SUNDAY STUDY: But What Do They Mean by “God”?

By Ken Ham

According to a new study of 4,700 American adults, the Pew Research Center found that 80% of Americans believe in GodBut what (or who) do they mean by “God”Well, for years now I’ve been telling people that when you say “God” to this secularized culture, you can’t just assume they understand that you mean the God of the BibleToday, you actually have to define what you mean by the word “God.” And this new research bears this out.

While 80% of Americans say they believe in God, when they were asked further questions, 23% said they believe in “some other higher power/spiritual force,” rather than the God described in the BibleAnd of the 19% who said they don’t believe in God, 9% believe in “some other higher power/spiritual force.” This means that to 33%—one-third—of Americans, “God” doesn’t mean what you might automatically think it means. And this study reported that it didn’t even include enough Muslims, Hindus, and others who might believe in a god but not the God of the Bible to classify their beliefs separately.

It’s an Acts 17 World

As I’ve said many times before, in the past here in America it was an “Acts 2 culture.” I mean that, in past generations, our culture had a basic understanding of God and Jesus and were familiar with the BibleWhen someone was witnessing, they could start from a common foundation of shared understandings and perhaps even some shared beliefs (e.g., God exists, the Bible is true, the Bible is our moral authority, and so on)This is similar to when the Apostle Peter preached to the Jews in Acts chapter 2He built off their shared understandings and beliefs and presented Jesus as the Christ crucified and raised againBut this “Acts 2 culture” isn’t the culture of today!

Today we live in what I call an “Acts 17 culture.” When the Apostle Paul preached to the Greeks in Acts 17, he had to start at the very beginning: creationThey didn’t understand that when Paul said “God,” he meant the Creator God of the BibleThey didn’t understand that they were sinners in rebellion against God (Genesis 3) or why Jesus would have to come and diePaul had to start from the very beginningAnd it’s the same today.

The way we share the gospel in a secularized culture today must change. We can’t assume we have shared understandings and beliefs—even when we use the word “God”We must start from the beginning, with creation; show God as the Creator; his Word as truth; and that we are in rebellion against him, in desperate need of a Savior, the Lord Jesus.

In other words, we need to present the vital message of salvation in a way that people (and particularly the millennials and Generation Z) will truly understand.

The “Great Commission” has never changed: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15).

The gospel message has never changedIn fact, God warns us about altering it: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8)But the culture has changed!

So the way we present the gospel must likewise change