A recent article in Christianity Today starts with, “Are American Christians really this bad at theology? Are we simply just a band of unwitting heretics? Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research’s recent State of Theology study seems to indicate that, yes, a large percentage of us are at odds at what we believe.”1
The article goes on to explain the statement. A Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research’s State of Theology study asked theological questions of Americans and found that Americans are not consistent in following the Bible and the basic teachings of the church.
I have stated on this website that the wide-ranging differences in the Christian community on a number of doctrines work to decrease faith. Paul’s charge to speak the same thing and to not be divided speaks directly to this problem. After all, when the acceptable state is that one church teaches that the manifestations of the spirit like speaking in tongues, prophecy, miracles, and healings have ceased while another teaches the gifts are possible but won’t teach them while another teaches that they are not only available but people are getting delivered by them, what are people supposed to think about theological matters? Or that it’s okay to drink moderately while others say drinking alcohol is an abomination? Or that only men can lead while others teach that there are examples of great women leaders in the bible? Those are only a few of the disagreements among churches, denominations, and believers with the resultant confusion and decrease in trust in Jesus Christ and the word of God.
The study said they surveyed 3002 Americans but they did not identify how many of these said they were Christians. According to a recent Pew study, approximately 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christians.2 Look at the links in the footnotes to find and read more on this incredibly revealing study
As part of the study, they adopted the National Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition which includes, among other things, that the Bible is the highest authority for belief, that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that can remove the penalty of sin, and that only trust in Jesus Christ can enable one to gain eternal salvation.3 In giving the results I am including many of the actual survey statements to be clear as to what people did or not agree with.
Concerning the supremacy of the Bible as the source for truth the study found that most Americans say religious beliefs are a matter of personal opinion, “And that’s made clear by examining the varying, and sometimes contradictory, theological doctrines they hold.””4 Original Christianity as depicted in the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles did not have the bible that we have today but were charged to follow the traditions of the Apostles which includes both the doctrines and practices the Apostles established as evidenced in their writings.
So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)
Concerning the exclusivity of accepting the Lordship of Jesus as the source of eternal life the study found that most Americans agree with the statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” If most people believe that God accepts the worship of all religions then they don’t accept the Lordship of Jesus as the exclusive path to salvation.
that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)
Central to the Lordship of Jesus is the resurrection which is fundamental in Christ’s achieving our salvation. Only 45 percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement, “Biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. This event actually occurred.”
Belief in the risen Savior is crucial to salvation but it doesn’t appear to be crucial to everyone calling themselves Christian.
The Bible says in Romans 3:10 that there are none righteous and develops every believer’s battle with sin in later chapters. Most Americans, however, at least somewhat believe the statement that “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.” This is a critical element of good person theology where people are not compared to biblical standards, but to personal or group ideas of what constitutes a good person.
Not included in the National Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition but emphasized in the definition of orthodox Christianity is the importance of the Trinity.5
Concerning adherence to a doctrine critical to the Trinity, only 36% of Americans at least partly disagreed with the statement that Jesus was not God. More significantly, 55% at least partly agreed with the statement that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. Remember, the definition of the Trinity includes that Jesus is fully God and co-eternal with God. These results were despite the study finding that 72% at least partly did agree with the statement “There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” One article explained that this shows that Christians are better at recognizing orthodox statements than ones that Orthodoxy deems heretical, and thus are more compliant than understanding or fully believing the concepts.
A similar conclusion was, “One discouragement was that regular churchgoers were more likely to deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit”. Without believing that Jesus is God or the Holy Spirit is a person you don’t have much of a Trinity. While they have memorized key statements, it doesn’t appear that people really grasp or accept the concept. It appears that despite the ability to spot the orthodox statement in the positive and the willingness to say it is true the actual Trinity concept is beyond the capacity of the populace to really understand, especially in the negative. They either can’t understand it or they don’t believe it or both.
That said, since this website is focused on original Christianity, while the Trinity is a primary doctrine in modern Christian traditions, it was not part of the Apostles’ tradition. The power of the name of Jesus, not the Trinity, was what the Apostles emphasized, taught, and practiced.
Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:9-11 WEB)
The results of the study show a wide range of degrees of Christian faith among the American populace. Only 48% agree that the bible is 100% accurate in what it teaches. Only 51% agree or partly agree that the bible has the authority to tell us what to do. On the negative side, forty percent agree, partly agree, or are not sure (don’t disagree) that the Holy Spirit can tell someone to do something that is not in the Bible. Isn’t that saying a bunch of people believe the Holy Spirit will make sinful things not sinful for them?
But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. (Mar 10:6 WEB)
Yes, 79% agree that God created male and female. But, 52% disagree or somewhat disagree that gender is a matter of choice. 51% aren’t sure at least partly agree or aren’t sure about the statement, “Modern science disproves the bible.” It’s also close to 50/50 on issues like abortion as a sin, that sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin, or that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality doesn’t apply today.
With all of this confusion over spiritual matters it is no wonder to me that most people, 58%, agree at least somewhat that worshiping alone or with your family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church despite the Bible’s charge to worship together:
not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25 WEB)
As the title of the article says the study shows a population that is not clear about Christianity and holds as much to modern science and public opinion as it does to adherence to biblical principle. The Bible talks about immature believers, children, being tossed back and forth and carried about with the winds of doctrine, and that’s what I see when I read these results:
He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; (Eph 4:11-15 WEB)
The winds of doctrine are all the different theories, opinions, movements in the different cultures in the world. The answer to children being tossed back and forth by winds of doctrine is the Spirit guiding apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers in perfecting the saints, helping them mature with sound doctrine, teaching them the way that is Jesus Christ more fully. And consistency is a big key, all Christian leaders need to speak the same thing, and work to have no divisions among them, preaching the word of God in season and out.
1Our Favorite Heresies of 2018: Experts Weigh In, located at https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/october/evangelicals-favorite-heresies-ligonier-theology-survey.html
2Religious Landscape Study, at https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/
4Americans Hold Complex, Conflicting Religious Beliefs, According to Latest State of Theology Study, located at https://lifewayresearch.com/2020/09/08/americans-hold-complex-conflicting-religious-beliefs-according-to-latest-state-of-theology-study/
5Dictionary.com defines orthodoxy to include the Trinity, “The form of Christianity maintained by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Orthodox means “correct in teaching”; Orthodox Christians consider the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches to be incorrect in some teachings, including the relations between the persons of the Trinity.”