USA Today and America’s Four Gods

Lindsey Whitney —  October 12, 2010

God was the feature story in USA Today, but not in the way you might think.  Based on the work of Froese and Bader and their book, America’s Four Gods, USA Today described the four ways Americans perceive God. The research comes from 1,648 U.S. adults in 2008 and 1,721 in 2006 – 90% percent of whom say they believe in some type of God.

The Four Views

•The Authoritative God. This view says God is engaged in history and likes handing out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor’s 2008 findings.  People of this view state if we don’t explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all.

•The Benevolent God. This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans, according to Baylor’s findings. Froese says, “This God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all.”

•The Critical God. Those suffering in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next.  This view is held by 21% of Americans. Bader says Whittington, a pastor in a working-class neighborhood church described it like this: “our cars that are breaking down here will be chariots in heaven. Our empty bank accounts will be storehouses with the Lord.”

•The Distant God. Though about 5% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, Baylor found that nearly one in four (24%) see a Distant God that booted up the universe then left humanity alone.

The Baylor researchers’ four views of God reveal a richness that denominational labels often don’t capture. They found that Catholics and mainline Protestants are about evenly divided among all four views, leaning slightly toward a Benevolent God.

What’s a Church To Do?

However inaccurate these views, they are still real, and we need to be aware of them as church members and Children’s Ministers.  All of these views serve as a great starting point to understanding the God of the Bible.

It’s true that God is authoritative, but He is more interested in grace than punishment at this stage in the game.  Of course God is benevolent, but that doesn’t mean He has no standards.  It’s true that we are storing up heavenly blessings (critical god view), but that doesn’t give us an excuse to disengage from God’s work here on earth.  As for a distant god, at least they got the Creation thing right!  If God used so much care and creativity to create the world we live in, why would He ignore it once it is complete?

People want to believe in God.  This study proves that.  Sure, they want to believe in a God that fits their lifestyle, but the fact that they are forming views about God means they haven’t given up.

Engage with people in the world.  Listen to what they are saying about God.  Figure out what view they hold and help them get a more complete and accurate picture.

As for Children’s Ministry, let’s make sure we’re giving kids the whole picture.  Sometimes we focus on God as a creator, but leave out how He was an integral part of every other account in the Bible.  Sometimes we focus on rules and “doing the right thing”, we forget to mention God’s grace.

Let’s evaluate our own hearts: do we hold one of the views above?  Or, are we sharing who God really is?

Lindsey Whitney

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Lindsey is the Children’s Ministry Director at East Lake Road Alliance Church in Erie, PA. She manages the Children’s Church program, mid-week Kids for Christ program as well as special events and mentoring programs. She operates a family home day care and loves the interaction with kids she has both in the home and at church. She operates Growing Kids Ministry, a Children’s Ministry blog and also serves as Erie’s Attachment Parenting Examiner.