Beliefs that majorities of people in this category reject include the idea that Jesus is the only person who can save them, that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that premarital sex is wrong.
The narrative driving the faith of the self-identified Christian population, then, is not consistently in tune with biblical perspectives. It might best be described as acknowledging that God is real, powerful, and caring, and is worthy of worship and consideration. He is open-minded and tolerant. Our moral choices are important but primarily because of their effect on other people. Those choices are best influenced by human experience and personal expectations. If we invest in being happy, God will bless those efforts. Toward that end, the best advice we can live by is the wisdom developed and shared by other people.
The next notable aspects of this research are the pervasiveness of unbiblical beliefs among self-identified born-again Christians, as well as that group’s similarity to self-identified evangelical Christians.
Barna found that there are “numerous outlooks” among self-identified born-again Christians that conflict with Biblical teachings. These include the idea that there are no moral absolutes, that all faiths are equal, and that if people are good enough, they can earn their way to heaven.
“Interestingly,” says Barna, “just 44% believe that when they die they will go to Heaven, but only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. In other words, nearly six out of 10 people who claim to be born-again do not meet the widely accepted, biblical definition of born-again.”
When comparing self-identified born-again Christians to self-identified evangelical Christians, data shows they hold “nearly identical views.” Says Barna, “There is tremendous overlap between the two niches.” One difference is that there are “slightly fewer” self-identified evangelicals (28%, or 71 million people) than there are self-identified born-again Christians (35%, or 89 million people).
The fourth category is “theologically born-again Christians,” or people’s whose beliefs identify them as born-again. “One might expect those who call themselves ‘born-again’ and those whose theological positions place them in the ‘born-again’ category to be very similar,” says Barna. “They’re not.”
Like evangelicals, theologically born-again Christians are 28% of all American adults. People in this group are far more likely to rely on Jesus as their only savior than their self-identified counterparts. This dependence on Jesus by theologically born-again Christians, says Barna, is “a game-changer.”