Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who is your God? Take the Test

This is the focus of a new book by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader entitled America's Four Gods: What We Say About God and What That says about us (Oxford University Press, 2010). In this volume the authors use original survey data, interviews and something called "the God Test" to determine how Americans view God. They boiled down their results into four different categories of God. They are the authoritative God, the benevolent God, the critical God and the distant God. Here is how they explain the categories. :

What distinguishes believers in an Authoritative God is their strong conviction that God judges human behavior and sometimes acts on that judgment. Indeed, they feel that God can become very angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly. Americans with this perspective often view human suffering as the result of Divine Justice. Approximately 31% of Americans believe in an Authoritative God.

Like believers in the Authoritative God, believers in a Benevolent God see His handiwork everywhere. But they are less likely to think that God judges and punishes human behavior. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn individuals. Believers in this God feel that whether sinners or saints, we are all are free to call on the Benevolent God to answer our prayers in times of need. Approximately 24% of Americans believe in a Benevolent God.

Believers in a Critical God imagine a God that is judgmental of humans, but rarely acts on Earth, perhaps reserving final judgment for the afterlife. The Critical God appears to hold a special place in the hearts of those who are the most in need of help yet are denied assistance. Approximately 16% of Americans believe in a Critical God.

Believers in a Distant God view God as a cosmic force that set the laws of nature in motion and, as such, the Distant God does not really “do” things in the world or hold clear opinions about our activities or world events. In fact, believers in a Distant God may not conceive of God as an entity with human characteristics and are loathe to refer to God as a “he.” When describing God, they are likely to reference objects in the natural world, like a beautiful day, a mountaintop, or a rainbow rather than a human-like figure. These believers feel that images of God in human terms are simply inadequate and represent na├»ve or ignorant attempts to know the unknowable. Approximately 24% of Americans believe in a Distant God.

I took the test and apparently believe in a critical God. But I may have over thought some of the questions. Take the God Test and let me know your results. You can also take a test that asks you what God looks like, but I found this less interesting.

Let me know your results.


  1. I took the test and found that I view God as authoritarian. This surprised me because I don't view God as a cosmic kill-joy waiting to judge my every move. I do, however, view God as Ever-present, loving, immanent yet transcendent, just and righteous. Those who devised the test use this as a definition: "An authoritative God is one who is engaged in the world and judgmental of it." I guess I have a problem with the word 'judgmental.' However, Luke Timothy Johnson in his book "Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary" has some good insight to this. He wrote, "God's judgment means: God's knowing humans through and through." As the potter knows the clay, our God knows the creation. Johnson continued, "God's mercy is meaningless if God does not know humans in all their frailty, and God cannot save if God does not judge sin." With that in mind, I guess I do believe in an Authoritative God.

  2. Mike, the word they used was "authoritative," different from authoritarian. I got that one, as well, and was also surprised. If I use Johnson's definition of judgmental, I suppose I can live with this-- but like you, I do not view God as a party pooper waiting to pounce and punish. But I still would not have used this word to describe my foundational view of God. A matter of linguistics, perhaps. And maybe I need to think in terms of the authority that comes from being the Author of it all. Hmm. I think I like that.

  3. I also was told that I believe in the critical god. I found the categories, however, to be rather limiting and the questions rather narrow. Ultimately, I do not think that God can be reduced to either of the four categories that this author has proposed.

  4. Dave,
    This is the problem with tests and surveys. The assume that there is only one answer to a question. As we know, life is more complicated than that.


  5. I came up with authoritarian, which surprised me! Especially since I'm not sure I agree with the description completely...the categories are a little rigid--I also view God as benevolent; but definitely not critical or distant (though it can sometimes feel that way from our point of view). Maybe I just can't make up my mind. ; ) Interesting premise for a book, though...

  6. I like Heidi's ideas... I got Authoritative as well. I guess it's not necessarily a bad thing, simply not the word I would have chosen. What I found most interesting that 31.2% had their results show up to be Distant. Maybe something to be aware of as we try to be more missional as a church.

  7. I was categorized as a believer in a Benevolent God. I'm not sure I 100% agree with their description, but overall, I do believe in a loving God who is just and righteous and true. Surprisingly, only 14.7% of females believe in a benevolent God, and only 12% in the 36-55 age range. Interesting. But, this is just a simplified survey with limiting questions with limited answers.

    I agree with Andrew--we should look at the stats for those who see God as distant. Why is that, and what can we do to relate to people that He is not?

  8. I took the test as a fun thing. I object, however, to putting God in a box the way this test does. God is not purely authoritative or benevolent. Either end of the spectrum would be horrible. In addition, there are many more attributes of God besides these, which add dimension to His character.