That is my cynical take on the latest George Barna polls results, found here.
Barna himself says American “Christians” are continually trying to marry what Christian theology teaches with their everyday experiences. The most recent poll examined 1871 self-described Christians notions of God, the Trinity, Satan, demons, and other faiths. Barna summarized the results so:
““Most Americans, even those who say they are Christian, have doubts about the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural world. Hollywood has made evil accessible and tame, making Satan and demons less worrisome than the Bible suggests they really are. It’s hard for achievement-driven, self-reliant, independent people to believe that their lives can be impacted by unseen forces.”
Well, actually, the numbers don’t necessarily follow George’s statement. More about that later.
The polls results that lead to Barna’s summary include these findings:
God is the “all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe who rules the world today.” 78% agree.
Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” 40% strongly agree, 19% somewhat agree, 26% strongly disagree, 9% somewhat disagree.
The Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” 38% strongly agree, 20% somewhat agree, 25% strongly disagree, 9% somewhat disagree.
Jesus Christ sinned while He lived on earth. 46% strongly disagreed, 9% somewhat disagreed, 22% strongly agreed, 17% somewhat agreed.
People can be influenced by spiritual forces, like demons/evil spirits. 39% agree strongly, 25% agree somewhat, 18% disagree strongly, 10 disagree somewhat.
It seems like American “Christians” are confused and unsure about supreme powers of good and evil, but are quite certain there are middle level evil forces messing nature and human lives up. That’s not unlike our ancient predecessors, actually, who were sure the world was run by powers called daemons, sort of demi-gods or angelic beings below the gods. God or the gods were considered too perfect in themselves to have much to do with the world and mankind, but could be invoked to make pesky daemons leave one alone or actually give aid. Historians of early Christianity agree that a very strong factor in the growth of Christianity were the many miracles and exorcisms that proved Jesus Christ was truly God, and other reputed gods lesser beings, daemons, under Jesus’ rule.
Mind you, Christianity didn’t become “universal” (True Christianity never has been universal. Something about narrow gates and wide gates, Matthew 7:13-14) until it became impractical in the late Roman empire to live and do business unless one was “Christian”, which was, in fact, sometime after that modern boogeyman, Constantine, was dead.
Anyway, back to Barna’s latest poll. Disheartening as the results may seem to many, there are further points in the poll that may explain a lot. Many of the “Christians” in the poll are what Barna’s group calls “notional Christians”, that is, self-identified Christians who do not necessarily follow classic Christianity’s notion of confession of sin and grace through Jesus Christ. The more traditional Christians the Barna’s identify as “born agains”, and they are two and sometimes three times more likely “to strongly agree that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches; that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith; that a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces such as demons; and to hold an unfavorable opinion of Wicca… to strongly disagree that Satan is just a symbol of evil, and that Jesus sinned while He lived on earth…to strongly disagree that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol of God’s power or presence; that Mormons are Christians; and that the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon teach the same truths.”
The Barna group webpage gives the fine print details about this latest poll, which were telephone interviews with roughly a 1.0 to 3.4 % margin of error and a 95% confidence level. Their sheer frequency, one must admit, makes it hard to take them too seriously. On the other hand, their results makes one take the need for Christian education, especially theology, very seriously indeed.