Distressing “State of Theology” Results Released

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Theology matters. What you believe about God, his Word, and the person and work of Jesus Christ matters. Poor, weak, and inaccurate theology leads, at best, to faith that produces no, little, or bad fruit, is stagnant, will not stand the tough times that will inevitably come in a sin-cursed and broken world; or, at worst, such wrong beliefs won’t save you because you don’t truly understand or believe the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Every two years, Ligonier Ministries releases a new survey titled the “State of Theology,” and the 2020 results were published this week. And they are shocking, to put it mildly. Now the survey was of the American population as a whole, but the results could be filtered for those who are considered “evangelical.” What is an “evangelical?” Such a person is defined as believing these four statements:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Beliefs About the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

Survey respondents were asked whether they agreed (strongly or somewhat), disagreed (strongly or somewhat), or weren’t sure about a variety of statements. Here’s how those who are considered evangelicals responded to the following statements regarding basic beliefs about the person and work of the Godhead—prepare to be shocked by almost all of these:

  • 32% agree: Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.
  • 46% agree: God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
  • 56% agree: Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. (An additional 11% are not sure!)
  • 51% agree: The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.
  • 54% disagree: Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
  • 80% agree: God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
For those who are familiar with the Bible and the most basic tenets of theology, these results are shocking and show that many who are considered “evangelical” are far from it.

For those who are familiar with the Bible and the most basic tenets of theology, these results are shocking and show that many who are considered “evangelical” are far from it. They believe outright heresy when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, his work on the cross, and the person of the Holy Spirit! Personally, I believe such studies show a phenomenal failure of the modern church. Couple all this with the fact the younger generations are leaving the church in droves!

Beliefs About the Bible

Here are evangelicals’ responses to statements regarding basic beliefs about the Bible:

  • 23% agree: The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.
  • 29% agree: Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.
  • 16% agree: Modern science disproves the Bible. (This is an encouraging drop, though, from 25% just two years ago!)

It’s no wonder there are so many false beliefs about God in the church when what we know about God comes from his Word and a sizeable minority of evangelicals don’t believe the Bible . . . or that our faith is grounded in objective reality! (And for those who do believe the Bible is “literally true”—what do they mean by that? Many who believe in evolution, millions of years, no Adam and Eve, and a local flood will say they believe the Bible is “literally true” when they actually don’t believe that at all!)

Beliefs About Morality

Here are evangelicals’ responses to statements regarding basic moral issues—as you read these results, keep in mind that 80% of evangelicals affirm “the Bible has the authority to tell us what we must do” and 90% affirm “the Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”:

  • 47% agree: Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.
  • 24% agree: Gender identity is a matter of choice. (This is despite the fact that 96% agree that God created male and female!)
  • 46% agree: Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.
  • 20% disagree: Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.
  • 18% disagree: Abortion is a sin. (An additional 6% are not sure and only 60% said they strongly agree with this statement!)
  • 18% agree: The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today. (And a whopping 10% are not sure!)
What a mess the church is in!

So 80% of evangelicals will say that the Bible has the authority to tell us what to do, and 90% claim the Bible is their highest authority, but these results show that they either (1) don’t actually believe that and/or (2) have no idea what the Bible teaches on various moral issues to allow it to guide their principles and beliefs! What a mess the church is in!

What Can We Do?

The terrible trends regarding evangelicals’ beliefs continue the downward slide each year. Why? After all, here in America, Christians have greater access to churches, Christian teaching ministries, Christian colleges and seminaries, Christian resources, Christian programming, and the Bible itself than any other nation on earth. So why are we seeing such ignorance regarding the Bible and basic biblical beliefs?

Well, people aren’t reading the Bible, so they don’t know what it says. Many Christian teachers either don’t teach the Bible at all or will just sprinkle a few verses in here and there to make what they teach sound Christian when it’s far from it. Parents, particularly fathers, have abdicated their role in discipling their families in the ways of the Lord, leaving it to the church . . . or simply not emphasizing or prioritizing it at all. Many Bible-believing churches have just assumed their congregations know what the Bible teaches when many don’t! Or they’ve focused more on entertainment or inspiration at the expense of good theology and spiritual growth. Many churches have made music the centerpiece of their services and watered down the teaching of the Word.

We need to be teaching children, young people, and adults to think foundationally—to understand that God’s Word is the foundation for our thinking in every area.

We need to be teaching children, young people, and adults to think foundationally—to understand that God’s Word is the foundation for our thinking in every area. And that a truly biblical worldview must come from the foundation of God’s Word, as we take everything and compare it against the authority of the Word of God. And, of course, that is only possible if families are reading God’s Word themselves, so they know what it actually teaches.

There is a lack of Bible teaching in families and churches. Many have focused instead on inspirational messages, devotionals, and music—obviously, there’s a place for them, but never at the expense of solid biblical teaching from God’s Word. Also, there’s been a great lack of teaching apologetics in churches and homes to counter the false ideas of the day that are used to brainwash the younger generations through the education systems, museums, and media.

Ultimately, as much as this is a problem in churches, if we truly want to see generational change, we must start in the home with families. Ultimately, the spiritual discipling and training of children is not the job of the church. The church is to come alongside parents and families, supporting them in their God-given mission to train up a child in the way he or she should go. Parents—your family is your responsibility and it should be your first and primary one! Nothing is more important than discipling your children in the ways of the Lord, in his Word, and in the gospel!

Commit to training them to know and love the Lord and his Word, with a theology rooted in God’s Word.

Parents, if these statistics concern you (or if you read them and wonder “what’s the big deal?”), take action with your children. Commit to training them to know and love the Lord and his Word, with a theology rooted in God’s Word. Here are some practical ways you can begin to do that as a family:

  • Read the Bible. Yes, it’s that simple! Dad, get out your Bible. Read it on your own. Read it with your wife. Read it together with your family. Let your family see that you are reading God’s Word as an example to them. (But not as show, as the Pharisees did—hypocrisy and empty showmanship are not authentic discipleship and will do more harm than good; your children need to see you reading and living out God’s Word; obviously, you won’t do this perfectly—no one does—but your family should see you growing and humbly repenting when you do fall short.)
  • Study the Bible. Not sure how to study the Bible? Ministries like Precept Ministries, headed up by my friend Kay Arthur (who is speaking at our 2021 Answers for Women in March, including at special sessions before it starts) or the National Bible Bee can help you with that. Our comprehensive four-year Bible curriculum, Answers Bible Curriculum, is designed for the Sunday school classroom, but it can be adapted for in the home and is an excellent way to dive deeply into the Bible together as a family. Other Answers in Genesis resources, such as my Foundations series, or Answers.tv, can equip you to think foundationally and understand that God’s Word is true and can be trusted in all areas.
  • Study a catechism. Catechisms were one way that children and adults throughout church history were taught historic Christian beliefs in an easy-to-remember way. Consider choosing a good Protestant catechism or your church’s doctrinal or statement of faith and studying or memorizing it together as a family (many churches do not have a detailed statement of faith; see our detailed statement of faith as an example or consider studying it as a family.) Or consider choosing a biblical systematic theology text and studying that with older children or as a couple.
  • Learn, sing, and study hymns. Hymns were another way that theology was taught throughout church history—songs are easily remembered. As a family, sing and study good, theologically sound hymns (the best of the old and the new)—and, once you have some practice, maybe even study some not-so-great or truly awful hymns and songs (including new “hits” you hear on Christian radio!) to help your children (particularly older children) learn to recognize bad theology.
  • Prioritize God’s Word in your home. I can’t stress this enough. My friend Heidi St. John (many know her as “The Busy Mom” and she hosts the popular podcast Off the Bench) says: “You can’t pass on what you don’t possess.” If you want children with vibrant, biblical theology, you need it yourself. If you want children who read the Bible—read the Bible yourself. If you want children who pray—then pray! God’s Word, prayer, and the gospel must be priorities in your home if you want to pass that along to your children.
  • Use Answers in Genesis resources to equip your family or the families in your church to defend the Christian faith in today’s world and build a truly Christian worldview. Start with The Lie, The New Answers Book 1, Answers Books for Kids, Quick Answers to Tough Questions, Quick Answers to Social Issues, and the Foundations Curriculum.

The trends in the church are truly awful—but, by God’s grace, they can be reversed as a generation of parents who love God and his Word prioritize teaching and training their children in righteousness. Parents, I will leave you with this command from Deuteronomy 6:6–7 that is just as true for us today as it was for the ancient Israelites who first heard it:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Get More Answers on Answers News

This important item was discussed yesterday on Answers News with cohosts Avery Foley, Tim Chaffey, and Bodie Hodge. Answers News is our weekly news program filmed live before a studio audience here at the Creation Museum and broadcast on my Facebook page and the Answers in Genesis Facebook page. We also covered the following topics:

  • Scientists narrow down the age of earth's core.
  • Writer says killing babies in abortion “smells like freedom.”
  • Transgender athletes—do they cause an irreconcilable problem?
  • And more!

Watch the entire episode of Answers News for September 9, 2020.

Be sure to join us each Monday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. (ET) on my Facebook page or the Answers in Genesis Facebook page for Answers News. You won’t want to miss this unique news program that gives science and culture news from a distinctly biblical and Christian perspective.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
Ken

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