Reviews > Culture

Unbelieving 'born-agains'

Culture | Research continues to reveal a steady theological collapse among professing Christians in America

Issue: "Gay marriage backlash," Dec. 6, 2003

SECULARISTS, LIBERALS, AND MUSLIMS DO NOT need to fear conservative Christians, says Dave Shiflett in The Wall Street Journal. Christians, he says, are not all that interested in converting the heathen. They don't really believe that there is such a thing as the heathen, tending to believe instead that every religion is equally valid.

"Even the most feared of Christians-the dread 'born-agains' who have cost the high priests at People for the American Way so much sleep-often embrace the modern orthodoxies of tolerance and inclusion over the traditional teachings of their faith."

He cites poll data from Christian researcher George Barna that 26 percent of born-agains believe all religions are essentially the same and that 50 percent believe that a life of good works will enable a person to get to heaven.

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He goes on, though, to cite data that cast doubt on whether some of these born-again Christians will be there. More than one in three (35 percent) born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead.

Isn't that a rather important thing to believe in? Especially in light of Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord" [that they do] "and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead," [this they do not do] "you will be saved" [so are they?].

Over half of born-again Christians (52 percent), according to Mr. Barna's data, do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living entity. In Acts 19, the Apostle Paul came across a group of people who said that they were Christians, but they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. They had to be reevangelized and rebaptized.

Slightly more born-again Christians believe in the devil than believe in the Holy Spirit, though 45 percent do not believe that Satan exists. Ten percent believe in reincarnation. Twenty-nine percent believe it is possible to communicate with the dead.

As for moral issues, one out of three born-again Christians (33 percent), according to Mr. Barna's numbers, accept same-sex unions. More than one out of three (39 percent) believe it is morally acceptable for couples to live together before marriage. And, significantly, born-again Christians are more likely than non-Christians to have experienced divorce (27 percent vs. 24 percent).

Mr. Barna defines "born-again Christians" as those who report having made a personal commitment to Christ and expect to get to heaven because they accepted Jesus. He has a subcategory of born-again Christians-"evangelicals"-who meet more stringent criteria of biblical faith. But these amount to only 8 percent of American Christians, with 33 percent being the less-orthodox "nonevangelical born-agains."

Is this rampant unbelief among people who have accepted Christ an example of biblical illiteracy? Or is it a positive conviction that faith is a purely subjective experience rather than an appropriation of objective truths?

Either way, this is strong evidence of how American Christianity is conforming to the dominant secular culture. It is all right to be religious, according to the dictates of postmodernism, as long as your faith exists just in your head. If you start claiming that your beliefs are more than just a private mental state that makes you feel good, asserting instead that what you believe is objectively real and valid for everybody, then you are an intolerant menace to society. Many Christians apparently agree, feeling solace in their own private mental decisions and mystical experiences, without reference to the God outside themselves who is revealed in His Word and in His slain and risen Son.

Preachers sometimes exhort people to "invite Jesus into your heart" without proclaiming who Jesus is and what He has done for sinners. This is evangelism that forgets to preach the gospel. The result will be "nonevangelical born-agains."

New Christians, like babies, need to be fed, taught, and cared for; otherwise, they will die in their cribs. They need intensive nourishment from the Word of God.

At least Christians are not the only ones addled by their culture into holding contradictory beliefs. Atheists are just as confused about their theology. "Half of all atheists and agnostics say that every person has a soul, that heaven and hell exist, and that there is life after death," reports Mr. Barna. Moreover, "one out of every eight atheists and agnostics even believes that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible." They believe that accepting Christ can bring eternal life, even though they don't believe in Jesus Christ. Just like "nonevangelical born-agains."

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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