Home Christian News George Barna: ‘Christian’ Is Now a Generic Label

George Barna: ‘Christian’ Is Now a Generic Label

American Christian

According to a new report from Arizona Christian University’s Cultural Research Center (CRC), just 9% of self-identified American Christian adults hold a biblical worldview. Even fewer (6%) hold a biblical worldview and consistently apply biblical principles to their lives.

The CRC says findings from its latest American Worldview Inventory show the need to nurture what the center calls “integrated disciples” of Jesus. “‘Christian’ has become somewhat of a generic term rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ,” says CRC research director George Barna. “Too often, it seems, people who are simply religious, or regular churchgoers, or perhaps people who want a certain reputation or image embrace the label ‘Christian,’ regardless of their spiritual life and intentions.”

Self-Identifying as Christian Isn’t Very Telling

Of the 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed, 69% self-identified as Christian. Yet of that group, 72% say people are basically good, 64% say all religious faiths have equal value, 58% say people can get to heaven by performing good works, and 57% believe in karma. The broader group of self-identified Christians also tends to reject several biblical teachings; for example, only 46% say God’s plan for marriage involves one man and one woman, and only 32% say premarital sex is morally unacceptable.

About one-third of survey respondents identify more specifically as either born-again or evangelical Christians. “Despite using different terminology to identify themselves,” Barna says, “self-identified born-again and self-identified evangelical Christians possess nearly identical views on most of the beliefs evaluated.” Yet even among those believers, 62% say the Holy Spirit is symbolic, not real; 61% say all faiths are equally valuable; and 60% say people can get to heaven by performing good works.

Only the 6% of “integrated disciples” can be described as having a biblical worldview, says Barna. These believers “assimilate their beliefs into their lifestyles” and most closely reflect “biblical principles into their opinions, beliefs, behaviors, and preferences.”

Almost all (99%) of integrated disciples “believe that the Bible is the accurate and reliable words of God, believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, and just Creator of the universe who still rules,” and “say they have a unique, God-given calling.”

Takeaways of These Findings

Inventory results show that U.S. adults tend to “dilute and distort the cultural understanding of what constitutes Christianity,” Barna says. Labeling people broadly as Christians becomes problematic for politics, for example. “Political polling, in particular, may mislead people regarding the views and preferences of genuine Christ-followers simply based on how those surveys measure the Christian population,” he says. Integrated disciples who truly possess a biblical worldview tend to be more conservative than the broader group of self-identified Christians.

Len Munsil, president of Arizona Christian University, says survey results emphasize the urgency of training young Christians in integrated discipleship. And outreach opportunities abound, he adds. “Fragments of biblical truth are still embraced by the overwhelming majority of American adults, which means that each of the estimated 176 million self-identified Christians has a starting point of belief that can be built upon and refined into a mature, consistent biblical worldview.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.