Writing About Jesus
Are you writing about Jesus? He is the center of our faith and should find his way into everything we write. Jesus may be present in our writing either directly or indirectly. I like the way song writer and music producer T-Bone Burnett put it. He said, “If you believe Jesus is the Light of the World as I do, there are two kinds of songs you can write. You can write songs about the light, or you can write songs about what you can see from the light. That’s what I try to do.”
In either case, it is important for Christian writers to understand how other people think about Jesus. Many will not understand our perspective, and so it is important that we understand their perspective. Barna Research has recently done a scientific study, and here are excerpts of what they discovered:
1. The Vast Majority of Americans Believe Jesus Was a Real Person
Although the character of Jesus has certainly been fictionalized, satirized and mythologized over the centuries, the vast majority of Americans still maintain that he was a historical figure. More than nine out of 10 adults say Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived (92%). The percentages dip slightly among younger generations—only 87 percent of Millennials agree Jesus actually lived—Americans are still very likely to believe the man, Jesus Christ, once walked the earth.
2. Younger Generations Are Increasingly Less Likely to Believe Jesus Was God
The historicity of Jesus may not be in question for most Americans, but people are much less confident in the divinity of Jesus. Most adults—not quite six in 10—believe Jesus was God (56%), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26%). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18%).
Millennials are the only generation among whom fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48%). In each older generation, the belief in Jesus as divine is more common—55 percent of Gen-Xers, 58 percent of Boomers and nearly two-thirds of Elders (62%) believe Jesus was God.
3. Americans Are Divided on Whether Jesus Was Sinless
Perhaps reflective of their questions about Jesus’ divinity, Americans are conflicted on whether Jesus committed sins during his earthly life. About half of Americans agree, either strongly or somewhat, that while he lived on earth, Jesus Christ was human and committed sins like other people (52%). Just less than half disagree, either strongly or somewhat, that Jesus committed sins while on earth (46%), and 2 percent aren’t sure.
4. Most Americans Say They Have Made a Commitment to Jesus Christ
On the whole, America is still committed to Jesus. The act of making a personal commitment to Jesus—often seen as the “first step” in becoming a Christian—is a step that more than six in 10 Americans say they have taken and, moreover, that commitment is still important in their life today.
Women are more likely than men to have made a personal commitment to Jesus (68% compared to 56%, respectively). White Americans are the least likely ethnic group to have committed to Jesus: Only six in 10 white Americans report having done so (60%), compared to eight in 10 black Americans (80%) and nearly two-thirds of all non-white Americans (65%). The more money people make, the less likely they are to have committed to Jesus: Those making more than $100K per year are significantly less likely (53%) to have made such a commitment than those making between $50K and $100K (63%) or those making less than $50K (65%).
5. People Are Conflicted between “Jesus” and “Good Deeds” as the Way to Heaven
Overall, roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as “born again Christians”). Among adults who have made a personal commitment to Jesus, most also believe that Jesus is the way to heaven. When given several beliefs about the afterlife to choose from, nearly two-thirds of those who have made a personal commitment to Jesus say they believe that after they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior (63%). Only 2 percent of adults who report a personal commitment to Jesus say they will not go to heaven. About one in seven admit they don’t know what will happen after they die (15%).
As Christian writers, we do not write for ourselves. We write for the Lord and for others. To reach people on any level, we need to understand what they are thinking. This information from Barna Research helps us understand our audience.