2016-10-01 / Religion

What do Americans believe about God?

ORLANDO, Fla., – What do Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries partnered with Lifeway Research to find out. The resulting survey published at TheStateOfTheology.com focuses on key doctrinal areas including God, sin, salvation and other religions, heaven and hell, the church, and authority. The answers reflect the fundamental convictions that shape our society.

“I’ve made this point before but it is relevant as to where we are as a nation and a culture. We are at a point of neo-barbarism when it comes to ethics and morality. This survey reveals how far our culture has moved away from a Christian worldview. This secular understanding of God is found even within churches that claim to be evangelical,” said R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries.

Among the findings:

63 percent of Americans agree that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. 52% agree that we can earn our place in heaven by doing good deeds. These two statements undermine the gospel, and a significant number, 49%, of evangelical respondents agree with them. This survey reveals that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the 20th century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs. “What is troubling about this survey for American culture is the jettisoning of beliefs and the loss of a clear witness to the gospel,” said Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer at Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College. “We should not be surprised when those outside of the church hold to mistaken beliefs about God and the gospel. But this survey reveals significant problems within the church. The stakes here are not simply a matter of life and death, they are a matter of eternal life and eternal death.”

Fifty-eight percent of Americans agree “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.” Past polls have shown connections between church attendance, and civic duty and activism. Those who attend church are more likely to give of their time and money and are more likely to be engaged in their community.

This survey reveals that church attendance may very well be the leading factor in answering life’s ultimate questions.

Ben Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves.” Most Americans agree and so do evangelicals. Americans have always been the “can do” and “get it done” people. The survey indicates that this applies in the realm of theology too. 70 percent of Americans think we make the first steps to God and then he responds to us. Nichols observes, “Next year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In this year before the Reformation it seems we are right back to 1516. On the eve of the Reformation, the church had lost sight of the gospel.”

“These responses remind us of the urgency for the church to proclaim, teach, and defend the biblical gospel,” said Ligonier’s president and chief executive officer, Chris Larson. “While there is moral collapse all around us leading to political capitulation, the pressing issue is the collapse in orthodox Christian theology. Our national and ecclesiastical crisis is profoundly theological in nature, not methodological.”

Faithful Christians can look at these survey results and lament the state of theology in America. Or, we can look at these results and engage in our Great Commission work with a renewed urgency and purpose. Ligonier Ministries is taking the latter approach. It is easy to get distracted by cultural trends and apply our resources toward chasing novel methodology. This survey reminds us of the necessity of teaching foundational truths: God’s holiness, Christ’s person and work, humanity’s true need to be saved from the wrath of God, and the Bible’s authority-especially in the twenty-first century.

To review and explore the data yourself, visit TheStateOfTheology.com.

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