January-February 2019 – While the 3,000 participants in a recent survey on theology among American Christians often gave correct answers to basic questions about the Bible’s content, polling revealed that their beliefs are often “purely a matter of personal opinion,” according to the sponsor of the research.
Published in October, State of Theology 2018 is a partnership between Ligonier Ministries (ligonier.org) and LifeWay Research. Findings are published at thestateoftheology.com.
According to the survey, virtually all evangelicals express support for Trinitarian doctrine. Yet answers revealed important and often contradictory beliefs regarding basic Christian doctrine. For example, 78% said that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, a view espoused by the ancient heretic Arius, who taught that Jesus was God’s first creation.
However, Timothy Larsen, one of the scholars solicited by Christianity Today to comment on the survey, said he was encouraged that most American Christians often hold orthodox beliefs. “Even the Arian heresy is just people wanting to praise Jesus and getting distracted by the superlative ‘greatest.’” Larson is professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College.
Likewise, Fred Sanders, professor at Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, opined that the survey shows that American Christians often display “zeal without knowledge.”
Kristen Deede Johnson, professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary, said, “I was encouraged by the number of evangelicals who still believe that the cross of Christ is essential for addressing sin.” On the other hand, she noted “troubling separations that exist between theology and discipleship … .”
M. Sydney Park, associate professor of divinity, Beeson Divinity School, said the survey confirms that “evangelical churches seek to mark their relevance for contemporary culture increasingly along the lines of sociology and psychology, rather than theology.”
Overall, the scholars agreed with Ligonier that there is an “urgent need for sound biblical teaching and the bold preaching of the gospel.”
christianitytoday.com, 10/16/18, 10/26/18; thestateoftheology.com