Once Again, Being Born Again Means So Little

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism

It seems that every poll we read these days just reveals even more clearly how totally shallow the spiritual formation of American evangelicalism really is. A new Barna Research Group poll asks for a favorability response for several well-known public figures. On the list are people like George Clooney, Katie Couric, Faith Hill, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Bono. What is striking to me is how consistent the favorability and unfavorability rankings were of these personalities among all adults and among those who are "born again." There is virtually no difference at all.

Clooney, Spears and Hilton, for example, were equally favorable with all adults and the "born agains." Katie Couric and Donald Trump were slightly more favored by the "born again" crowd than the general population, but by something like 2%. What stunned me was this: Bono was less favored by the "born again" group (4%) than the general population! What on earth is going on here? Are people of (supposed) faith that ridiculously undiscerning in how they view public people and their importance? Bono is the one person on the list that serious Christians ought to think very highly of for reasons that actually relate to faith and the work of Christ’s kingdom.

Oprah Winfrey had the highest favorability rating among all adults, 83%. But the "born agains" gave her a favorable rating of 85%. Oprah may actually do more to undermine the gospel of grace and the message of Christ’s kingdom, precisely because she is such a likable sort who embraces religious ideas so diametrically opposed to the kingdom of God, than any of these figures. But how can you not like Oprah?

What all of this says to me is quite simple—the nearly identical perceptions of prominent people that are held by the general population, and by those who are "born again," demonstrates clearly that being "born again" means  less and less in our culture. The term is virtually worthless by now but then we should already have known that if we had been paying much attention to the culture and the church.

Actually, I stopped referring to myself as a "born again" Christian about twenty-five years ago. The reasons are simple: 1. The term is almost completely  misleading and misunderstood. 2. The general idea is that being "born again" refers to something that we do or did, not to real regeneration. 3. The better and more biblically accurate term would be to refer to one as "being born from above" (cf. John 3:1-8). This real spiritual birth comes from God and opens eyes and hearts to the kingdom according to the John text. What multitudes mean by "born again" today is very different than what John meant. I suggest we stop using the term completely and stick with the better and richer biblical terminology and thus the theology behind it. Evangelical sub-culture has become so much like culture in general that we can no longer communicate well with the wider culture unless we use a different language and provide a richer meaning for people to consider. I suggest we stop talking about being "born again" and talk more about the kingdom of God and our relationship to the sovereign King through grace alone.