4 Views of God

A friend forwarded me this “USA Today” summary of some research on Americans’ views of God conducted by a few sociologists at Baylor University. I thought their 4 categories for views of God, while not necessarily never-before-thought-of, are nonetheless helpful. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Froese and Bader’s research wound up defining four ways in which Americans see God:

The Authoritative God. When conservatives Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck proclaim that America will lose God’s favor unless we get right with him, they’re rallying believers in what Froese and Bader call an Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor’s 2008 findings.

“They divide the world by good and evil and appeal to people who are worried, concerned and scared,” Froese says. “They respond to a powerful God guiding this country, and if we don’t explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all.”

The Benevolent God. When President Obama says he is driven to live out his Christian faith in public service, or political satirist Stephen Colbert mentions God while testifying to Congress in favor of changing immigration laws, they’re speaking of what the Baylor researchers call a 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.

“Rhetoric that talks about the righteous vs. the heathen doesn’t appeal to them,” Froese says. “Their God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all.”

The Critical God. The poor, the suffering and the exploited in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next, Bader says.

Bader says this view of God held by 21% of Americans was reflected in a sermon at a working-class neighborhood church the researchers visited in Rifle, Colo., in 2008. Pastor Del Whittington’s theme at Open Door Church was ” ‘Wait until heaven, and accounts will be settled.’ “

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.

This doesn’t mean that such people have no religion. It’s the dominant view of Jews and other followers of world religions and philosophies such as Buddhism or Hinduism, the Baylor research finds.

In the article there are some cool graphs showing how different categories related to homosexuality, poverty, and other issues differently (that’s worth taking a look at).

I’m always looking for ways to talk with kids about God. Maybe asking them questions like: Who do you know who fits these categories? What’s good and bad about each of these categories? might lead to some good God-talk.

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