How Many Believe the Bible
Roland Worth, Jr.
American religion plays great lip service to the Bible. It is on every pulpit; in most churches there is at least some type of reading from it every Sunday; the creed books declare it to be their standard. It is the world's best seller every year.
Yet do people really accept the Bible? Do they accept what it teaches?
Thanks to public opinion poll data we can answer this question with more than just speculation based on personal experience. At least two major polls of religious belief have been taken in recent years:
In 1965, the Catholic Digest sponsored a nationwide survey of opinion (both inside their church and outside it) as to what Americans believe on a wide variety of subjects connected with religion. The findings of this survey were reported in What Do We Believe? The Stance of Religion in America (Merid ith Press, New York: 1968), with an analysis by Martin E. Marty, Stuart E. Rosenberg, and Andrew M. Greeley.
In 1963, another major survey was undertaken, in this case by the University of California at Berkley and concerned religious opinions in four northern California counties. The findings are reported in Rodney Stark and Charles Y. Glock's volume on American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment (University of California Press, Berkeley, California: 1968).
From these two sources we can gain a reasonably accurate understanding of what the typical American religionist believes. We could present a lengthy refutation of the popular misconceptions that these studies revealed. Since most of my readers are already Christians and know the truth on these matters, I will refrain from doing this. I will let the figures speak for themselves, without comment.
(The charts and figures that follow, though they are based on those found in the above two volumes, are seldom a verbatim reproduction; in other words, the format has normally been at least slightly changed in order to emphasize the points we are trying to make.)
What Was Jesus?
The Catholic Digest survey (pages 224-225). The "supernatural" column below lumps together those who believe that Jesus is "God" and those who label Him "Son of God." The "Human" column is for those who simply considered Him as "another leader."
The California survey (page 32). This survey reveals that the shift away from belief in a supernatural Jesus may grow in the future due to the large number who have "doubts" on the subject.
The "Human" column below lumps together the two categories "Jesus was only a man though an extraordinary one" and "Jesus was a great man and very holy, but I don't feel Him to be the Son of God any more than all of us are children of God."
Virgin Birth of Christ
The California survey (page 34) found that the following percentages of church members that would accept as "completely true" the Biblical teaching that Jesus was born of a virgin.
Return of Christ
There were the following answers to the question: "Do You Believe Jesus will actually return to the earth some day?" (California survey, page 34).
Miracles of Christ
The California survey (page 36) provided three categories of answers to the questions of whether there were miracles : (1) "Miracles actually happened just as the Bible says they did," in other words, a full acceptance of what the Bible teaches on the subject; (2) "Miracles happened but can be explained by natural causes;" (3) doubted or denied miracles.
Life Beyond Death?
The Catholic national survey produced these figures in answer to the question, "Do you think your soul will live on after death?" (Page 246).
The California study resulted in these figures (page 37),
Does the Devil Exist?
The California study found that religionists gave the following replies (page 37),
The belief in "original sin" is widely spread throughout American religions in spite of the fact that the Bible does not teach it. The California poll asked "A child is born into the world already guilty of sin?" The answers were (page 40),
Heaven and Hell?
The Catholic survey enquired whether people believed in the existence of a Heaven and Hell after death (pages 248-251).
Nature of the Bible
The Catholic survey asked, "Do you believe the Bible is really the revealed word of God; or do you think it is only a great piece of literature?" (page 228).*
*Figures sometimes "add to more than 100 per cent since some people gave more than one response."
What such figures as these indicate is that, regardless of claims, many denominationalists are in dissent from clear Biblical teachings. Regrettably, what Stark and Glock say of the Episcopalian Church has application to other groups as well,
"During. . . attempts to try him for heresy, Episcopalian Bishop James A. Pike defended himself as having merely told the laity what the clergy have taken for granted for years. Bishop Pike charged that modernized interpretations of doctrine which are commonplace in theological journals have been kept secret from ordinary church members in the interest of harmony. While it seems quite true that the new theology has rarely been preached from the pulpit in Episcopalian churches, which supports Bishop Pike's Contentions, nevertheless the average Episcopalian has adopted these modernized views. Indeed, the majority of Episcopalian church members in our sample hold theological views quite similar to Bishop Pike's. This presents the ironic picture of Sunday services where both pastor and laymen reject or at least doubt the theological assumptions of the creeds they recite and the rituals in which they participate, but never acknowledge this fact" (page 209).
Truth Magazine XXI: 21, pp. 330-332