You would think that after 2,000 years of councils, debates, reformations, and conferences that there would be some solidarity in American Christian beliefs. Right?
Wrong. A new survey produced by Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries has taken a look at The State of Theology in the United States, and the results are a little disconcerting. Surveying a demographically balanced online panel of 3,000 American Adults from various Christian traditions, researchers asked 47 questions about the Bible, salvation, and other core Christian beliefs.
So, how do you line up with the consensus of self-identified American Christians in 2016? Take a look at some of the key findings provided by Lifeway Research:
In addition to how Americans view God’s character, the Bible, and the Trinity, this survey pointed out several other insights regarding basic tenets of Christian belief:
- 39% of all participants agree that good deeds help to earn one’s place in heaven
- 43% of people who agree that God is the author of Scripture also agreed that modern science discredits the claims of the Bible.
- 64% of all participants agree God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
- 56% of all participants agree that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.
- 74% of all participants agree that individuals must contribute to their own salvation.
- 65% of all participants agree that God knows all that happens, but doesn’t determine all that happens.
- 61% of all participants strongly disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
Why such disunity?
For many of us looking into this research, it may come as no surprise. Recent studies have repeatedly pointed out the decline of church attendance in America. This can sometimes evoke a sense of fear for the future, but it should also help the church realize the need of teaching the essential elements of our faith to those who are already within the doors. For what is the benefit of evangelism if the evangelist doesn’t know the full gospel?
Lately, the focus of many mainline churches across the country has ventured away from doctrine and theology in search of more user-friendly subjects. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All of us need guidance for issues that come up in everyday life. But this should not come at the cost of neglecting the essentials of Christian belief.
Doctrines like the nature of God, the role of the Holy Spirit, original sin, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture need to be talked about and understood. This is especially important for new believers, but even the most seasoned church-going Christians could use a refresher.
In an interview with Christianity Today’s Caleb Lindgren, Beth Felker Jones, professor of theology at Wheaton College, said, “The survey underscores our desperate need for sound doctrinal teaching in the local church. I fear that we’re spending too much time in cults of personality around charismatic superstar pastors, who often focus more on their personal theological idiosyncrasies and pet ideas than on basic Christian orthodoxy.”
What To Do Now
If we are to agree with Jones’ assessment with this survey’s findings, it means churches and Christian leaders across the country should not take doctrine for granted. It would be a mistake to assume that all those who believe and follow Christ will learn for themselves the fundamental issues that theologians and scholars have studied and debated over the centuries.
Of course there will always be debate about many of the non-core aspects of Christianity—this is a given. But it is the doctrines at the heart of our faith that should be upheld, taught, and distributed throughout the faithful, as well as the not-so-faithful.
What we stand to lose is great, but what we stand to gain is far greater. Imagine a culture of believers that is not only passionate about following Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, but also understanding of what has already been revealed to us through God’s Word. Only then will the Church be fully equipped to be representatives of Christ (while always being led by Christ) in a world that constantly holds the authority of Scripture in question.
Corum Hughes works on the production team for HAVEN Today and is the managing editor of the All About Jesus blog. His passions include running, biking, reading, watching movies, and seeking Jesus in places He is seldom sought. Corum lives with his wife in Idaho.