LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released here a survey on the state of American theology in 2016. Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance.
Disturbingly, many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.
Many Americans live with a great deal of theological confusion and even hold contradicting sets of beliefs. 48% of people who deny that God is the author of Scripture also believe that science discredits the Bible’s claims. That’s not surprising. But 43% of people who agreed that God is the author of Scripture also agreed that modern science discredits the claims of the Bible.
Not only do Americans increasingly hold unorthodox and contradictory beliefs, but they hold these beliefs more vigorously. Over the past two years, the strength of unorthodox convictions has grown. Not only are Americans evidencing increasingly wrong beliefs, they are growing more adamant in holding those wrong beliefs. As the study authors note, the results indicate the "twilight of Christian belief in America."
It’s an election year. That means, among other things, that we are treated to a new poll every day. We may be tempted to roll our eyes at the flood of polls, but instead we lean in, wanting to know what our fellow Americans might be thinking. The stakes are high when we consider the presidential election. The national attention is not only on who occupies the Oval Office next, we also find ourselves too often confronted by Islamic-based terrorism. As we deal with these new threats we are not helped by a secular left that is unable to define right and wrong and unable to see good versus evil. This is no mere ideology and no mere issue of statecraft. We know that we are dealing with matters that are theological at their very core.
Toward that end, we are releasing an entirely different kind of poll today. This poll penetrates right to that very core of theology and the stakes of this poll are far higher than the outcome of an election. The stakes of this poll are not simply matters of life and death. The stakes are matters of eternal life and eternal death.
... Consider this one key finding. One of the statements in the survey concerns sin. R. C. Sproul’s quote, “Sin is cosmic treason,” made its way in the famous Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. We wanted to see if this belief made its way into American thinking. We framed the statement this way:
Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
This statement received one of the strongest responses—in the disagree strongly column. In fact, this statement garnered one of the most striking results of all the survey questions. Many of the responses throughout the survey evened out over the spectrum from agree strongly to disagree strongly. Not this one. 61% disagree strongly with another 12% disagreeing somewhat. Just a breadth shy of 3 out of 4 Americans fail to see the full weight and significance of sin.
... Evangelicals might be jettisoning orthodox beliefs because they are no longer going to church. In statement after statement, across a wide array of demographics, there is a clear correlation between regular church attendance and theological orthodoxy. Christianity apart from the local church is not theologically robust Christianity. Though pastors often despair that their efforts have little effect on their listeners, and popular culture often lampoons lazy or distracted attendees, this new data shows a clear correlation between regular church attendance and theological conviction.
As the authors note, the survey calls the church to action. Beliefs matter. Ultimately, everyone lives their life in accordance with what they believe to be true. But unfortunately, a significant number of self-proclaimed evangelicals reject revealed truth and hold a distorted worldview. The veracity of one's worldview is directly proportional to their embrace of theological truth.
Contrary to the claim that theology is divisive, it is exceedingly important, representing both our intellectual grasp of the object of our faith (God) and ultimate reality. It is the glue that ultimately holds the church together. When much of the church relegated theology to the back-burner, they foolishly discarded their rudder and left themselves adrift. Instead of being a reliable beacon, they became subject to the ever-changing whims of the culture.