Doctrine Optional: American Evangelicalism and Doctrinal Confusion

It’s that time of year again, where Ligonier releases their biannual State of Theology report that looks at the beliefs of the American population as a whole, as well as Evangelicals. The results are painful. Ligonier put out a press release that covered some of the results, but the results are actually worse than Ligonier announced. Ligonier looked specifically at people who self-identified as Evangelicals in their press release. In this article, we will look specifically at people associated with Evangelical churches, as they are demonstrating by their actions that they are actually Evangelicals.

The survey consisted of thirty-five statements, that the respondents were asked to agree or disagree with either strongly or somewhat. “I don’t know” was also an option. The sample size of people who actually attend Evangelical churches was a mere 573 of the three thousand people who took the survey so it is not as good as it could be. However, before getting into the bad news, there is some good news. 100% of these Evangelicals strongly agreed that receiving Jesus Christ alone granted the recipient God’s gift of salvation. However, most of them don’t know what that means (more on that in a moment). 98% believe God is perfect, 96% accept the Trinity, 100% believe God created male and female (another thing they don’t understand) 98% accept the Resurrection as real, 91% believe the Bible is 100% accurate in what it teaches (another thing that they don’t understand) 93% believe Hell is real and people will be punished their forever, 97% believe Jesus will return and judge the living and dead, 94% believe the Bible has the authority to tell us what to do (another thing they aren’t clear on), 90% believe fornication or adultery is a sin, 100% say the Bible is their ultimate authority (spoiler, it isn’t for a lot of them) 100% say telling people to trust Christ as Savior is important to them, and 100% say Jesus’ death on the cross is the only payment for sin. Long sentence, but the point is, Evangelicals can repeat the right words if asked to regurgitate them on a test or a church membership form.

The problem is, Evangelicals cannot make proper application of what they have a rote memory of learning in Sunday School. Consider this startling stat: Only 49% of people associated with Evangelical churches disagree with the statement that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Islam and Judaism. This runs counter to Jesus’ death on the cross being the only payment for sin that 100% of them say they believe, or telling people they need Christ as Savior, or that Christ alone is required for salvation. They know the right terms to say, but have zero idea that God is a jealous, exclusive God, Who provided one way to Him, through Christ alone. God does not accept the worship of other religions.

It gets worse. 65% of Evangelicals believe Jesus is a created being. This is in spite of the Bible making it clear He is coequal with God and several verses explicitly spelling out the Trinity. So much for 100% of Evangelicals believing the Bible is the ultimate authority. It also rather undermines the 96% who accept the Trinity and the 91% who accept the Bible’s accuracy. It also does away with the 100% who say that Jesus death on the cross alone can pay the penalty for sin. If Jesus is not God, that goes out the window. Of course, 30% of Evangelicals believe Jesus was not God so maybe that is what they believe.

To complicate things further, only 49% of Evangelicals believe man is not basically good. Further, only 45% believe one sin is enough to condemn a man to hell. In denying man’s sin nature, they are challenging the whole reason Jesus had to die for our sins, something they all claim to believe. It also undermines Biblical authority, Biblical accuracy and the necessity for Hell. Further, they are implicitly introducing a works based salvation, undermining their belief in Christ alone. Either proper theological application is lacking, or they do not actually believe what they claim to believe.

As an addendum to the horrible doctrinal application most Evangelicals display, they also can’t apply the Bible to social issues. Despite 100% claiming they believe that God created male and female, only 73% believe gender is fixed and can’t be changed on a whim. Again, application is lacking, or people don’t actually believe what they repeat from rote.

The church needs to respond to this. I think Ken Ham makes a wonderful point when he says the church is still preaching to people like they have a cultural understanding of the Scripture. Since they don’t, the people in the pew get rote memory of certain phrases and ideas, but have no idea how to apply them to doctrine, or daily life. Pastors need to treat the church as if no one knows anything about the Bible and teach them that way, by giving them a foundation to build on. The Ligonier survey demonstrates that what we are doing is not working. We need to reinforce the foundation by explaining what the Bible means, not just what it says.

Do you know what’s going to happen when you die? Are you completely sure? If you aren’t, please read this or listen to this. You can know where you will spend eternity. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us, we’d love to talk to you.

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