This article will reflect on the Ligonier Ministries’ survey entitled “The State of Theology.” Every two years, Ligonier partners with Lifeway Research in order to understand what Americans “believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible.”1
The results are informative for the believer in the church for at least two reasons.
First, considering this survey, the believer cannot help but contemplate the end of this present age and the return of Jesus Christ. This research makes very clear the wide-spread departure from the historic Christian faith in the context of America, which paves the way for the coming of antichrist and his kingdom. These results concretely reveal that the beliefs of many Americans who may belong to a church and identify as “Christians” bear little to no resemblance to the confession of the true believer throughout the ages concerning the Scriptures, God, Jesus Christ, and salvation.
Second, this survey’s results equip members of the church in their personal witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the stated purpose of Ligonier in conducting this research, and it is a worthy one. Ligonier conducts this research to 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.” I hope that being confronted with this information will lead us to be all the more zealous to bring the true gospel to those all around us— our actual neighbors, acquaintances, and co-workers.
Let us consider some of the more revealing results of the “State of Theology.” The form of the survey asks participants to agree or disagree with particular statements regarding the Christian faith. The research was conducted among two groups: Americans in general and evangelicals in particular. I will focus my reflections on the results among evangelicals in America.
Fundamental to the Christian faith is one’s confession concerning Jesus Christ. I John 4:1-3, 15 says,
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world…. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
Therefore, of foundational importance is one’s agreement or disagreement with the statement: “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Among those who identify as Christians, 30% would agree and 66% would disagree with this assertion. That is, one-third of American evangelicals deny the deity of Jesus Christ.
There were two statements posed to those surveyed concerning God that are insightful.
The first proposition concerns God’s sovereignty in salvation. Believers have always confessed God’s absolute sovereignty in all things, particularly in salvation, as revealed in His eternal decree of election. The survey asked evangelicals to consider the truth of this declaration: “God chose the people he would save before he created the world.” This is a simple statement that clearly expresses the truth taught, for example, in Ephesians 1:3-6,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
Here are the results among evangelicals: 50% disagree, 23% are not sure, and only 26% agree with this straightforward, biblical assertion concerning God’s sovereign decree of election.
The second proposition concerns the worship of God. The participants were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” The survey’s results concerning this statement show how so much of Christianity in America is in some form pluralistic. Forty-two percent of evangelicals agree with this statement. Though I expected to see the general departure from the historic Christian faith in the survey’s overall conclusions, I was surprised by this finding. It is hard even to imagine how one could claim the Bible as a source of truth (the same survey revealed 93% of evangelicals believe the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches) and still confess that the God of the Christian faith accepts the worship given to false gods, the God who says in His law, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Departure from the Christian faith always coincides with ignorance of the truth of the Word of God.
Another area I would like to call the reader’s attention to is evangelicalism’s view of man, sin, and what sin deserves as committed against the holy God. The survey reveals that much of American Christianity is Pelagian in its view of man by nature. Almost half of evangelicals (46%) agree with the assertion: “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.” Concerning sin, 43% of evangelicals disagree that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.” However, at the same time, almost all evangelicals (93%) agree that “hell is a real place where certain people will be punished forever.”
Hand in hand with departure from the truth is a low view of the church of Jesus Christ. The preaching of the gospel is no longer believed to be God’s power to save His elect. The holy activity of worship in the house of God on the Lord’s Day is no longer the chief end of man. It is permissible in many Christians’ minds to live separate from the body of Christ in the church. Along these lines, the survey found that 39% of American Christians agree that “worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.” And if one attends a church, 26% of evangelicals believe that “churches must provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective.”
The above paragraphs examine just a few of the survey results. I could have analyzed several more of the 35 statements that make up the whole of the survey. If any reader is interested, www.thestateoftheology.com is a website dedicated to portraying the results in a clear, interactive, and informative manner.
At the beginning of this article, I indicated that it is good for us to think about these results for two reasons. I conclude with a third reason: considering them leads us to be humbled before and thankful to our God. The only reason a person would ever be able to answer the questions in a survey such as this one in harmony with the truth of God’s Word is on account of the work of God by the Spirit of Jesus Christ to kindle in their hearts true saving faith. That removes all pride that could be present in our hearts as we read the sad and sobering results of the above survey. That humbles us and makes us thankful to God for the living faith He has worked in our hearts by His grace. To Him be the glory!