I don’t put a lot of stock in surveys because they can often be bent and you can make them mean what you want them to mean, but not all surveys are created equal. When a well respected group like Ligonier comes along and has another group like LifeWay do a survey, I’m all ears. Ligonier hit on specific doctrines and heresies that they wanted to test. LifeWay came alongside them and refined the questions to conduct a survey of 3,000 Americans. They focused on 7 key doctrinal areas and included specific issues that Americans differ from historic and orthodox views. This was a survey of Americans, in general, which would have included some believers. Let me give you a sampling:
• 19% of Americans agree “Jesus is the first creature created by God.”
• More than 6-in-10 Americans deny the doctrine of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. 64% agree “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.”
• Instead of acknowledging depravity, the majority of Americans believe the good in people can outweigh the bad: ~ 67% agree “everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good.” ~ 4-in-10 agree “God loves me because of the good I do or have done.”
• Many Americans appear to place confidence in their own efforts for salvation rather than God’s grace. This is seen among 71% of Americans who agree “an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation.” Similarly, 64% of Americans agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”
• 52% of Americans agree “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.”
• 56% agree “My pastor’s sermons are not authoritative over my life.”
• 49% agree “The Bible has the authority to tell us what we must do.”
• 48% agree “Sex outside of marriage is a sin.”
I just hit on some of the things that stuck out for me. In once sense they are not surprising but they are still alarming. It would be interesting to do the same survey with believers. I also realize that these are U.S. stats but I would suggest that if you did the same kind of survey in Canada, what you found wouldn’t be much different. They are sad stats.
So how do we respond. I would suggest a few things.
- Read. Feed on the Word. Read good Christian books. Read the book that accompanies the survey (I will include a link at the bottom for ‘The State of American Theology’). We are not without hope. The way to respond to error is by drinking in the truth and passing it on to others. ‘The State of American Theology’, that I’ve just started reading, has short chapters that are only a couple of pages long. The writers are from a dream team of evangelicals: Jared Wilson, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, Ray Ortlund, Ed Stetzer, Bruce Ware, Steve Lawson, D. A. Carson, J.D. Greear, Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, Randy Alcorn, Tim Challies, Jerry Bridges, and Thabiti Anyabwile, among others. These are good authors with short, consise responses that ground us in the truth of the gospel.
- Pray. Call out to God that we would be more discerning in what we read and in what we believe. Pray that our church leaders would grow in their theology. Pray that wolves would be kicked to the curb. Pray that preachers and teachers would not soften the glorious gospel and that God would not be gagged. Pray that good theology would reign over bad theology. Esther and the gang prayed during desperate times and God in His grace responded (not that desperate times should be the only times that we pray). Our private and corporate prayers can have an impact that last a lifetime. There has been a resurgence of theology over the last number of years across denominational lines in North America. Let’s pray that that shift would continue.
- Digest. Read the stats and take them in. Many people in your family, in your workplace, on your street, have beliefs that line up with the survey’s discoveries. Understanding where your unbelieving neighbours are at in their beliefs can be so foundational to evangelistic success. Paul knew where the gang from Mars Hill were coming from (Acts 17). Someone has said that when it comes to evangelism he listens a lot and talks a little. We need to hear the shouts that come from these stats and give them consideration to where our unbelieving neighbours are at in their world view as we share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.
- Interact. I believe that true discipleship is one of the key missing elements of the North American church. Whether it’s formal or informal, we need to be talking about God. Nothing wrong with talking about kids and weather and sports and holidays, but we need to be challenging and correcting each other in our beliefs and in our practices. Iron does sharpen iron, folks (Proverbs 27:17). Discipleship takes boldness and tenderness and love and care and patience, which flow out of the gospel. They are foundational to biblical discipleship.
The stats of the report do not surprise me but they make me want to bang the gong. We can respond. We can be better students of the Word. We can amp up our crying out to the God of the universe. We can grow in our understanding of how our world thinks. We can also make discipleship a better priority. Oh, that the glorious gospel would take a better root in the North American church.