Most American adults who say they are Christians don’t hold to the historic, orthodox understanding of who the Holy Spirit is, a new study has found.

The Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University conducts an annual American Worldview Inventory survey (AWVI) which examines the beliefs and practices of the U.S. adult population. The AWVI began as an annual study in 2020 and is “the first-ever national survey conducted in the United States measuring both biblical and competing worldviews.”

The latest data comes from the American Worldview Inventory 2021 survey which examined the following question: “What does it mean when people say they are ‘Christian?’”


The survey notes that determining how many Christians there are in America varies widely depending on the definition used.

To measure that number, on the one end of the spectrum is self-identification, which consists of all “people who simply say they are Christian.”

According to the survey, that number is 69% of the adult population, or 176 million American adults.

However, a different measure “are those who contend they are Christian by virtue of possessing a biblical worldview.” And according to the AWVI, “that segment is just 6% strong,” or 15 million Americans.

Of the 69% of Americans who call themselves Christians, a majority (58%) “contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity.”

Self-Identified Born-Again Christians

For those who are self-identified, born-again Christians (about 35% of the population), “62% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity.”

Theological Born-Again Christians

Now, the survey breaks down those who call themselves Christians into an even more narrowly defined segment of “theologically born-again Christian,” which are those who “say that when they die they will go to Heaven, but only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”

Among this group, however, a shocking 50% believe that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being.

Integrated Disciples

The last, and most narrow, group broken down by the survey are those Christians who “possess a biblical worldview,” which includes “just 6% of U.S. adults.”

This group is far more likely to hold to orthodox Christian teaching on a wide range of issues.

Still, “39% contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity.”

Dr. George Barna, Director of Research for the Cultural Research Center, said in a statement on the results, “Too often, it seems, people who are simply religious, or regular churchgoers, or perhaps people who want a certain reputation or image embrace the label ‘Christian,’ regardless of their spiritual life and intentions.”

“‘Christian’ has become somewhat of a generic term rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ,” he added.

One orthodox statement that Christians have embraced for centuries is the Nicene Creed, a declaration of beliefs that was decided on and promulgated by the Council of Nicene in 325 AD.

Speaking of Jesus’ Incarnation, the creed says:

For us men and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,

and became man.”

Speaking more directly of the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed proclaims:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],

who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.”

Scripture tells us, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

But how can those who call themselves Christians be prepared to give answers if they don’t understand the basics of their faith to begin with?

This study reminds us that it’s a good idea for all of us to get back to the basics of our faith. Reading Scripture, praying daily and communal worship are great places to start.

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