Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries conduct a bi-annual “The State of Theology” survey to essentially take the theological temperature of the United States. I am sure that many of you have heard of this or other studies that show a growing apostacy in the church. The results of this year’s State of Theology are another example of awful news for Christians and it seems that the underlying problem is a lack of reading and understanding the Bible by those that are devoted to the faith.
This study focuses not just on the general population, but additionally on the beliefs of evangelical Christians. The survey identifies evangelicals as Christian believers who agree that the Bible is the highest authority for what someone believes, that it is important for non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their savior, that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice that removes the penalty of humanity’s sin, and that only those who trust in Him alone receive God’s grace as a free gift of eternal salvation.
Does God Change?
While the Bible establishes in Isaiah 46:10, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, and 1 John 3:20 that God cannot and does not change, 48% of evangelicals believe that God learns and adapts to various situations. In other words, they believe that God does change and the general U.S. population concurs with this belief at 51%, or only 3% higher than evangelicals!
Are We Born Innocent?
The Bible establishes the concept of original sin in the account of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden of Eden, where humans became corrupted. Since the fall, every human being inherits a sin nature from the time of their conception (Psalms 51:5 and Romans 5:12). The Bible clearly indicates we are not sinners because we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners. Somehow, 65% of evangelicals are confused about this foundational truth and agreed that everyone is “born innocent in the eyes of God,” denying the doctrine of original sin, and with it, the very reason that people need salvation in the first place!
Is Jesus Christ God?
One of the most stunning results of this year’s survey is the increasing number of evangelicals who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ divinity is acknowledged throughout the Bible, which clearly asserts that Jesus is indeed God (John 1:1; 8:58; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:1-4). When asked whether they agreed that “Jesus was a great teacher …but not God,” 43% of American evangelicals answered yes. That number is up 13% from just two years ago!
Does God Accept The Worship of All Religions?
Crucial to Biblical Christianity is Jesus’ own assertion that He alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through him” (John 14:6). Incredibly, 56% of evangelicals agreed with the idea that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam,” in contrast to Jesus’ words in Matthew that without Him, “no one knows the Father” (Matthew 11:27). It is very concerning that these survey results reveal an increasingly unbiblical belief among evangelicals that God is pleased by worship that comes from those outside the Christian faith!
Why have so many evangelicals fallen away from Biblical truths while still believing the Bible is accurate? Most (95%) still agree with the statement that “the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.” So, while many professing Christians still believe in the Bible, they are simply ignorant of what the Bible teaches. The problem most likely stems from either not being taught the Bible in church, not taking the time to read it on their own, or just not caring enough to learn.
Unfortunately, it is presumed that Biblical doctrine does not matter to faith in many corners of evangelicalism these days. This lack of strict adherence to Scripture can take at least two forms:
- Hyper-emotionalism: thinking that God will settle for our sincerity and our affection, despite whether our beliefs are true.
- Hyper-politicization: thinking that it really matters whom you vote for and what group you belong to, not what you believe about the essential truth of the Gospel or the claims of Christ.
Despite these cultural trends, Jesus was very clear in what he said: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the spirit and in truth.” It was for this reason that the divine Logos came into the world “to testify to the truth,” and it is only the truth that sets us free. It is interesting to me that in the Old Testament, idolatry is portrayed not only as worshipping a false God but worshipping a false idea of who God is, such as was the case with the Golden Calf incident.
A positive note from this survey is what it revealed about controversial topics and moral issues: 91% of evangelicals agreed that abortion is a sin and 94% agreed that sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. However, these affirmations are overshadowed by 28% who agreed that Scripture’s condemnation of homosexual behavior “doesn’t apply today.”
In summary, we will never have a clear sense of God’s attributes without a biblical understanding of who Jesus is and the absolute authority He wields over all creation. Whether we obtain this knowledge in church or through Bible study, it is critical that we clearly understand God’s omnipotence, immutability, character, and work in the world as well as how He sees us and what He requires of us. If our beliefs are established in our political viewpoints or some ambiguous notion of God’s “goodness,” we will have simply obtained a “form of godliness, while denying its power.”
The findings of this study demonstrate a need for many so-called Christians to repent, for many churches to renew their commitments to teaching the entire Bible, and for all of us who claim to follow Christ to commit our hearts and minds to truly knowing who He is and who He has revealed Himself to be! Certainly, sharing the Gospel in this day requires more than just sharing the love of Jesus – we who know the truth must share the whole truth to non-believers as well as those Christians who are lukewarm.