American Christians are Redefining the Faith (2020 Apostasy Research)


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A new study from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University finds that the nation’s four main Christian groups—evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatics, mainline Protestants, and Catholics—are creating new worldviews that are only loosely tied to the biblical teachings that have traditionally defined them.

• Evangelicals are embracing secularism: A majority (52%) of evangelicals reject absolute moral truth; 61% do not read the Bible on a daily basis; 75% believe that people are basically good. The study found that one-third to one-half of evangelicals in the survey embrace a variety of beliefs and behaviors counter to biblical teaching and longstanding Evangelical beliefs.

• Pentecostals and charismatics take secularization a step further: Two-thirds (69%) reject absolute moral truth; 54% are unwilling to define human life as sacred, with half claiming the Bible is ambiguous in its teaching about abortion; and 69% say they prefer socialism to capitalism. A full 45% did not qualify as born-again Christians.

• Mainline Protestants are the most secular of the four faith families: Sixty percent (60%) of mainline Protestants’ beliefs directly conflict with biblical teaching. Three key values define this group: truth and morality are relative; life has no inherent value or purpose, so individuals should pursue personal happiness or satisfaction; and traditional religious practices are no longer seen as central or essential to their Christian faith. Only 41% of mainline Protestants are born again.

• Catholics are increasingly secular and permissive: Catholics’ beliefs are surprisingly similar to those of mainline Protestants, but considerably different from that of evangelical and charismatic Protestants. They are most likely to believe in salvation through works or living a good life, and least likely (28%) to be born again. Today’s Catholics are more permissive than other groups, being most likely to accept sexual relations outside of marriage, lying, speeding, and refusal to repay a loan as morally acceptable behaviors.

• 48% believe a person who is good enough or does enough good works can earn eternal salvation
• 44% do not believe that history is the unfolding narrative of God’s reality
• 44% claim the Bible is ambiguous in its teaching about abortion
• 43% maintain that when Jesus was on earth, He sinned
• 43% do not believe that there is a common, God-given purpose to humanity (i.e., to know, love and serve Him)
• 42% seek moral guidance primarily from sources other than the Bible
• 42% do not identify and confess their sins on a daily basis
• 40% do not believe that human life is sacred
• 40% accept lying as morally acceptable if it advances personal interests or protect one’s reputation
• 39% identify the people they always respect as being only those who have the same beliefs as they possess
• 36% prefer socialism to capitalism
• 36% fail to seek and pursue God’s will for their life each day
• 34% reject the idea of legitimate marriage as one man and one woman
• 34% argue that abortion is morally acceptable if it spares the mother from financial or emotional discomfort or hardship
• 32% do not thank or worship God each day

1. Truth and morality are determined by the individual, not by God or the Bible.
Solid majorities of mainline adherents believe that there is no absolute moral truth (58%), and that God is not the standard or provider of truth (63%). A large proportion of mainline church attenders believe that people are essentially good (81%), are able to determine right from wrong apart from biblical guidance (71%), and generally know what’s best for their lives, without God’s guidance. They tend to believe that the Bible is a good book and contains wisdom for life, but it cannot be trusted to be absolutely representative of God’s truth principles for humankind (63%). Mainline adults contend that history is not God’s unfolding narrative that provides insights or wisdom for humanity; in fact, human beings cannot even be certain that God exists. Such belief is personal, they argue, and embracing Christianity is less important than embracing some faith.

2. Life has no inherent value or purpose, but we can make the most of it by doing things that produce personal happiness or satisfaction.
Adults attending mainline Protestant congregations believe that life is what you make it—and that means success is based on doing things that deliver whatever makes you feel happy or satisfied. In their view, humans are not imbued with a common, God-given purpose. In fact, they consider life to be fragile and temporary, so we must do our best to maximize the enjoyment and benefit of our experiences without letting other people limit potential outcomes. Therefore, even moral choices should reflect one’s freedom to do whatever feels right or is good for the individual, whether that relates to abortion, sexual relations, or relationships.

3. Traditional religious practices are neither considered to be central or essential to their Christian faith.
Surprisingly, few mainline adherents engage in traditional Christian practices. In fact, of six commonly practiced religious activities, there was not one for which half or more of the mainline congregants were participants. Those religious practices include reading the Bible each day (13% do so), seeking God’s will on a daily basis (38%), confessing personal sins and asking for God’s forgiveness every day (33%), thanking, praising or worshiping God each day (43%), or even praying to God every day (49%). Mainline-affiliated adults ranked lowest in levels of participation in each of these activities compared to adults aligned with the other major Christian church families (i.e. evangelical, charismatic, Catholic).

Full study (pdf):
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