Evangelical vs. Born Again: A Survey of What Americans Say and Believe Beyond Politics

Less than half who claim either label have evangelical beliefs. Most likely: African Americans.

For all the handwringing over what the term evangelical means in the political moment of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, only 1 in 100 Americans would take on the term if it had nothing to do with politics.

Meanwhile, the label is primarily a political identity for only about 1 in 10 self-identified evangelicals.

Overall, 1 in 4 Americans today consider themselves to be evangelicals. But less than half actually hold evangelical beliefs.

And when defined by beliefs and not by identity, evangelicals are less white (58% vs. 70%), more black (23% vs. 14%), and more likely to worship weekly (73% vs. 61%). However, they are not more likely to be Republican or Democrat.

These are among the findings of a groundbreaking survey of Americans with evangelical beliefs, released today by LifeWay Research.

Most surveys of religion and politics ask Americans a combined question—“Are you evangelical or born again?”—in order to create their “evangelical” category. LifeWay instead asked about the two self-identities separately, in order to study differences between the two groups. Then researchers compared respondents’ self-identities to their theological beliefs.

“There’s a gap between who evangelicals say they are and what they believe,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, told Facts & Trends.

Among the survey’s findings:

1) Evangelicals by Identity

  • 24% of Americans consider themselves to be an evangelical Christian. Another 12% are not sure.
  • 29% of Americans consider themselves to be a born-again Christian. Another 6% are not sure.

The survey suggests that about 5 percent of Americans accept the born-again label but are uncertain about accepting the evangelical …

Continue reading…

The Reformation, Viewed from the East

An Eastern Orthodox theologian assesses Luther’s famous doctrine of ‘sola fide.’

Make no mistake: The absence of the Orthodox Church in the Reformation debates of the 16th century is one of the great tragedies of Christian history. What might have happened if Orthodox churches had been party to the theological controversies that dominated 16th-century Europe?

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation provides an occasion for assessing Eastern Orthodox and Protestant attempts at unity on the key Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Is a consensus possible between the Reformers and the Orthodox Church on this central tenet, which Luther described as “the article by which the church stands or falls?” As an Orthodox theologian, I think the answer is yes, but only if Christ, not justification, is the core of the Christian gospel.

A Dialogue of Fits and Starts

In the 16th century, both East and West were embroiled in all-consuming issues that stunted effective theological dialogue, especially on issues like justification by faith alone. While Catholics and Protestants were undergoing the most turbulent revolution in the history of Western Christianity, the Orthodox Church was trying to survive repressive conditions under Islamic rule in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

The first positive theological overture came from none other than Martin Luther himself. During the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, Luther defended himself against papal theologian Johann Eck’s accusation that Luther’s views of the papacy had become schismatic or even heretical like those of the Eastern churches. Luther cited Orthodoxy’s unbroken continuity with the great church fathers over the previous 1,400 years to argue that they were not heretical. In fact, Luther stated …

Continue reading…

Forks & Spoons – A Simple Evangelism Strategy [Gospel Life Podcast]

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Forks & Spoons – A Simple Evangelism Strategy

John C. Richards, Jr., Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, talks about meals as an opportunity to engage people in faith conversations. Perhaps you’ve been turned down when it comes to inviting someone to church or to a Bible study. One place people are open to, however, is a meal and some hospitality. This Advent, consider ways to open up your home to those who don’t yet know Jesus.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Continue reading…

Ravi Zacharias Responds to Sexting Allegations, Credentials Critique

Exclusive: Popular apologist explains extortion lawsuit, while RZIM defends his resume.

Ravi Zacharias built his career defending the Christian faith. Now the famous apologist is defending his own reputation.

Today, Zacharias and his eponymous Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) released their first statements specifically addressing a personal lawsuit involving a married woman who sent nude photos to the popular author and speaker, as well as accusations that Zacharias has misled supporters by inflating his credentials in his RZIM biography.

“I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal,” Zacharias said. “I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.”

An Indian-Canadian convert to Christianity, Zacharias has become one of the best-known living apologists and has authored dozens of books on faith. With almost $24 million in US revenue last year, RZIM sponsors dozens of itinerant preachers and apologists (such as the late Nabeel Qureshi); puts on conferences for Christian leaders; and holds forums on college campuses.

Last month, Zacharias settled a lawsuit with a Canadian couple he claimed had attempted to extort him over messages he had exchanged with the wife.

The federal lawsuit—which was filed by Zacharias, not the couple—alleged that his “friendly correspondence” with the wife evolved over the course of 2016 to her sending him “unwanted, offensive, sexually explicit language and photographs.” In April 2017, the couple sent a letter through their attorney demanding millions of dollars in exchange for keeping the messages a secret.

“In …

Continue reading…

Michael Flynn Isn’t the Only Guilty One

Michael Flynn, fake news, and an opportunity to ask why Christians are often the target audience.

Michael Flynn pled guilty today to lying to the FBI regarding his interactions with the Russian government—and is now cooperating with the investigation. Flynn’s guilty plea is a vindication of those who have objected to the “it’s all fake news” claims.

Mike Flynn just told you this is not fake news.

Now, that does not mean that everything else alleged is true, but it does raise the question again: Why are Christians so often the target audience for fake news?

Let me explain the connection.

Faking News

In a sad twist of irony, even as we have claimed to be the true ‘discerning ones’ of honest media, some Christians have been quick to fall for genuine fake news. I see, over and over, the Twitter feeds of some Christians crying “fake news!” at every story they don’t like.

And it appears that some—Russians no less—who spread fake news have caught on to the willingness of some of those Christians.

For example, last month, the House Intelligence Committee released a sample of ads Russians used to influence the 2016 election. As Christianity Today reported, among the demographics they targeted were American Christians. Accounts such as “Army of Jesus” regularly posted disturbing images blending spiritual themes and the election.

Or, perhaps consider Project Veritas—which exists to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty… in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.” An undercover Veritas employee was exposed attempting to plant a false sexual assault story against Roy Moore in the Washington Post.

The Veritas story is perhaps the most disturbing as they demonstrated a shocking …

Continue reading…

A Drug Dealer Led Me to Faith

After a childhood marred by substance abuse and a deadbeat dad, I made a friend who would change my life.

I was raised in a staunchly atheist household. We never went to church. We never had a Bible. We never talked about God. My father was such an ardent atheist that he demanded my mother spell my brother’s name, Mathew, with only one t to avoid any biblical resemblance. My father then named me Mark. Clearly he didn’t see the irony.

I heard about Christianity for the first time at a summer camp when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by the concept of God. Not enough to get me to attend church or read a Bible or whatever else “religious” people did but enough that I found myself going back to the camp every year, talking about God again, and then coming home to a very different life. You could sum up that life as follows: Stealing from cars, stores, the purses of my friends’ mothers—from anywhere we could, really—to get money for drugs, partying, and everything else you do when you don’t have God in your life.

The first time I did drugs, I was eight or nine years old. A guy from our neighborhood cooked up some hash and weed for me and some of my friends behind the local convenience store. By ninth grade, drugs were a daily part of my life. At one point, I took drugs that were laced with something dangerous, and my friends watched in horror as I lay in the middle of the street, eyes sparkling, skin gone cold pale.

What Do I Believe?

My parents divorced when I was eight years old. Shortly thereafter, I acquired a neuropsychiatric disorder called Tourette syndrome, which later developed into obsessive-compulsive disorder. I would adopt a habit—a twitch or a particular noise—and I would do it over and over again for months until another habit came along. I would pound …

Continue reading…

The Only Bright Spot in American Giving

Research highlights radical giving of poor and unpaid labor of women.

My brother and I grew up lower-middle income on or near military bases, where the needs of young service members and their families can be seen pretty acutely. Our family relied on the generosity of others, but my mom also involved our family in giving during the Advent season. She was active in the enlisted wives’ club on base and then later in the officer wives’ club, helping volunteer for people who had less reliable access to food and clothes than we did. We made meals, collected cans, and did what we could with our time.

This year during the holidays, while hundreds of thousands of American Christians will donate money and bags of canned food to local food banks, many will also volunteer their time in soup kitchens or elsewhere.

This volunteering often goes unacknowledged. While we are generally a generous nation, or like to presume we are, we have some funny quirks about it. For one, we like to quantify it and focus quite a bit on the dollars and cents side of things. So much so, in fact, that the British journalist and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton once teased us, a century ago, about our ostentatious, and not-so-Christlike charity: “An American will praise the prodigal generosity of some other man in giving up his own estate for the good of the poor,” he wrote. “But he will generally say that the philanthropist gave them a 200-acre park, where an Englishman would think it quite sufficient to say that he gave them a park.”

This American focus on money is an interesting observation in light of the fact that we could give a lot more. In 2008, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, by sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia …

Continue reading…

The Great Call of China: Churches Poised to Become Major Exporters

Hundreds pledge lives to missions at ‘Chinese Urbana’ as red tape rises.

When 1,200 youth gathered for the first Chinese “Urbana-style” missions conference this fall, 300 pledged to become full-time missionaries.

“This is one of those historic moments,” said David Ro, director of the Wilson Center for World Missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “There are lots of challenges ahead, on the mission field and in China. And yet God is doing something—while they are being attacked, they are still moving forward.”

The gathering was “a unique opportunity to witness the authentic demonstration of a vibrantly growing Chinese church under dynamic indigenous leadership,” said Nana Yaw Offei Awuku, a field ministry director with Scripture Union Ghana who spoke at the event. “The beauty of intentional intergenerational leadership was at its best.”

Held in Thailand, the conference was part of Mission China, a movement of unregistered churches to send out 20,000 missionaries by 2030.

It’s an ambitious goal for churches that have yet to obtain legal status. And it may have run into a snag this summer when two young Chinese Christians—who traveled to Pakistan to teach Mandarin at a private school—were kidnapped and killed by ISIS.

The incident put China in a tough spot. As it seeks to expand its influence westward, its leaders need to be able to protect the 70,000 Chinese who were issued visas to Pakistan last year. But its atheist government also doesn’t want to be exporting Christianity.

“The Chinese authorities are in a very difficult position,” said Chinese religion expert and Purdue University professor Fenggang Yang. “[Most] didn’t realize that Christians had become active in west and central …

Continue reading…

Cover Story: Blessed Are the Handouts

Why some Christian poverty experts believe we should give cash to the poor, no strings attached.

One year, instead of buying my dad the usual unattractive necktie for Christmas, we bought him a goat. He loved the goat, mainly because it was not for him but given in his name to an impoverished family in Kenya.

Many of us know the holiday rite, by now as predictable as the turning of the seasons: making donations to the poor overseas on behalf of loved ones, aided by gift catalogs from nonprofits like Heifer International, World Vision, and Compassion International that reveal happy pictures of children hugging sheep.

That Kenyan goat launched a Christmas tradition for my family. Over the years, we’ve graduated from goats to dairy cows to water buffaloes. But there is a corollary to our tradition. While my parents would purchase a farm animal for the poor in a family member’s name, they would often give the same family member a cash gift to spend however they liked. It raises the question: Do we trust each other with cash more than we trust the poor?

Gift catalogs are popular not just because of their playful optimism (what could be more fun than buying baby chicks for little girls?), but also because they resolve an unspoken dilemma we feel about giving money to the poor. Money obviously gives recipients the greatest freedom of choice, but they might misuse it. A goat feels safer.

As an economist and a Christian, I too feel this dilemma. Part of it comes from seemingly competing New Testament values. While Jesus teaches us “give to everyone who asks you” (Luke 6:30) and that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), he also created boundaries against manipulation (Matt. 12:46 ff., 16:23, Luke 23:8–9).

Likewise, Paul encourages Christians to “be generous on every …

Continue reading…

The Best Retelling of the Jesus Story Isn’t from Narnia or Harry Potter

Our culture has produced plenty of fine remakes, but nothing beats the Old Testament prequel.

The problem with well-known stories is that they grow dull through familiarity. When narratives become part of the cultural fabric—think Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, or Hamlet—they may retain their charm, but they will usually lose their edge. So creative people find ways of retelling them that capture the drama and basic storyline of the original, but with a twist. Move Romeo and Juliet to New York, and you get West Side Story. Turn Cinderella into a prostitute, and you get Pretty Woman.

The most obvious example is the best-known story of all. No matter how well we know the gospel, we can find new perspectives: Aslan dying for Edmund, Jean Valjean’s encounter with grace in Les Miserables, or Harry Potter taking the killing curse upon himself before the resurrection stone brings him back to life. But the best examples of fresh reads on the gospel come not from fiction but from Scripture itself.

Take the story of Joseph, for instance. As we are introduced to him in Genesis 37, Joseph, like Jesus, is favored by his father, honored in front of his family, and given a vision of the whole of Israel worshiping him. This prompts jealousy and hatred from his brothers, who conspire to kill him, even as he comes to serve them. Reuben intercedes for him, as Pilate later will for Jesus, but Joseph is eventually thrown into a pit anyway and sold for pieces of silver through the mediation of Judah (whose name, in its Greek form, would be Judas). Blood is presented to Joseph’s father—the blood of a goat, the animal which makes atonement in Leviticus.

The parallels continue in Genesis 39. After he avoids being murdered out of jealousy, Joseph finds safety in Egypt. As he grows older, all that he does prospers …

Continue reading…