By Dr. Tracy Munsil, Executive Director | Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University

Groundbreaking new research about American faith and worldview shows that a slim 51% majority of Americans believe in a biblical view of God – down from 73% thirty years ago. This new research is especially troubling as many Americans are struggling to understand the COVID-19 crisis and are statistically far less likely to turn to God for answers.

The latest research from the American Worldview Inventory 2020, a study conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, finds mounting evidence that Americans are both redefining – and rejecting – God. The report suggests that modern-day Americans’ foundational understanding of traditional Christian beliefs appears to be all but gone—just when they may need it most.

As ACU President Len Munsil noted, “What you believe—or don’t believe—comes into full focus at times like these when people are desperate for answers. As a culture, many Americans are questioning their own mortality, wrestling through questions of life and death, dealing with deep fear. But we cannot rely on our own understanding and individual wisdom. They are inadequate to understand the COVID-19 pandemic. All the ‘gods’ that our culture creates can’t give us the answers we seek.

“The God of the Bible is real and ready to answer anyone who calls,” Munsil said. “Our culture is so wrong about what is actually true about God. We are facing a crisis of belief that will outlast COVID-19, unless God and the truths of the Bible become our framework for understanding this experience.”

According to CRC Director of Research Dr. George Barna, author of the AWVI research, “Tens of millions of Americans who consider themselves to be Christian do not believe that God is really in control of events on earth, or that He cares what happens to them personally. And millions of professing Christians believe that God expects them to help themselves.”

He explained, “Yet they have no idea how to make sense of this pandemic and the resulting social and economic challenges, or how to hear from and partner with God to get through the crisis. Americans’ sense of loneliness and isolation is not just about social distancing; at a deeper level it’s really about spiritual distancing – from God.”

In addition to the AWVI research identifying the stunning decline in belief in God in the past 30 years, the study also found Americans possess shocking views about God, Satan, the Holy Spirit, and the sinless nature of Jesus Christ. For example, Americans are more confident about the existence of Satan than they are of God. Overall, 56% contend that Satan is an influential spiritual being, yet almost half (49%) are not fully confident that God truly exists. And 44% of believe Jesus Christ sinned while on Earth. Americans are also confused about the nature of the Holy Spirit, with over half—52%—saying that “the Holy Spirit is not a living entity, but merely a symbol of God’s power, presence or purity.”

A demographic analysis of the results is even more sobering. When comparing the data from 2020 to that of 30 years ago, some of the largest decreases in a biblical understanding of God are among the youngest Americans — ages 18 to 29 (down 26 points), the oldest Americans, born before 1946 (down 25 points), and women (down 25 points). The single largest drop was among those attending Pentecostal or charismatic Protestant churches (down 27 points). Only those in households with income at least 20% above the national average saw an increase (up 2 points). Overall the study found a 50% drop in biblical worldview in America in the past 30 years, from 12% to the current 6%—the lowest number ever recorded.

Barna points to a number of factors contributing to the erosion of traditional Christian beliefs. “The spiritual noise in our culture over the last few decades has confused and misled hundreds of millions of people,” he explained. “The message to churches, Christian leaders, and Christian educators is clear: we can no longer assume that people have a solid grasp of even the most basic biblical principles.”

Barna said the culture has for some time been dominated by unfettered individualism, as well as the increasing influence of technology and social media, “Thirty years ago, people spent time learning and thinking about God,” he said. “But, as our culture has become more self-absorbed, less time is invested reflecting on ideas like authority and truth. We’ve transitioned from a people who upheld the existence of absolute moral truth to a nation that rejects moral absolutes.”

“The result has been a seminal shift in our collective focus, from other to self, and from absolute truths to conditional truths,” Barna noted. “That helps to explain why the ‘don’t know/don’t care’ population, regarding the existence of God, has mushroomed from 8 percent to 32 percent in just 30 years. That’s one-third of the nation’s adults who have chosen to dismiss traditional teachings about God and the implications of that decision for their present and future. This is the paramount existential crisis of our era.”

Here are other key AWVI 2020 findings from this release:

  • A major shift in beliefs about God shows dramatically increasing skepticism about His existence. Those who say “a higher power may exist, but nobody really knows for certain” has exploded from 1% of the public 30 years ago to 20% today.
  • Americans are almost evenly divided on the nature of Jesus Christ. Overall, 44% agreed that “when He lived on earth, Jesus Christ was fully divine and also fully human, and therefore committed sins, like other people.” Slightly fewer (41%) viewed Jesus as fully divine and fully human, and sinless while on earth.
  • Among those least likely to possess an orthodox biblical view of God:
    • “nones,” i.e., atheists, agnostics, with no religious interest or associations (9%);
    • political liberals (35%);
    • adults who self-identify as LGBTQ (36%);
    • and adults 18 to 29 years old (38%).

This latest CRC report, “Americans Continue to Redefine – and Reject –God,” is the third of 12 biweekly releases from the AWVI 2020. The full release of these results is available here.