Thinking Out Loud

June 17, 2009

Born Again But Not Evangelical?

laftovers - converted soupI frequently hear people speak of Evangelicals as “Born Again-ers,” so I was intrigued to learn last night that Barna Research make a distinction when surveying people.     They use “born again” to reflect some point at which we confess our sin and seek forgiveness, making Jesus Christ lord of our lives.

But they use a series of questions to determine if a person has what they consider a true Evangelical worldview.    The two are not automatically synonymous.

All this is in my continued reading of unChristian by David Kinnaman, the book that has for some reason become my end-of-the-day reading, which means some days I don’t get very far.   But spending 15 minutes stuck on page 159 last night didn’t help, as I pondered the worldview issues they use to clarify the distinction.

The criteria are laid out at along with poll results.   I’ve paraphrased here in question form:

Born Again

  • Have you made a confession of sin?
  • Have you made a profession of faith in Christ?


  • Do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles that it teaches?*
  • Do you view God as all-powerful?
  • Do you view God as perfect?
  • Do you view God as active in the world today?**
  • Do you contend that Jesus did not sin?
  • Do you assert that Satan is a real spiritual being?***
  • Would you disagree with those who say that heaven can be earned through good works?
  • Do you believe Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  • Would say your religious faith is very important in your life?

*This refers to principles the Bible teaches.   You can believe this and still also hold that there’s a problem in the dates of some kings in your KJV or in the naming of a city in your NRSV

**Barna combines these three into one question.   I broke them up because I think we can rush to quickly to answer a question like this.  We need to constantly have our perspective on God in full view.   The linked article refers to 9-point Evangelicals, which I believe to include the two ‘born again’ questions.

***Real being as opposed to idea or concept.   Among those who said they were Evangelical, rather than those who adopted the stringent Barna criteria, this area had the greatest potential for variance.  60% were less likely to agree on this one.

So Kinnaman, again on page 159, defines the U.S. voting population as consisting of

  • 9% Evangelicals
  • 38% Non-Evangelical, born-again Christians
  • 29% Other, self-confessed Christians
  • 24% Those outside Christianity

On page 162, he says to pastors, “In your church on any given Sunday, chances are you have all four of the faith slices represented in the audience.  How are you communicating so that everyone in the  congregation can understand, think about and respond to social, political and spiritual issues in appropriate ways?  In your sermons as well as in the environments and conversations your church facilitates, are you helping to develop people’s capacity to think, act, and pray in terms of a biblical worldview?”

That’s a good question for anyone in Church leadership; or anyone who is part of the Body of Christ for that matter.



  1. Given the efforts at trying to distill what counts as “born again” and “evangelical,” I’m surprised he didn’t specify what “faith in Christ” meant? People use the phrase all the time without clear indication of what they even mean by it.

    I also find it strange that no mention of the second coming or hell is to be found, nor an explicit belief in the resurrection, that Jesus has been given Lordship over creation, or that He was/is the Christ promised to Judah [the bedrock of apostolic Christianity].

    Comment by David Rudel — June 18, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

    • I can see Barna Research avoiding the eschatology and hell subjects, but your other points are well taken.

      Comment by Paul Wilkinson — June 18, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  2. thanks for posting about unchristian. the segmentation of evangelicals and born agains gets kinda confusing, but it’s a necessary part of trying to paint a more robust picture of American faith. anyway, I appreciate you describing the research and diving in! best, David Kinnaman

    Comment by David K — June 21, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  3. I do not follow Evangelical belief, and have struggled with the term “Christian” for over ten years because of the misuse it gets. I was baptised over forty years ago in an Evangelical Free Church then experienced the Pentecostal [so-called] belief; since then I have travelled through eight different “Charismatic” [so-called] churches [including a Toronto-linked group] , and occasionally attend a large local “Charismatic” group. I utterly believe in the Trinity, but do not accept the concept of “Church” as it is performed. I do not celebrate Christmas on principle because it is a Catholic Festival, and while I often feel closer to Judaism, they do not accept the Trinity, and Messianic Christians have go hold of Evangelical belief. What does a person in my position do? Am I expecting too much from a historical religion or should I look for some other way to express my belief?

    Comment by Denn — February 17, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    • Re. ‘historic religion’ — I really try to avoid the “R”-word here. Religion is about man’s attempts to satisfy or appease a god or gods. True Christianity is about God trying to initiate the contact, paving the way for his people to be in relationship with him. (I know you’ve heard that before, but I wanted to state it here for the benefit of anyone else.)

      Re. ‘to express my belief’ — Someone once said, “When we say we begin with God we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Rather, we should begin with God’s idea of God and the way God’s idea of God is expressed is in Jesus.” So we don’t try to create God in our image, but rather we listen to God revealing the details about Himself.

      Re. ‘closer to Judaism’ — We can learn a lot from the Messianic Jews (people of Jewish background or interest who believe in Jesus) and I personally believe these groups have captured some of the good things about Evangelicalism while rejecting some of the excesses or unnecessary elements. If you can find a group like this near you, they might help shape your understanding.

      Re. ‘What does a person in my position do?’ — Churches can get messed up because they’re made up of people and people are flawed! Someone once defined Christ following as, ‘Coming under the loving lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.’ The Church is one of God’s instruments in reaching the world today. But we also have the scriptures which tell us more about God’s ideal plan for us. I think if we root ourselves deeply in the scriptures, and thereby get to know Jesus better, we have greater understanding for dealing with the times the church (which is made up of people) lets us down. At that point, any church event you attend — large or small; lively or solemn; well-executed or poorly executed — won’t cause you any struggle. When your individual connection to Jesus is solid, you’ll be better able to put up with other people — flawed though they be — who also share that same connection.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 17, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

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