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The State of Theology

 
 

Ligonier Minstry and LifeWay Research did a study in 2018 on the beliefs of Evangelicals. They unveiled a sad truth of the church today. Many who claim to be Evangelical Christians do not believe in basic and essential doctrine of the Christian faith. As churches, we must do better to teach and equip the congregation to believe the fundamental truths. Many of the lost do not know Christ, because the Christians that they know seem to know little of the truths of the gospel themselves. How is the church to reveal the knowledge of God and His redemption in Christ if they themselves do not know it?

At Redeemer, we have three bible studies for you to attend on theology. The Men’s Bible Study is on Tuesday at 6am. The West Side Growth Group is at 5:45pm on Thursday. The Sunday Morning Growth Group is at 10:15am on Sunday. Please attend one of these groups if you can.

 
 

Below is the entire report done by Ligonier Ministry and LifeWay Research.

The State of Theology

What do Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research partnered to find out. These are the fundamental convictions that shape our society.

What do Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity? Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey helps uncover the answers. Every two years, we take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship. Read some of our key findings from 2018 below and explore the data for yourself.

Evangelicals

Evangelicals have a great concern for the gospel, the evangel, yet a majority of them also express some views that are contrary to the truth of the Bible. For example, although evangelicals believe that Jesus died on the cross for their salvation (see below), many do not fully understand the gravity of sin.

STATEMENT NO. 11

Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding: 52% of evangelicals agree

This idea flatly contradicts the Bible, which teaches the radical corruption of every human being and declares that no one does good by nature (Rom. 3:10–12). This is why we need the gospel in the first place—because none of us is good.

Evangelicals are also confused about the exclusivity of Christianity and its objective claims to truth. There has been a slight increase in people who agree with this unorthodox view since 2016, though future surveys will need to confirm this trend.

STATEMENT NO. 3

God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Evangelical respondents in 2016

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding:2018: 51% agree vs. 42% disagree
2016: 49% agree vs. 43% disagree

The Bible is clear that the gospel is the only way of salvation, and God will not accept the worship of other faiths. It is only through Jesus Christ and by His Spirit that we are able to worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

However, on an encouraging note, evangelicals overwhelmingly agree that justification is by faith alone.

STATEMENT NO. 13

God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding: 91% agree vs. 7% disagree

Strangely, while most evangelicals strongly believe in justification by faith alone, they are confused about the person of Jesus Christ. On one hand, virtually all evangelicals express support for Trinitarian doctrine. Yet at the same time, most agree that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, which was a view espoused by the ancient heretic Arius.

STATEMENT NO. 2

There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding: 97% agree vs. 3% disagree

STATEMENT NO. 6

Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Evangelical respondents in 2016

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding: 2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree
2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree

These results show the pressing need for Christians to be taught Christology, especially as the outcome has gotten worse since 2016. There is a general lack of teaching today on the person of Christ, a doctrine for which the early church fought so hard. The Ligonier Statement on Christology has been carefully formulated to restate historic, orthodox, biblical Christology.

Evangelicals were defined by LifeWay Research as people who strongly agreed with the following four statements:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.

  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.

  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

U.S. Adults

The Holiness of God

When it comes to U.S. adults overall, a clear majority agree with well-known doctrines of the Christian faith. But beneath the surface, they hold these truths loosely. In particular, Americans do not seem to grasp the reality of God’s holiness.

An alarming 69% of people disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, with 58% strongly disagreeing.

STATEMENT NO. 12

Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.

All participants in 2018

Finding:23% agree vs. 69% disagree

If God is not holy, then sin is not a big deal. It is because of our understanding of God’s holiness that we understand how significant sin is.

Moreover, a majority of Americans downplay the importance of the church’s gathering together to worship God. This shows a characteristic American emphasis on individuality, an individuality that runs counter to the Bible’s teaching.

STATEMENT NO. 20

Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.

All participants in 2018

Finding:58% agree vs. 30% disagree

Why do so many people have this casual outlook? Perhaps because of relativism, the popular idea that religious beliefs are purely personal opinions.

STATEMENT NO. 30

Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.

All participants in 2018

Finding:60% agree vs. 30% disagree

Even 32% of evangelicals say their religious beliefs are not objectively true.

STATEMENT NO. 30

Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.

Evangelical respondents in 2018

Finding:32% of evangelicals agree

If Christianity and its doctrines, such as the holiness of God and the resurrection of Christ, are merely matters of personal opinion, then we are truly lost. This statistic is a reminder that Christians must contend for the “true truth” of Christianity when engaging with the culture. Jesus believed in absolute truth, and He said that the truth would set people free (John 8:32).

Ethics

This year, for the first time, more Americans agree that the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships is outdated than disagree.

STATEMENT NO. 29

The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.

All participants in 2018

Finding:44% agree vs. 41% disagree

In only a few short decades, America’s sexual ethic has changed significantly, and it continues to move away from a Christian ethic to a secular and relativistic one.

However, the media may be exaggerating the extent of this upheaval. Many Americans continue to agree with biblical ethics. Our 2018 survey finds a slim majority in the United States now agree that abortion is a sin, up from 49% in 2016.

STATEMENT NO. 27

Abortion is a sin.

All participants in 2018

Finding:52% agree vs. 38% disagree

Age

The survey picks up some fascinating, and perhaps unexpected, results in the Millennial (18–34) age range. The views of Millennials will eventually shape the future of America. The 2018 results indicate strong confusion among Millennials, and it will be important to monitor these trends in future surveys.

There has been a significant change for the better among Millennials across a range of questions when compared to previous State of Theology surveys—so much so that they score higher than any other age group in several areas. Whether this is an anomaly or will continue unabated in future years remains to be seen.

The percentage of those in this age range having evangelical beliefs rose significantly to 18% in 2018 (up from 14% in 2016).

There was also a large increase in the percentage of Millennials affirming that salvation is found in Christ alone and that Jesus Christ will return to judge the world.

STATEMENT NO. 34

Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:62% of participants age 18–34 agree, up from 53% in 2016.

STATEMENT NO. 19

There will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:64% of participants age 18–34 agree, up from 55% in 2016.

At the same time, young adults appear to be drifting away from the Christian worldview in other areas. Millennials are most likely to agree that the Bible is not literally true.

STATEMENT NO. 14

The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.

Participants age 18–34 in 2014

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:53% of participants age 18–34 agree, higher than both 2016 (46%) and 2014 (44%).

And a growing minority of Millennials see God as removed from their daily lives.

STATEMENT NO. 24

God is unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions.

Participants age 18–34 in 2014

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:36% of participants age 18–34 agree, up from 30% in 2016 and 21% in 2014.

These results overall may indicate an increasingly stark polarization of views among young adults.

Finally, the views of Millennials on ethical issues are noteworthy. Millennials are most likely to say abortion is a sin—an increase from 2016.

STATEMENT NO. 27

Abortion is a sin.

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:57% of participants age 18–34 agree, up from 50% in 2016.

They are also most likely to disagree with sexual relations outside marriage.

STATEMENT NO. 26

Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.

Participants age 18–34 in 2016

Participants age 18–34 in 2018

Finding:54% of participants age 18–34 agree, up from 47% in 2016.

However, at the same time, this age group has the most liberal views on homosexual behavior and gender identity—showing the powerful impact of our increasingly secular culture on people’s thinking.

STATEMENT NO. 29

The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.

Participants age 18–34

Finding:51% of participants age 18–34 agree

STATEMENT NO. 28

Gender identity is a matter of choice.

Participants age 18–34

Finding:46% of participants age 18–34 agree

Conclusion

The 2018 State of Theology survey reveals deep confusion about the Bible’s teaching, not only among Americans as a whole, but also among evangelicals. There is something very wrong when a majority of Americans can give the correct answers to basic Bible questions and at the same time say that their beliefs are purely a matter of personal opinion.

These results show the urgent need for sound biblical teaching and the bold preaching of the gospel. Millions of people do not understand the holiness of God, the reality of sin, and the one way of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is much work to be done, but it is our hope that these findings will serve the church in its efforts to reach more people with the faithful proclamation of the truth of God’s Word.

Explore all the survey results

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Matt Castro