Roughly half of Americans believe they will go to heaven if they are “generally good” or “do enough good things,” while one-third believe salvation is obtained only by accepting Jesus Christ as savior, according to a new survey.
The poll by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found that 48 percent of U.S. adults affirm the statement that “a person who is generally good, or does enough good things for others, will earn a place in heaven.”
One in three Americans (33 percent) say they consider themselves to be a Christian and affirm the statement that “when you die you will go to heaven only because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior.”
Additionally, 63 percent of adults believe “having faith matters more than which faith you have.”
The survey of 1,000 Americans was released this week.
Len Munsil, president of Arizona Christian University, said the “lack of understanding of basic Christian theology is stunning,” with “potentially devastating consequences for individual souls and really for all aspects of American life and culture.”
“It’s a wakeup call for the church, and for leaders in all areas of influence, to speak, teach and work to restore biblical truth,” Munsil said. “Many souls will be lost if people are misled by the false notion that we can earn our way to heaven, rather than recognizing the truth that Christ alone and His righteousness are the basis for our salvation.”
The survey also found that:
-- 54 percent of U.S. adults believe they will get to heaven after they die and only 2 percent believe they are going to hell. Fifteen percent say they don’t know what will happen after they die, 13 percent say there is no life after death, 8 percent believe in reincarnation, and another 8 percent believe “they will go to a place of purification prior to entering heaven.”
-- 49 percent believe they “have a personal responsibility, in appropriate situations” to share their religious beliefs with “people who believe differently than you.” Evangelicals (74 percent) are the most likely to affirm this statement.
-- 56 percent of Americans say they “consciously and consistently” try to avoid sinning because they know their sin “breaks God’s heart.”
George Barna, director of research for the Cultural Research Center, said Americans are “in an ‘anything goes’ mindset when it comes to faith, morals, values and lifestyle.”
“Americans appear to be creating unique, highly customized worldviews based on feelings, experiences and opportunities rather than working within the boundaries of a comprehensive, time-tested, consistent worldview,” he said.
“... By abandoning our moral standards and traditions, and replacing them with inclusive and conditional preferences, we are losing the foundations that have enabled the ‘American experiment’ to succeed for more than two centuries,” Barna added. “We can only hope that our critical moral institutions – particularly the family and churches – will wake up and help the nation to get back on track.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.