Ligonier/LifeWay report: widespread doctrinal and biblical illiteracy among Americans surveyed

Ligonier/LifeWay report: widespread doctrinal and biblical illiteracy among Americans surveyed September 20, 2020

Out of the 3,000 Americans who responded to Ligonier Ministries’ 2020 State of Theology survey, 30 percent reject the deity of Christ, and an even split argue the Bible is 100 percent accurate (48 percent) and a compilation of myths (48 percent).

The survey has been conducted in partnership with LifeWay Research every two years since 2014. Its goal is “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.”

Its findings, Ligonier Ministries CEO Chris Larson says, “shows that people inside the church need clear Bible teaching just as much as those outside the church.”

Individuals are encouraged to take the survey on their own or create a private group survey for a group of friends or members of their church. After you take the survey you can see where your answers fall in comparison to others’.

On the person and work of Jesus Christ

Ligonier states:

The identity of Jesus of Nazareth has been a source of controversy through the centuries. He personally claimed to be the Son of God and equal with God (Matt. 11:27; Mark 14:61–62; John 10:33). That is why His enemies sought His death.

The Bible and the historic creeds of the Christian church plainly declare that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. But critics have often said that Jesus was a great teacher and nothing more. The State of Theology survey now reveals that a majority of adults in the United States hold this view.

However, if Jesus’ claim to be God is false, then He was either delusional or deceptive, but He could not have been a great teacher.

According to the survey:

  • Two-thirds agreed that “Biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. This event actually occurred.”
  • 55 percent agreed that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”
  • 52 percent said “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.”

Ligonier states:

Historically, evangelicals have affirmed the authority of the Bible and salvation by Jesus Christ. The Bible testifies often to the deity of Christ; He is God incarnate, the Word made flesh (John 1:1; 8:58; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:1–4). It may be unsurprising that the majority of the general U.S. population rejects the deity of Christ, but now almost a third of evangelicals agree that He was merely a great teacher.

These results suggest a significant need for Christians to be taught Christology, the doctrine of the nature and identity of Jesus Christ. The Ligonier Statement on Christology has been formulated to articulate the biblical teaching on the person and work of Christ with accuracy and simplicity.

On the nature of salvation and human nature and the need for salvation

Ligonier states,

At the heart of the Christian gospel is the declaration that God saves sinners from judgment through His Son Jesus Christ. Moreover, He saves people according to His sovereign purpose and design. The Bible teaches that God decided who would be saved before He even created the world (Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:4; Titus 1:2). But this view, which tends to humble man and exalt God, is widely rejected by the U.S. population.

The sovereignty of God in salvation is not rejected merely by the American population at large. Only a minority of U.S. evangelicals agree with this biblical doctrine, showing that the influence of Arminian theology remains strong in American evangelical churches. One negative consequence is the undermining of Christian assurance of salvation.

According to the survey results:

  • 60 percent agreed “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.”
  • 26 percent agreed “God chose the people he would save before he created the world.”

“Another consistency across all four surveys is that two-thirds of Americans find most people good by nature,” LifeWay Research’s analysis of the findings states. “For the first time, more than a quarter of Americans believe any sin deserves eternal punishment. More than half of Americans believe God measures righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ rather than one’s works.”

The survey found that:

  • 26 percent agreed in 2020 “Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation,” compared to 23 percent in 2018, 19 percent in 2016 and 18 percent in 2014.
  • Two-thirds agreed “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.”
  • 56 percent agreed “God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ,” up from 53 percent in 2018.

The survey results on biblical inerrancy, the doctrine of God, and the Holy Spirit are equally troubling.

On Biblical inerrancy

Ligonier states that over the last four surveys:

A number of noteworthy trends have emerged in our findings, revealing a profound unfamiliarity with core teachings of Christian orthodoxy and a confusion about the objective nature of truth.

The most consistent and concerning trend is the increasing rejection of the literal truth of Scripture among the U.S. population. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is clear from the Bible itself (Prov. 30:5; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21) and is affirmed by the historic Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Nearly half surveyed believe the Bible is completely accurate and nearly half say it is a compilation of ancient myths.

  • 48 percent agreed that “The Bible is 100 percent accurate in all that it teaches.”
  • 48 percent agreed that “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.”
  • 34 percent said, “Modern science disproves the Bible.”

On the doctrine of God:

  • 72 percent affirmed “There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.”
  • 65 percent agreed “God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake.”
  • 64 percent agreed that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

On the nature of the Holy Spirit:

  • 59 percent agreed “The Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being.”
  • 19 percent said “The Holy Spirit can tell me to do something which is forbidden in the Bible.”

In summary, the report concludes:

The 2020 State of Theology survey reveals widespread confusion in the United States about the Bible’s teaching.

Evangelicals, while exhibiting some hopeful movement in the direction of biblical fidelity, also seem to be influenced by the culture’s uncertainty about what truth is, who Jesus is, and how sinners are saved.

These results reveal an urgent need for clear biblical teaching on the person of Christ, the gospel of grace, and the way that the truth of God informs our ethical decisions in everyday life. There is much work to be done in this age of confusion, but we hope the findings of this survey will serve the church in its calling to reach more people with the faithful proclamation of God’s Word.

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