The majority of American Christians would likely say that they have a biblical worldview, but many do not know what a biblical worldview actually is. Even more concerning, the research tell us that only 19 percent of American Christians actually possess a biblical worldview.
Dr. George Barna, renowned pollster and author, is starting up a project at Family Research Council to address this disparity. Dr. Barna will be the Senior Research Fellow for FRC’s new Center for Biblical Worldview, and he joins us today on Family Policy Matters to discuss biblical worldview.
“A worldview is something that everybody has,” says Dr. Barna. “Most people don’t even realize it, but essentially it’s just the decision-making filter that we use. It’s the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual filter that helps us to understand and interpret and respond to every reality that we experience.”
While only 19 percent of American Christians truly possess a biblical worldview, “51 percent of American adults think they have [one],” continues Dr. Barna. “That’s significant because it tells us that it might be a tougher job to get people to pay attention than we would like to believe, because they think they’ve already figured it out.”
“A worldview consists of all of your core beliefs, and those core beliefs are critical because then they determine your primary behaviors.” Dr. Barna hopes that, together with FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview, he can “educate, motivate, and activate people to understand and to do the things that really matter to God.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. George Barna discuss what a biblical worldview looks like, and how we can make sure we truly have one.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We’re pleased to have as our guest today Dr. George Barna, widely known for his polling and research on the intersection of faith and culture. His research has gained the reputation as a highly credible source and has been used as the underpinning for major public policy decisions and even strategies for presidential candidates. He has a long list of accomplishments, including writing over 50 books, but the most recent addition to his resumé is Senior Research Fellow for the new Center of Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.
Dr. George Barna, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DR. BARNA: Thanks so much. Good to be with you.
TRACI GRIGGS: You’ve already had a long and successful career; you’ve already started or led several national worldview projects, so why start this new Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council?
DR. BARNA: I’ve worked with Family Research Council for a number of years on a variety of projects. And from my observation, they are certainly one of the most effective organizations in Washington, DC, from a Christian perspective in influencing policy. And so to have an opportunity to more directly help people think about how to integrate a biblical worldview into their thoughts about public policy, about law, about candidates and elections, about national values—all the kinds of things that FRC is involved in—as well as of course, family dynamics? It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
TRACI GRIGGS: What is a “biblical worldview” and why is that important for people who are Christians?
DR. BARNA: A worldview is something that everybody has. Most people don’t even realize it, but essentially it’s just the decision making filter that we use. It’s the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual filter that helps us to understand and interpret and respond to every reality that we experience. That worldview begins developing at 15 months of age and is pretty much completely developed by 13 years of age. And then during our teens and twenties, we tend to refine it, apply it, articulate it, et cetera. So, it’s something that develops early and there are many different options of what goes into that worldview. A worldview consists of all of your core beliefs, and those core beliefs are critical because then they determine your primary behaviors. We have an expression, “you do what you believe,” and beliefs do make a big difference because they determine how you’re going to act.
So, you’ve got all these different worldviews that you can be choosing from: postmodernism, secular humanism, Marxism, Eastern mysticism, and so forth, probably about a dozen of which Americans commonly draw from. The one that we want people to be developing, and I think the one that honors God most, would be a biblical worldview, which is simply a way of experiencing, interpreting, and responding to life in ways that reflect biblical truths and principles. In other words, what we’re trying to do is know enough of the scriptures and how they apply to life so that we can think like Jesus, and the reason that we want to think like Jesus is so that ultimately, we can act like Jesus.
TRACI GRIGGS: How common are you finding this biblical worldview among Christians?
DR. BARNA: If we look at people who qualify by our questioning as “born again Christians,” meaning not that they call themselves that, but that they say that when they die, they know that they will go to heaven, but only because they’ve confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Even among that group—which most of the pastors we’ve interviewed over the years would say really constitute the backbone of the Christian Church in America—only 19 percent of those people have a biblical worldview, and they’re only about 30 percent of the population overall. So, you can see we’ve got some work cut out for us to try to expand the number of people who are making their decisions from moment to moment based on biblical principles, integrating God’s truth into every dimension of their life.
TRACI GRIGGS: So why do you suppose that this number is so low, even among Christians who have the core beliefs that we would expect them to.
DR. BARNA: We go back really, primarily to two places that have not done the job, and to a couple of places that have, but not in the way we want. The two that haven’t done the job, I would say, are families and churches. When we look at families, what we know from our research is that most parents do not have on their agenda to intentionally and strategically help their children to develop a biblical worldview. And so what happens is therefore they rely on people outside of the family to do that task. Now, often they would say, “Well, that’s probably the job of the church,” but the church recognizes that biblically, that’s the job of the family. So, they’re not really doing it with children either. As we’ve studied children’s ministries, what we find is that that biblical worldview development aspect is not on the agenda of churches either. And so what happens is that vacuum is being filled by worldview development efforts, done through the media in particular. As we’ve looked at what influences Americans to do what they do and think what they think, we found it predominantly is because of media exposure. And it’s because of an understanding of and inherence to the law that people actually develop their worldview. And for children, of course, the other element—which is part of the government and political spher—are public schools. With pre-pandemic, we had about 88 percent of kids attending public schools. And we know there that there’s a lot of worldview development taking place, whether intentional or not, given the kinds of principles that are being taught in those schools.
TRACI GRIGGS: Wow. Tell us about your strategy. How are you going to tackle this problem?
DR. BARNA: I think there are three things that need to happen, and this is kind of the marching orders for me in everything that I do. We want to educate, motivate, and activate people to understand and to do the things that really matter to God. The first thing we’ve got to do here is educate people about what a biblical worldview is; whether or not they have one; if they don’t have one, how they can go about changing that; and then what to do with it once they’ve got it. And so that’s part of the process here and initially what we’re trying to do, and we did it through our first survey with FRC. So we’ve got all of this information now that we’re trying to get before the public, hopefully igniting their minds to begin thinking about, “Worldview, what is that?” “Biblical Worldview, I don’t know what that is?” To begin explaining to them what it is, why it’s important, and how they can go about grasping one.
No individual or organization can do everything. So we’ve got to understand what is the slice of the pie that we’ve been asked to deal with. For FRC, it works with families; it works with churches; it works with public policy. In those three areas, we want to be integrating worldview thinking, biblical worldview thinking, into what families are doing, into what public leaders are doing, into what churches are doing. There’s a multi-phase strategy there of: (1) doing the research, (2) creating resources, (3) providing events, and (4) doing measurements and training in these areas. There’s going to be a lot of different activity taking place within the lanes that FRC has already been filling. But then in addition to that, another tactic that we’ll be deploying is that of partnering with other organizations who are like-minded. Other organizations that understand the significance, the primary importance of biblical worldview. Being able to work together, doing media together, all kinds of things together so that ultimately this group has an even greater reach than any one of the groups within it could have. That’s the larger picture of how of this is going to work.
TRACI GRIGGS: You mentioned your first survey that you’ve done with this new center. Are there other takeaways that you would like to talk about?
DR. BARNA: Well, certainly, I mean, one of the big things that we discovered was that literally a majority of Americans believe that they have a biblical worldview. I mentioned before only 6 percent actually have one; 51 percent of American adults think they have a biblical worldview. That’s significant because it tells us that it might be a tougher job to get people to pay attention than we would like to believe, because they think they’ve already figured it out. So we’ve got to disabuse them of that notion and then help them to understand what a biblical worldview really is. You know, it’s akin to the fact that in America today, now two out of three adults call themselves Christian, but then when you look at what they believe and their religious habits and their lifestyle choices, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that 67 percent are not necessarily Christians.
In this newest survey, you know, looking at the fact that 5 percent think they have a biblical worldview, but when you look at people who identify themselves as Christians, it’s 68 percent who think they have a biblical worldview. Yet our testing shows that only 9 percent of those people actually have one. And we could break it down into all the different components of the population. And you see that same kind of dissonance there, where a lot of people think that’s what they operate with, yet in point of fact, they don’t.
Now a related key finding I think was that less than one out of three Americans believe that worldview should affect all dimensions of a person’s life. This speaks to the issue that most people really don’t even understand how a worldview operates. I mentioned before that it’s your decision-making filter in life, which means that it really does affect every aspect of your life. So the fact that most people, more than two out of three people are saying, “Well, I don’t want my worldview effecting all dimensions of my life,” there is an educational component that’s going to have to go into this, helping people understand what a worldview is, why it’s important, how it operates and so forth.
TRACI GRIGGS: And the proper action then would be what? What are some ways that you would like to see people be more active on a good worldview?
DR. BARNA: Well, I mean, just take a simple thing that everybody relates to, which is elections. When we looked at our research from the last election, what we know is that most Christians were determining who they were going to vote for based upon the party affiliation of the candidate or the personality of the candidate or the perceived character of the candidate. Those things are fine, but ultimately what you’re putting into office is somebody who’s going to be making moral decisions for the country. You want to be taking a look at what they stand for. And here’s where it really breaks down: when we talked with Christians, devoted Christians, conservative Christians across the country and asked them to describe to us where they were at on I think it was 12 or 13 key issues—whether we were talking about immigration or energy policies, environmental policies, poverty, economics, family issues, life issues, all of these kinds of things—we found that for the most part, Christians actually did not know what they believe. They had a difficult time articulating it. And one of the things that we discovered is they were saying, “I’m dying to have my pastor teach me not who to vote for, but teach me how to think biblically about these issues so that I know what to say to other people, and I know how to make better choices,” even related to what candidates they were going to vote for. So, I mean, that’s the type of thing where your worldview becomes very relevant. If you know how to think about poverty based on biblical teaching, about our commitment and our responsibility to those who are struggling in life, then you can look at public policies and try to figure out which one comports to biblical teaching. If you understand what the Bible teaches about the role of government compared to the role of the individual, then you can look at the different policies that are being offered and figure out which candidate comes closest to a biblical solution.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you very much. We’re just about out of time, but where can our listeners go to follow your work and learn more about the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council?
DR. BARNA: They can go to frc.org/worldview, and that will take them to the Center for Biblical Worldview.
TRACI GRIGGS: Dr. George Barna, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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