Most Americans don't believe Jesus existed before the manger

With Christmas upon us, I read a surprising new religious poll by Lifeway Research released this month. It concluded that “Most Americans, and many Christians, don’t believe the Son of God existed before the Manger.”

According to most Americans, Christmas is a celebration of a real event. Just don’t expect them to know exactly why Jesus was born and came to earth.

Christianity Today reported, “A new study from Lifeway Research finds close to 3 in 4 Americans believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Even more say Jesus is the Son of God the Father, but less than half believe Jesus existed prior to being born on that first Christmas.”

Here’s a few of the specific findings, according to the Lifeway Research study:

  • More than 9 in 10 Americans (91%) celebrate Christmas.
  • For most of those celebrating, Christmas is about a historical occurrence.
  • More than 7 in 10 (72%) say the Jesus Christians believe in was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Few (9%) disagree, while 18% aren’t sure.
  • Most Americans (80%) agree Jesus Christ is the Son of God, while 10% disagree and 10% aren’t sure.
  • The average person isn’t quite as sure about the Son of God’s existence prior to Jesus’ birth. Around 41% say God’s Son existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. 32% of Americans disagree, and 28% say they’re not sure.

“Most Americans consider Jesus’ birth a historical fact,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “It can be easy to only evaluate Jesus like you would any other historical figure – thinking about when He lived and what He did. However, the Bible also describes Jesus in a way that one must evaluate who you believe He was. Most Americans believe His origin was from God the Father, but half as many believe He existed before His birth.”

Bottom line, “Despite widespread belief that Jesus really came to earth as a baby, there is far less familiarity with [who Jesus really was and] why Jesus said He came,” said McConnell.

I’m not a preacher, but my mother raised my brothers and me on the Christian faith. She also taught us the real Christmas story: that the Son of God left His Heavenly throne to come down and sacrifice his life for ours. Greater than even our amazing and courageous fallen military warriors who died for our earthly freedom (and as a patriot, you know how much I value them), Jesus alone died for our spiritual freedom. That’s the fact reflected 2,000 years ago in the angel’s announcement to His earthly father, Joseph: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

To put it succinctly, Jesus was God in human flesh. That’s why His name was also called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” One of my friends says, “Jesus was God with skin on.” So, of course, He existed before the manger. To not believe that, as they say, is to throw the baby (His real identity) out with the bathwater (the manger).

A world-renown religious scholar, pioneer teacher and prolific author was Dr. Huston Smith, who passed away in 2016 at 97 years of age. Few could parallel his knowledge and experience of world religions. He was trained in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan, studied with a Sufi mystic in Iran, and lived in many different cultures and countries as he learned from and also taught their people.

Dr. Smith spent the majority of his academic career as a professor at Washington University in St. Louis (1947-1958), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1958-1973) and Syracuse University (1973-1983). In 1983, he retired from Syracuse and moved to Berkeley, California, where he was a visiting professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, until his death.

With his vast knowledge of world religions and religious leaders throughout human history, Dr. Smith was asked a straightforward question in an interview 10 years before his death: “Who do you think Jesus was? Was he [just] another charismatic Jewish healer?”

Even though Smith was what many categorize as liberal in many of his views, he replied with a straightforward fact and answer about the Son of God: “He was God incarnate. He was Christ. He was God in human form. That would be my succinct answer.” (Unbiased historians like Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi, who was the professor of Ancient History at Miami University for over four decades, agrees in his treatise, “Jesus Compared with Other Great Religious Figures.”)

That is why C.S. Lewis, the great Oxford and Cambridge scholar, author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, and he who was once an avid atheist, wrote: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a good moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Lewis and Smith’s responses above remind me of a quote I read a while ago: “A thousand times in this life a baby has become a king, but only once has a King become a baby.”

Though we respect all religions, it is that latter King’s birth my wife, Gena, and I celebrate at Christmastime, and we hope you do, too.

From our household to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(If you doubt, struggle or want to further explore faith and spiritual issues during this holiday season and new year, I encourage you to download this FREE E-copy of the book, “God Questions: Exploring Life’s Greatest Questions About God,” which tackles tough questions about God and gives evidence to support them. And to help your kids and grandkids, our good friend and former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, is giving away FREE copies of “The Kids’ Guide to the Bible.” Simply go to and request yours!)

Is it possible we’ve all been missing something extraordinary in life? Can we really discover and understand the secret to EVERYTHING? An inspiring new book unlocks hundreds of mysteries from the Bible and your personal life!

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