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The Bad Assumption We Make About People Who Believe in God

Too many of us just assume that when a person affirms they believe in God,” they're talking about the God of the Bible.

There’s a common assumption whenever we talk about God in America, and it needs to be exposed. Too many of us assume that when a person affirms, “I believe in God,” that they are talking about the God described in the Bible. That is far, far from true.

First, you have the statistical evidence, like that cited in a recent survey released from Pew Research Center:

Although some 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God, only a slim majority of the nation's approximately 327 million people believe in God as described in the Bible, according to results of a new study released by the Pew Research Center. And among those younger than 50, belief in the God of the Bible drops lower than 50 percent…

Only 56 percent of the people surveyed indicated that they believe in God "as described in the Bible" and the strongest supporters of this response were Christians who self-identified as members of the historically black Protestant and evangelical traditions. Some 92 percent of those who identified with the historically black Protestant tradition said they believe in God as described in the Bible while 91 percent of those who identified as evangelicals support that position. These groups also overwhelmingly supported the view that God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful.

But on top of that, when you dig deeper into the roughly 50% that still claim belief in the God of the Bible, you have to take into consideration something I wrote about just a few days ago: many of those same folks don’t regularly read or study the Bible and often know very little about it. That leads to a phenomenon of Burger King Christianity where adherents literally “have it their way,” taking out the parts of Scripture or the faith that runs afoul of their social, cultural, political, or philosophical preferences.

For Biblical Christians that might seem to be a sobering reality, but it is also highly motivating. The American church has unquestionably slipped into a complacency where we “do church” on our terms, often reducing the power of the transformative gospel to a feel-good, do-good self-help social club. We shape it so that it conforms to our beliefs rather than shaping our beliefs to conform to its truth. We water down its doctrine and rub off its sharp edges to make it palatable and comfortable for our lives. There’s no struggle, there’s no transformation, merely assurance and affirmation.

People cannot be saved by a false Jesus, and they can’t be changed by a false gospel. That means Bible believers should recognize we are living the words of Scripture where, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

Consequently, there’s never been a better time for the full-throated proclamation of God’s truth by unashamed, unabashed disciples of Christ Jesus. But it’s well past time we recognize that to be truly faithful, our proclamation must invade a Burger King church culture content with complacency. And it must also shrewdly infiltrate conversations we have with those who claim to “believe,” given that may actually have no idea what it really means.

One of the most popular (likely >90%) lies contrary to God's Word among professing "being that man has ultimate, determinative "free will" but God does not, "because God wouldn't make robots" (contrary to Romans 9) and "God wouldn't FORCE his way on anyone" (contrary to him knocking Paul off his donkey in Acts 9 and showing him "how many things he must suffer for my name's sake) they blindly, delusionally spout in their illiterate bigotry. See desiringGod.org for many apologetical helps in this regard concerning monergism. God save us.

Certainly our culture is full of "salad bar Christians" who are quick to adapt moral positions to fit the times. Being non-judgmental seems to be the highest biblical virtue to some.

But, there is no absolute science to interpreting the Bible as evidenced by the number of Christian denominations and the squabbles over doctrine and dogma. How much literalism should be applied to the Bible? How much allegory? What does a relationship with Jesus really mean...are the implications clear? I do agree that there are a whole lot of distractions today that impede or distract people from evolving their understanding of what they believe and how they should live. For some, religion is largely social...for others it is very personal....others are not at all comfortable with evangelizing....since faith is something one must come to in his/her own way. It's tough selling a supernatural Bible to a culture that needs visual evidence.

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I guess it isn't too surprising. The impulse to believe is hardwired into us but specific doctrines aren't. Being "spiritual" for most people nowadays appeases their primal instinct religion fills in their lives without actually having religion with all its restrictions. But that is a very positive attitude to take and I wish you the best to spread knowledge of the your Lord.

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Jack_Krevin: Why would religion appease anyone's so called "primal instinct"? Religion imposes virtues and values on a person that restrict and restrain behavior. This is the opposite of giving in to our base desires. The impulse that is "hardwired" into us is explained by the Bible in that we were all created to worship God. The problem is sin, we choose to worship something other than the one true God, usually ourselves.

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AJ_Liberty: You are correct that there is no absolute science to Biblical interpretation but there is a systematic field of study called hermenutics that makes most interpretation pretty straight forward with study, with exceptions of course. If most Christians would learn and follow it's methods we probably would not have so much fracturing in the Christian church. But one must want to know the truth as it is,
not what they want it to be.

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@bllck100: Because we are hardwired to believe. To put the universe in order/impose a morality to what is otherwise a cold, meaningless universe full of random, chaotic events. This predates Christianity and continues after it. What is Communism but an attempt to impose a secular religion to fill the void left by the Bearded God Killers? And yes, religions impose constraints. I did not deny that. That is their chief function imposing an absolute sense of right and wrong whether we are talking about the ancient Greek's Parthenon or Christianity. As opposed to "spirituality" which appeased the instinct without actually forcing any rigid constraints or behavior on the participant. Which was kind of my point. "spirituality" is much easier.

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As for the Bible's "explanation", that's a religious argument based on faith as opposed to facts and reason. I can only speak on what can be observed and known.

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I wonder about the mental gymnastics one must perform to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving deity.

One must realize that if a god was all loving he would do everything in his power to prevent suffering and pain. And if he was all-powerful he could eliminate all suffering and pain in a moment.

So I am left to conclude that god doesn’t love everyone (or even everyone, since everyone has suffering in life), god isn’t all powerful, or the biblical meaning of “All-loving” is very far from how I would define it.

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Thank you for this article Peter. You make a lot of really good points that are vital to understanding where we are. As Christians, we must understand and confront feel-good-ism when it is substituted for true faith in Christ.

"People cannot be saved by a false Jesus, and they can’t be changed by a false gospel." That passage really says it all. The false Jesus and false gospel that invades our society and our churches is much more dangerous that agnostic and atheistic beliefs. It is the classic wolf in sheep's clothing.

People in both of those groups (and those of faiths that reject Christ), are clear in that they reject Christ. No one agrees with them and also honestly claims or is convinced that they are a follower of Christ.

That is not true when we turn our churches into social clubs. Is the same danger that occurs when you require people to be of a certain faith. You get empty claims and a false sense of security. Satan wants us to be comfortable. Social club church is comfortable, it neither accepts Christ, nor explicitly rejects Him.

The answer to that danger is to identify it, talk about it and inform people by spreading the Gospel of Christ. That is what you are doing here. Well done.

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"That is not true when we turn our churches into social clubs. Is the same danger that occurs when you require people to be of a certain faith. You get empty claims and a false sense of security. Satan wants us to be comfortable. Social club church is comfortable, it neither accepts Christ, nor explicitly rejects Him."

What?!?! People almost always chose a specific religion/church for social reasons. They are born into it. Family - Friends - Community - even convenience!

A "Social Club church" does not "accept Christ"?! What is the matter with you??? I know fundamentalist Muslims who think better of me, my Christian faith, and my churches then some of you fundamentalist Christians do! At least Muslims are not telling me that I don't accept Christ.

Chris...this and nothing but this. If you don't agree, you might be who Peter is trying to reach. Your Muslim friends don't believe in Jesus, and they can't save you. "O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be."

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BenjaminD, refutation of anything presupposes a working knowledge of the subject matter; if I tried to disabuse you of a notion that the Sun exists by defining the Sun a big hot yellow ball in the sky and then pointing out that most rubber balls aren't yellow and that they would all melt anyway, you would tell me what I'm telling you: do your homework, and then we can talk. The Bible makes no mention of an "all loving God" as you define the terms. That may not be entirely your fault, proving the OP's point that too many people's talk about God is incompatible with what the Bible actually says. (contra AJ_Liberty, its main points are quite clear). If you want your vendetta to actually be against the biblical God, you'll need to do a better job describing him, because the philosophical placeholder you invented is nothing like the thrice-holy, infinite-personal, covenant-keeping Trinity who created you and to whom--as you well know--you will one day give an account.

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@Reaganite

Muslims believe that Christ is a prophet not Lord and for all we know they could be right. We all have different supernatural beliefs but none of us has any supernatural knowledge until we die.

My few practicing Muslim associates/coworkers are pretty liberal/reformed I guess. It seems to me they are in the process of reforming, liberalizing, or losing their religion/culture the way Christians have been doing for centuries. These liberal or cultural Muslims definitely don't think everyone who doesn't believe exactly as they do are going to Hell.

Fundamentalist Muslims are not telling me that I don't really accept Christ as my Lord and Savior. ISIS might torture and behead me but even they would not tell me that I am not really a Christian! It is really upsetting when some fundamentalist Christians tell other Christians that they don't really accept Christ and/or are going to Hell because they/their church don't believe this or that specific fundamentalist interpretation of a text.

Fundamentalists quoting religious texts to non-fundamentalists is ineffective for obvious reasons. This is circular logic, reinforcing one's own beliefs, preaching to the choir, etc.

Fundamentalist is a subjective term. You apply to anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God. ISIS would not tell you that you are not a real Christian. They don't care. You are an infidel, someone who must convert or die. If you find something superior in ISIS over those you consider the worst of Christians, I don't know what else to say.

Chris.shmo, are you aware that basing your assertions solely upon your own subjective thought (e.g. "none of us has any supernatural knowledge until we die"), while simultaneously lambasting those who attempt to align their understanding of reality to clear propositions recorded in an external document they did not create, puts you in an unsustainable position? While appeal to authority is a forensic fallacy, it is actually an essential element of life and worldview choices. You will correctly respond, "but the same could be said of the Quran or Mao's book," which is true, and raises the question whether the Bible's claim to objective truth is coherent and believable--and that's not so hard to do, for those who know their lives depend on knowing.

But you don't seem to realize that in the midst of freeing yourself from what you see as fundamentalist interpretations of certain Biblical texts, you are clinging pretty tightly to some of your own (which, btw, makes the OP's point in spades). You have taken great offense at having anybody imply that you or your church are not clearly Christian ("it is really upsetting when some fundamentalist Christians tell other Christians they don't really accept Christ"), but why take offense unless you were convinced--in a fundamentalist sort of way--that being "Christian" is a good, perhaps even necessary, thing. But then you display your own non-acceptance of the Lordship of Christ: "Muslims believe that Christ is a prophet not Lord and for all we know they could be right." Sorry, Chris, we don't get to make the rules about these things. There was an objectively verifiable incarnation, life, death, burial, and resurrection of the eternal Son of God, which gives him full authority over what we must believe.

Strongly recommend this crash course Christian hiphop track on who the Bible is actually talking about, to undo the loose talk Peter was warning us about:

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