A recent Barna poll divides Americans into four religious categories, measuring their percentages of the American population: evangelical Christians (6%), non-evangelical born-again Christians (25%), notional Christians (42%), adherents of non-Christian faiths (6%), and religious skeptics (23%).
A remarkable finding resides in the significant number of non-evangelical born-again Christians—one quarter of the American population. This group claims to have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
They differ, however, from evangelicals in that they do not agree with all of seven other criteria embraced by the 6% of evangelicals. Those criteria include a responsibility to share their faith, belief in the existence of Satan, belief that salvation is only through grace and not works, belief that Jesus lived a sinless life, belief in the validity of the principles taught in Scripture, and belief in the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful God, who created the universe and rules it today.
We can understand the existence in our society of skeptics and people of other religions. With the presence of liberal denominations we also anticipate a substantial number of notional Christians who make no claim to a born again experience. However, how do we explain the presence of this 25% of our society with an evangelical salvation-type experience and the related hope of heaven but without an evangelical spiritual belief system? It is rather astounding that this group is over four times larger than the evangelical category. How do we explain their existence?
My first thought was that perhaps the demand of meeting all seven other criteria for being an evangelical was excessive, creating a larger chasm between this group and evangelicals then was warranted. However, after revisiting that list of seven criteria I realized that they were all cardinal Christian concepts. The beliefs regarding God and Jesus are foundational to the Christian faith, that Satan is a personal being is clearly taught in the account of the testing of Christ in wilderness, etc. Denial of any of the seven displays a serious rejection of the authority of Scripture. The fact that 46% of these “non-evangelical born again Christians believe that “Jesus sinned during his time on earth” calls into question the basis of their faith. How could a sinful Jesus redeem sinners? In other words, this group of people secure in their heavenly destination manifest some serious spiritual deficiencies.
Their existence is best explained by the nature of the contemporary evangelical gospel, which emphasizes the “free gift” dimension but omits, and even rejects the commitment component of faith. Therefore, they have assurance of heaven without an awareness of the obligations related to the Christian life. Are they actually headed for heaven? Have they expressed genuine saving faith? Only the Lord know; however, it is a scary prospect to think that a significant mass of humanity may be unwittingly destined for eternal doom.
Another concern is that this ticket-to-heaven-on-your-terms gospel is failing to produce biblically oriented Christians related to social issues, resulting in the continued moral slide of American society. Only 59% of non-evangelical born again Christians identify as social conservatives. On the abortion issue 37% are not pro-life, and 27% advocate for gay rights
Imagine if evangelicals presented a gospel that clearly conveyed that saving faith included a commitment to Christ, and if those responding would aggressively interject Christian truth into our society. Visualize how different our nation would be if the percentages were reversed, if only 6% belonged to the non-evangelical born again category and 25% were evangelicals. I further address this issue in my book, Counterattack: Why Evangelicals are Losing the Culture War and How They Can Win.
The future of America depends on the church’s presentation of Jesus as Lord and not just a conductor on the train to heaven. The eternal future of many human beings is at stake also.