What is the State of Theology?
Two days ago—Tuesday, October 16th—the biennial “State of Theology” research was released. Ligonier Ministries teamed up with LifeWay Research to find out what Americans believe about certain theological topics.
The research was conducted by surveying a “demographically balanced” group of 3,002 “American adults” in April 2018. The survey included thirty-four questions, notably shorter than the 2014 and 2016 editions, which involved forty-three and forty-seven questions, respectively. In each of the three survey years, some questions are the same and some are different.
For each of the questions, participants had five possible responses: strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, not sure, somewhat agree, strongly agree. Space and time do not allow for a complete review of the material, but let’s look at some specific results of the study that stand out.
Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.
Twenty-eight percent of participants surveyed either strongly or somewhat disagreed with this statement, while fifty-seven percent strongly or somewhat agreed with it (leaving fifteen percent unsure). This is Christology 101: Jesus is not a created being; if He was, He could not be God. All three members of the Trinity are co-eternal and co-existent; none of them were created. Yet the response of over half of those surveyed goes against this, forty-two percent strongly agreeing with the statement (the highest of any of the five possible responses).
Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
Sixty-nine percent of participants disagreed with this (fifty-eight percent strongly disagreeing), and twenty-three percent agreed (leaving eight percent unsure). This question spans several areas of theology, including anthropology (man), soteriology (salvation), and even theology proper (God). God is perfect, holy, and just. This means that any sin, no matter how big or small, deserves punishment. All men are born into sin, and even if the only sin a person ever committed their entire life was to tell a white lie that didn’t really matter, they would still be deserving of death and eternal separation from God, save the grace of God displayed through the cross of Christ. Yet over one-third of those surveyed do not see it this way.
The Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.
While many of the group’s responses swayed heavily one way or another, there were some, such as this one, that were fairly even across the board. The responses to this question were:
24% strongly disagree
17% somewhat disagree
18% somewhat agree
32% strongly agree
Though a small representation of America as a whole, the varied responses to this question show that Americans are either confused or uncertain about the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
It is interesting that twenty-seven percent of respondents both strongly agreed and disagreed with this statement. Fourteen percent somewhat disagreed, while seventeen percent somewhat agreed, leaning the favor ever so slightly to the “agree” side (with fifteen percent unsure). My question is this: Do those who disagree with this statement find many things in the Bible that don’t apply anymore, or only this one issue? We have to be careful that we don’t develop a method of Bible reading and theology that is akin to a buffet, where we can pick and choose what we want and skip over whatever doesn’t appease us.
Here I have only mentioned four of the thirty-four total questions asked in the State of Theology survey. I would highly encourage you to use the link in the opening paragraph above to look over the results of the survey for yourself. As a side note, when you look at all of the questions in the survey, you will notice that they are of importance to both theology and apologetics, the dual subjects of this blog.
For me personally, there are encouraging things, such as most participants agreeing that God is perfect and that He exists in Trinitarian form. But much is also alarming, because as the introduction of the survey states, “These are the fundamental convictions that shape our society.”
What can we do going forward?
As individuals, we must devote time to personally study the Word of God, mining it for the deep theological truths it holds. We must also be willing to share proper doctrine with others, not backing down from conversation when someone disagrees with us.
Pastors and churches should certainly take these findings to heart. Sound doctrine must be proclaimed from the pulpit. Bible study teachers and small group leaders must keep group discussions theologically sound. If the church loses its theology, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for America in general.
The State of Theology is a bit concerning, but it won’t do much good to complain about it. Ask yourself what you will do about it.