That’s it – I take back everything I’ve ever said about religious indoctrination. When it comes to evangelicals in America, it turns out they know embarrassingly little about their own religion (and agree on even less). In fact, they know so little about Christianity, they could not even pass a basic entrance exam to heaven.
On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, poor Martin Luther has got to be rolling over in his grave. LifeWay Research has released the results of their latest “State of Theology” survey that outlines a troubling theme among self described “evangelicals.” The problem? Out of the 3,000 who answered 47 relatively simple questions on theology, the results show that only 586 could be considered “evangelical” due to their lack of understanding of god, salvation, Jesus, and sin. That’s right – according to the survey, less than 20% of self-described evangelicals had a basic enough theoligical understanding of their religion to be even considered ‘evangelical.’ The ongoing trend of theological ignorance has many Christian leaders worried while others look for someone to blame.
I should point out that this study was not a test of obscure Bible trivia like, “Who buried Moses?,” but a list of binary statements on God, the Bible, Jesus, sin, ethics, and morality akin to the evangelical dogma. However, while most Protestant pastors would consider the quiz to be quite basic, that doesn’t mean they’d agree on the answers or results.
Care to give it a whirl? Given your knowledge of evangelical (Protestant) theology, do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Statement #6: “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”
– 63% of self-described evangelicals got this one dead-wrong by agreeing. No, your all-loving God that created the Jews is no longer taking their calls, silly! And Islam? The are (still) cutting off heads!
Statement #71 : “Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”
– 73% of evangelicals disagreed with the statement, not understanding that, according to their own religion, “if [God] is perfectly holy and just, he cannot let [any] sin go unpunished.” Remember, you are a worthless sinner, it’s only by the “grace” of God that you don’t burn in the hell he created just for you.
Statement #40: “Abortion is a sin.”
– I’ll admit – this one surprised me as much as it surprised the researchers: “Only 48% of self-identified evengelicals who attend church once or twice per month strongly agree with this statement.” Interesting. Of course, the other 52% might have a point since abortion is never actually mentioned in the Bible. (Well, sort of…)
Statement #24: “An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.”
– 78% of average churchgoers agreed with this statement which researchers condemned as “adamantly wrong,” before noting, “This trend announces the twilight of Christian belief in America.”
But, what I find most interesting is when you use the site’s data explorer to cross tabulate answers between questions. For example, when you combine:
Statement #4: Only 60% agree that “God is the author of all scripture.” (The “correct” evangelical view)
Statement #14: 45% who agreed to the last question, believe “Modern science discredits the claims of Christianity.” (Cognitive Dissonance Alert!)
WHO IS TO BLAME FOR ALL OF THIS?!?! Well, according to the authors of the study, the theological illiteracy of their self-described evangelical brethren is the fault of… yep, universities:
“Ever since the early decades of the twentieth century, the gatekeepers of American higher education have consciously pushed God and the Bible out of the sphere of public education. We now see the results of those efforts.”
To finish, let’s take a look at one of the most shocking results from the study, when nominal Christians (who don’t go to church every week) were asked about a very basic tenet of their chosen faith.
Statement #46: “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.”
– 79% of nominal Christians disagreed that Christ was the only path to heaven.
Uhm… is there some new sect of Christianity that I don’t know about? Apparently evangelicals need even more songs about the “blood of Jesus” to get this basic tenet of Christianity into their noggins – Jesus had to die and its all your fault, silly. (Actually, when you mine the data on this question to only include Christians who go to church “several times a week,” 87% of those seeking regular indoctrination were able to answer this question correctly.)
Yet, here we are, in a world where self-described evangelicals are willing to divide families (and nations) over their “deeply held beliefs” of which they apparently know almost nothing about? Sounds about right, actually. Look no further than to the “religious freedom” laws put signed into law by religious politicians like vice-Presidential candidate Mike Pence, the kind of laws that give self-described Christians the right to match their ignorance of religion with their ignorance of humanity (not to mention, evolution).
I don’t think the study says as much about Christians as it does about some of the ambiguously theological constructs developed over centuries by the protestant movement. That is to say, it is not surprising that many self-described Christians aren’t “correct” about the complex intricacies of evangelical theology as many of the tenets aren’t easily found in the Bible, at least not without a decoder ring an exhaustive cross-reference chart approved by the leaders of their particular denominational branch of Protestant reformation.
Silver Lining? While some Christian leaders are frustrated over these results, it’s actually good news to secular humanists. While 80.4% of self-described Christians don’t fit the mold of evangelicalism, their responses are in line with that of a secular humanist worldview based on rational logic and social justice. While they might be worshiping yet another God of their own making, they are much more open to being “good with God,” and that’s a good thing. (Though, at the same time, it could be argued that the evolution of an ambiguous label of “Christian” could become the “in-name-only” shorthand for a watered down version of general new age spirituality completely distant from any theological constants.)
So, folks – the next time somebody pushes out their chest to boast, “But, I’m a Christian,” you’d be safe to respond, “Actually, there’s an 80% chance that you’re not.”
– Horus G.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
SIDE NOTE: After reviewing the study’s statements and resulting data very thoroughly I must concede that I found many of the statements to be horribly written for anyone who doesn’t sit around with theologians all day speaking Christianese. This leads me to wonder if some of the unflattering results are a product of theological illiteracy, or just a poorly executed study written by elitist theology nerds who are out of touch with the modern language of the church.