • “…These numbers seem to argue that America has not yet slipped into secularism to the extent that some have assumed. This is encouraging news.

      “At the same time, however, the Baylor study paints Americans as deeply divided on the question of what God is like. Based on survey participant’s responses to two sets of questions—God’s level of involvement and God’s level of anger—the researchers identified four different views of God, dubbed America’s ‘Four Gods.’…”

      And that’s the key -what “kind” of God do people believe in, and how does this affect them? It makes sense that there are plenty of differences. For instance: A person who believes in a “distant” god, lacks accountability -just as athiests, humanists, etc., who believe in no God at all. And that lack of accountability, or what we as Christians call “Fear of God,” results in no moral absolutes.

      Different characteristics relating to different “gods” has huge impact(s).

      It’s alarming how even Christians themselves can be divided when it comes to denominations.


    • Hey guys, I just read about you and WORLD magazine and headed over to check you out. Looks like the rebelution is what Christian teens need, esp. in those do-nothing Christian high schools. I’ll be sure to check in later.

    • This is true in the UK as well, where I live. The most recent national census puts 70% of people as “Christians”, but the majority of those don’t know Jesus and would probably be offended by the God of the Bible. I have friends in this category – who claim to believe in God but have never examined Scripture, attend church at Christmas only, and continue to live their own lives by their own moral standards.
      I recently heard an excellent series of talks by Jay Pathak (pastor of Arvada Vineyard church in Colorado) about how the word “Christian” has come to be almost meaningless; or at least, many people in our Western culture have a wrong understanding of what it means to be a Christian, associating it with “doing religious stuff” rather than living as forgiven followers of Jesus Christ. I guess this is where the rebelution comes in – by the way we live we can set an example, and take every opportunity we have to show and tell people what it really means to be a Christian.

    • Wow that is pretty amazing.Thanks for that challenge at the end, and that is a big help for people like me on how to start a conversation with some one who is very unsure about the way God is.Im new to this website and it’s awesome what you guys are doing, And I cant wait for the up coming series.

    • Thanks so much for posting this! I really gained some knowledge from reading it. If we would only speak the truth, OUT LOUD, I’m pretty sure we would gain some fruit. People are itching to know, they just don’t want to ask. Anyway, I really enjoyed this post. God bless!

    • First of all, we don’t have to ask people if they believe in God to know that they do (according to Romans, chapter one). I really respect the distinctively biblical perspective you exhibit on this site. It’s a breath of fresh air and all too rare. It’s frightening and wonderful to encounter the message from the Book. Thank you for taking the time and care to get that message across.

    • I have to agree with Damien everyone must know that there is a God. just take a look around you and explain how this could all come about by chance.
      [quote]For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
      Romans 1:20 (NIV)[/quote]
      That pretty much explains it all.
      Why can’t we see God? Because he is invisible.
      God can’t take away my sin because it is too great! Nonsence what about His Eternal Power and Divine Nature?.
      However I think that many people lie to them selves that there is no God because it makes them feel better. I mean if there is no God then there is no right or wrong, then the fact that they just “obtained” a new stereo isn’t wrong. Some people take this lying to the extent that they cannot even speak the truth that there is a God. and other people only believe that there is a God because their parents and grandparents believe so.

      well i will stop now before i take up all of the comment space 😀


    • Nice…
      and to add from the last comment I used to think there was a God because I grew up in church did what everyone else was doing untill April 2, 2002 I realized I needed to make the God my God.

    • Alex,

      I am getting ready to start my own blog in light of the article in WORLD about you and Brett. I’ve been devouring the rebelution, as well as other bloggs. It’s so nice to know that others exist and care to the extent that I do. I will be emailing you and Brett soon becuase I have some comments. But I couldn’t help but comment on this now. Everyone, or close to everyone believes in “God”. I played basketball for a public high school…all of the girls go to church. None of them know Jesus. The biggest key to knowing God, is Jesus. So many millions of people create a god that they want. They don’t like all of the Bible…so they take half of the Bible. But the key thing to if they really know God, is if they know Jesus. My classical piano Doctor is “at perfect peace with herself” becuase she knows God. The god she serves is herself. The awesome thing about the Truth is that it stands so brightly compared to all of those people who claim they know God. In some ways it’s easier debating with my sister who is an Egnostic.

      Keep searching, keep studying. All of us are bonded together by the one thing that sets us apart…Jesus. May His name be praised!

      Jesus wept…
      John 11:35

      So must we weep over the blindness that these people are in. The one way that they will know us apart is by the love of Jesus in us. Only a reborn heart, full of love can pierce through the darkness that surrounds these people.

      Sorry…didn’t mean to get too dramatic!
      You’ll be hearing from me again!

    • Sadly our World Mag. subscription ran out and we haven’t had a hard copy in a while. Alex and Brett, did you guys have an article in there or where you talked about in there? Because I keep reading comments about it on here and on the forum.

    • Thanx for bringing this to our attention! It reminded me of Romans 10:2-3, 14-15:

      For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

      How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    • I understand it is very important to witness. But there are many times when you cannot speak out and the only way to witness is through words and deeds. The problem with that is that it is over a long period of time and meanwhie it can get a bit discouraging. Also, what if you’re not around many unbelievers except ones who refuse to listen or notice? Perhaps, then the only was to help is through prayer. I too am looking forward to this series. Thanks for doing this.

    • I love the post. I don’t think I could agree any more. It’s sad to look around and watch people blinded by Satan and not know who the real God is. Because the God that I know is the one that will be able to fill that hole in there heart and bring them from darkness into the light. And unless they realize that the real God is not who they think, they won’t be able to have that amazing relationship with Him.
      May God bless you both in your ministry.

    • I believe that the God question is slightly difficult. Because when presented with it, I would choose a slightbit of each. Our God, as seen in the Bible, is multi-faceted, so to describe Him with one word would of course cause descrepency and dispute. But yes, I do believe that we should spread His truth and the number one way to do that is through our actions. If, through our actions, we distinguish ourselves from others, then people will wonder what we have that they don’t. Lecturing turns people away. Seeing a gift that is with in reach is a whole different story…

    • This post really makes you feel like standing on Main Street and preaching the word of God.

    • Its encouraging to know that most of America believes in a higher power and ther is still hope for them to be saved! God bless…

    • The design for the blog is a tad off in Epiphany. Nevertheless I like your site. I may need to install a normal web browser just to enjoy it.

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