A fourth of self-identified Christians don’t believe fully in the biblical description of God, Pew Research Center said in its latest study.
Rather, 25 percent of American Christians believe in what Pew described as “God or another higher power” who is not necessarily all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent as scripture reveals.
“In total, three-quarters of U.S. Christians believe that God possesses all three of these attributes – that the deity is loving, omniscient and omnipotent,” Pew found in the study of about 4,750 Americans released April 25.
Eighty percent of Christians told Pew they believe in the biblical God, but not all of them believed in the three godly characteristics Pew identified. Other biblical characteristics of God, such as mercy and grace, were not specified in the study’s questions.
Many of those who described themselves as Christians are confused about who God is and what qualifies a person as Christian, Southern Baptist theologian R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in the April 26 edition of his podcast, The Briefing.
“Here we are being told that a significant number of those who identify as Christians say that they don’t believe in the God of the Bible,” Mohler said. “Some of them, even if just 1 percent, when we’re talking about the numbers involved here, say that they are Christians, but they don’t believe in any higher power at all.
“It means, by the way, that not only are they not Christians, they’re not even theists,” Mohler said of self-described Christians who don’t even believe in a higher power.
Most Christians, 93 percent, believe “God or another higher power in the universe” loves all people regardless of their faults, 87 percent believe God is omniscient or all-knowing, and 78 percent believe God is omnipotent or all-powerful.
The 75 percent of Christians who said they believe in all three of the identified characteristics of the biblical God was higher than the total found in the greater population, 56 percent of which reported such a belief. In all, 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power not necessarily described as the biblical God.
Pew conducted the study of 4,729 participants in its American Trends Panel Dec. 5-18, 2017, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. The study group is considered nationally representative.
Among other findings:
- 91 percent of black Protestants and 87 percent of white evangelicals believe God has all three traits, compared to 62 percent of mainline Protestants and 61 percent of Catholics.
- 56 percent of Jews and 53 percent of religiously unaffiliated “nones” told Pew they don’t believe in the biblical God but do believe in a higher power or spiritual force in the universe.
- 75 percent of American adults, including Christians and the general population, say they try to talk to God, but not all of them consider the conversations the same as prayer.
- 39 percent of Americans who said they never or seldom pray said they talk to God just the same.
- 3 percent of agnostics say they believe in the biblical God.
- In the general population, non-white Democrats – mostly African Americans and Hispanics – more closely resemble Republicans than white Democrats in their perceptions of a biblical God.
The survey did not include enough Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or members of other minority religious groups to permit separate analyses of their beliefs, Pew researchers said.
The full study is available at pewforum.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)