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The Faith of Americans is Shifting
Some changes are positive. But most are very discouraging.
The Christian researcher Dr. George Barna has released another report in his study of the worldviews of U.S. adults. Conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, the study shows the ways the faith of Americans has changed since the start of the pandemic.
A few of these changes are encouraging. Most are not.
The study evaluated more than four dozen beliefs and behaviors and spoke to a cross-section of 2,000 people.
The Good News
On the positive side, four specific beliefs indicated that the U.S. adult population may actually be moving closer to biblical thinking. One change was significant: In 2020, only one-third of the adult population was willing to push back against the idea that “there are no moral truths that are the same for everyone.” Now, in 2023, almost half of the population (46 percent) rejects that idea. People are now more likely to say that absolute moral truth exists and can be known.
Another big shift had to do with the idea that salvation can be earned through good works. Only 35 percent rejected that belief in 2020. Now, 45 percent deny the statement and believe in salvation by grace through faith, as the Bible says.
An additional increase comes from the number of adults who will agree that the Bible represents the true and completely accurate words of God. In 2023, 46 percent of respondents now hold that belief, a five-point increase from 2020.
Finally, there’s growth in the number of people who believe that the purpose of life is “to know, love, and serve God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” That percentage rose 7 points in the tracking study. Unfortunately, after that increase, it’s still only 36 percent of adults who accept that idea.
When it comes to biblical behaviors, other noteworthy shifts are visible in the report:
Two specific behaviors among those tested showed more people engaging in a biblical approach than three years ago. The most significant growth was an increase in adults who believe sexual intercourse between two people who are not married to each other is morally unacceptable. While the increase is unusually large (11 percentage points), less than two out of five adults (38 percent) side with the Bible’s teaching that sexual intercourse is only morally acceptable between a man and woman who are married to each other.
Also, the 2023 survey was the first time since the start of the American Worldview Inventory that a majority of adults agreed that lying is wrong.
The Bad News
There were several core beliefs in which adults have moved further away from biblical teaching since the pandemic. In the largest statistical change, the researchers saw a decline of 20 percentage points between 2020 and 2023 in adults who believe they have a unique, God-given calling or purpose for their life. Around 66 percent of adults would have said that in 2020. Today, only 46 percent will agree to that. That’s a staggering drop.
Other notable changes:
10 percent fewer describe human life as sacred (39 percent in 2020 compared to 29 percent in 2023).
Six percent fewer adults believe God is the basis of all truth.
Four percent fewer adults now identify themselves as Christian (72 percent in 2020, 68 percent in 2023).
Meanwhile, specific behaviors are becoming less consistent with biblical teaching:
Church attendance declined. Only one out of three adults currently attends a church service of any kind during a typical week. That’s a loss of 15 million churchgoing adults and a decline of six percentage points since the start of the pandemic.
Bible-reading declined. In 2020, 37 percent of adults said they read or studied the Bible during a typical week. In 2023, only 33 percent reported the same thing.
Forgiveness declined. The study saw a decline from 54 percent to 50 percent of adults who say they acknowledge their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness at least once a week.
And these declines were especially discouraging:
A 14-point drop in adults who say the Bible is unambiguous in its teaching about abortion.
A 14-point drop in those who believe that Jesus lived a sinless life while on Earth.
A 6-point drop in the number who believe that God is the basis of all truth.
The Great Turn from the Truth
What should we make of this? The lead researcher, George Barna, pointed out that religious beliefs are often shifting from generation to the next, but rarely has he seen changes this significant over such a short time:
“Most religious beliefs change over the course of generations, not a few years,” Barna explained. “However, we know that major life crises have the capacity to introduce substantial change quickly in the foundations of people’s faith.”
He continued, “The pandemic was certainly a life crisis for our nation, so even though this magnitude of spiritual shift was not expected, it is feasible given the physical and psychological effects of COVID along with the economic, relational, and lifestyle effects of the government’s drastic policies.”
He says the pandemic may have shaken the faith of Christians just as it shook their faith in government.
Yes, there is some good news in this report. But as I read it, the bad news far outweighs the good news. What once had been a steady decline in Christian beliefs is now beginning to pick up speed.
It looks to me as if we are witnessing a worldwide shift toward apostasy and a rejection of Jewish and Christian morality. Adults are going to church less and reading their Bibles less. American adults are losing their religious identity. I don’t believe the pandemic caused this, but I do believe the crisis accelerated this decline. The loss of religion in the United States will have deep, worldwide consequences.
Paul said this would happen:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.—2 Timothy 4:3-4
I would have said we were living in the most immoral time in human history before COVID. But clearly it is getting worse, and it will keep getting worse as more and more people fall away from God. Faith is declining across all generations, and Generation Z may be the first “post-Christian” generation in our nation’s history.
This diminishment of American faith echoes the decline in faith that happened across western Europe during the 20th century. It is one of the most significant signs that we are closer than ever to the return of Christ. The last days will be characterized by the rejection and perversion of Christianity, and we are seeing it happen already.