Why American Evangelicals Are Confused About What the Bible Teaches

Plumb LineDespite having access to more and more knowledge, it is well-known that the average American’s knowledge of the Bible, and having confidence in that Bible, is at an all-time low. But did you know that American evangelicals are becoming more confused about what the Bible teaches?

A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries identified a sample group of American evangelicals; that is,  those who believe the Bible to be their highest authority, that sharing one’s faith is very important, and that trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the cross is the only way to salvation. In asking a series of questions about what the Bible teaches, the survey revealed some rather disturbing results about what self-proclaimed evangelicals really believe. Here are some of the most alarming:

  • “People have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative” (82% of evangelicals surveyed agreed with this statement).
  • “Individuals must contribute to their own salvation” (74% of evangelicals agreed).
  • “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God” (71% of evangelicals agreed).
  • “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being” (57% of evangelicals agreed).

So, if this survey is to be accepted as accurate, it means that most “Bible-believing” Christians do not think salvation is something initiated and achieved solely by the grace of God. It also means that while “Bible-believing” Christians may profess to believe in the Trinity, they actually think about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit pretty much the same way Jehovah’s Witnesses think.

The survey does attempt to tease out why American evangelicals are so poorly informed about basic Bible doctrine. A few statements/questions posed in the survey went like this:

  • “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a way to replace church” (42% of evangelicals agree).
  • “There is little value in studying or reciting historical Christian creeds and confessions” (21% of evangelicals agree).
  • “The Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses” (36% of evangelicals agree).

This would indicate that about 4 out of 10 “Bible-believers” do not think that regular, weekly worship with a corporate body of believers is a priority, that 1 out of 5 “Bible-believers” do not think that the study of church history and doctrine is that important, and that 1 out of 3 “Bible-believers” think that the interpretation of the Bible is merely up their own choice.

This is not very good, folks.

It could be that the statements/questions were not well understood by the survey participants. But that could be part of the problem.

I know friends of mine who think that a good portion of American evangelicals know a lot about the Bible, but that they fail to apply it. I do not agree. If this survey serves as any indication, the reason why American evangelicals do not apply the Bible is because so many of them do not know what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, they do not know what the Bible teaches because participating in the life of a church where they are being taught these things is not a priority.

The Lifeway/Ligonier survey was also intended to survey American religious beliefs in general, and the results can be studied here.


About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

One response to “Why American Evangelicals Are Confused About What the Bible Teaches

  • John Paine

    Thanks Clarke for sharing this survey. I have worked it into a new series that we are starting tomorrow (10/16/2016), called “Contend Earnestly for the Faith,” that will survey early church history and just how the Christian faith was handed down to the saints.

    I don’t want to (ever) sound like a doctrine hound, but lack of personal discipline with respect to doctrine has always been a problem. Pulpit exegesis and the rote reading of Scripture by themselves simply cannot produce healthy theology. Without good theology we get our current culture.

    60 years ago today Christianity Today published its first issue. Their first editorial had some choice quotes:

    “A generation has grown up unaware of the basic truths of the Christian faith taught in the Scriptures and expressed in the creeds of the historic evangelical churches.”

    “CHRISTIANITY TODAY is confident that the answer to the theological confusion existing in the world is found in Christ and the Scriptures.”

    “The best modern scholarship recognizes the bearing of doctrine on moral and spiritual life.”

    As demonstrated in the LifeWay Research survey, understanding of Christian orthodoxy has not improved.

    Everyone in church leadership should wake up and take renewed steps to combat the doctrinal nonchalance that pervades cultural Christianity. Thanks particularly for all that you are doing in this regard.


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