Dangerously Few Americans Possess a Biblical Worldview

A new national survey about the worldview of Americans shows that although seven out of ten Americans consider themselves to be Christian, just 6% have a biblical worldview. The study was conducted in January by veteran researcher George Barna of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The survey was administered to a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults.

The research, known as the American Worldview Inventory, is the first wave of what will be an annual survey. The assessment is based on 51 worldview questions, examining both beliefs and behavior.

Faith Connections

There are numerous worldviews for people to choose from, with a biblical worldview – which refers to consistently interpreting and responding to life situations based on biblical principles and teachings – just one of those options.

As might be expected, church alignments were directly related to worldview. People associated with Christian churches that have a “high view” of the Bible – i.e., believing that the Bible is the inspired, true word of God and is a reliable guide for life – were much more likely to have a biblical worldview than were people attending other types of churches. One-fifth of those attending evangelical Protestant churches (21%) have a biblical worldview, as do one-sixth of those attending charismatic or Pentecostal churches (16%). In contrast, much smaller proportions of people associated with mainline Protestant (8%) or Catholic (1%) churches – segments that typically place less trust in the reliability of the Bible – have a biblical worldview.

Born again Christians – a segment defined in part by their acceptance of scriptural exhortations regarding sin, grace, and salvation – were three times more likely than average to have a biblical worldview (19%). However, the fact that not quite one out of five born again adults holds a biblical worldview highlights the extensive decline of core Christian principles in America over the last several decades. Born again adults currently constitute about one-third of the national adult population.

The largest segment of people who describe themselves as Christian is Notional Christians – those who self-identify as Christian and who do not embrace eternal salvation through a personal confession of sin and accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Notional Christians constitute 54% of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christian. Very few Notional Christians – only one-tenth of one percent – have a biblical worldview.

Groups More Likely to Live Biblically

Possessing a biblical worldview is more common among people with some college education (7%) than among those who never attended college (1%). People from households earning less than $60,000 are less likely than those from households earning more than that amount to have a biblical worldview (5% versus 8%), and whites are slightly more likely than non-whites to have such a worldview (7% versus 4%, respectively). The study also showed that the younger a person was, the less likely they are to possess a biblical worldview: 9% of Americans 50 or older have a biblical worldview, compared to just 5% of those in their thirties and forties, and a mere 2% of those 18 to 29 years old.

There are geographic differences of note, as well. Only 4% of adults in the Northeastern and Western states have a biblical worldview in comparison twice as many who live in the Midwest and South (8%). Of the five most highly populated states in the U.S. only residents of Texas (9%) exceeded the national average, while the incidence of a biblical worldview in the other four large states was below average (4% among residents of California and New York, and just 3% among those residing in Florida and Pennsylvania).

Not surprisingly, political leanings were related to peoples’ worldview. Among adults who are politically conservative, 16% have a biblical worldview. That far exceeded the proportion among political moderates (3%) and liberals (1%).

Another hybrid segment is SAGE Cons – an acronym for Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians, who represent about 9% of the population. A group that is active in both politics and faith, they are credited with playing a pivotal role in putting Donald Trump in the White House in 2016. The survey revealed that nearly half of that group (44%) has a biblical worldview.

Some demographic qualities – such as gender, presence of young children in the home, and military experience – showed no relationship to whether or not a person has a biblical worldview.

Historical Context

Although peoples’ worldview is perhaps the most critical factor in influencing character, values, and lifestyle, worldview assessment is not a widespread research focus. George Barna, who is a Professor at ACU as well as the Director of Research at ACU’s Cultural Research Center, has been one of the pioneers in the field, engaging in such research for more than 25 years. Based on his past worldview studies Barna noted that the results of the current study continue the pattern he has seen developing.

“A quarter century ago we had as much as 12% of the adult population holding a biblical worldview,” he explained. “Since that time, we have seen a steady reduction in the incidence. The current level – just 6%, which is literally half of the level when we started measuring this – is the lowest yet.”

Arizona Christian University is dedicated to helping students develop a biblical worldview, teaching every class from a biblical worldview perspective. Barna explained that the university is committed to graduating future leaders who have the ability to improve the worldview landscape of America by bringing a consistent biblical perspective into their profession, church, family, and relationships.

“In the American Worldview Inventory, we measure not just beliefs but also the application of those beliefs – our behavior – because people do what they believe,” noted Barna. “If you truly believe something, you integrate into how you live, and your lifestyle reflects those beliefs. As a result, our worldview research always balances examining both what we believe to be true with how we translate such beliefs into action. That’s why we refer to someone with a biblical worldview as an integrated disciple: they have blended their intellectual acceptance of biblical principles into their physical application of those perspectives. In other words, they are integrated disciples of Jesus Christ because they have translated their ability to think like Jesus into ways of living like Him as well.”

Transforming America’s Worldview

The survey results indicate that there is ample room for growth in biblical worldview incidence. The breadth of research conducted over the years by Barna regarding worldview development suggests that people begin developing their worldview very early in life and continue to refine and integrate their worldview through their twenties. While there are many influences that affect the worldview people embrace, the dominant influences are family, media messages, public policy, schooling, and peer influence.

Experts concur that because a worldview develops over a long period of time, and any intentional redirection of a person’s worldview must be done strategically, growing the number of Americans who possess a biblical worldview will be a long-term process that must include a variety of influence agents.

Intentionally developing and carefully measuring worldview is not merely an academic exercise, as ACU associate professor Dr. Tracy Munsil pointed out.

“Unless America experiences a steady increase in people reflecting a biblical worldview in their lives, America’s future is more likely to resemble that of nations characterized by moral and behavioral chaos,” warned Munsil, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Cultural Research Center. “Alternative perspectives such as postmodern, Marxism, and secular humanism drive American thinking and lifestyles these days. What we experience in our nation today will not change until we replace the cause of the prevalent thinking and behavior. The cause is our worldview.”

Munsil pointed to survey data showing that Americans are consistently frustrated with the values, morals, and lifestyle choices that dominate American life these days. “Because you do what you believe, the only way to alter the typical daily experience in America – or to change the trajectory of our culture – is to address the cause of the problem. That means we need to establish a full throttle effort to restore knowledge, acceptance, and application of biblical truth throughout our nation,” Munsil continued. “It took roughly half a century for America to lose its Christian moorings, and it will take at least that long to restore them. There needs to be a sense of urgency about initiating that recovery immediately. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to successfully reintroduce biblical truth to a doubting population.”

About the Research

The American Worldview Inventory (AWVI) is the first wave of an annual series of surveys that estimates how many adults have a biblical worldview. The assessment is based on 51 worldview-related questions that are drawn from eight categories of worldview application. Those questions are divided into queries regarding both beliefs and behavior. In additional to the worldview questions, the survey also contains an array of demographic and theological questions. In total, the AWVI instrument incorporates 68 questions and took respondents an average of 16 minutes to complete.

AWVI was undertaken in January, 2020 among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults. The survey included 1,000 interviews with a nationwide random sample of adults via telephone, plus another 1,000 adults interviewed online through use of a nationally representative panel of adults. A survey of 2,000 individuals is considered to have sampling error of approximately 2 percentage points, based on the 95% confidence interval. Additional levels of undeterminable error may occur in surveys based upon non-sampling activity.

About the Cultural Research Center

The Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University is located on the school’s campus in Phoenix, Arizona. CRC conducts nationwide research studies to understand the intersection of faith and culture and shares the information with organizations focused on impacting the spheres of cultural influence in order to transform American culture with biblical truth. Like ACU, CRC embraces the Christian faith but remains non-partisan and inter-denominational. In addition to Dr. George Barna, Dr. Tracy Munsil serves as the Executive Director of the Center. More information about the Cultural Research Center is available at the Center’s website, located at www.crc.com.