A study released by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries revealed that many evangelicals have accepted and believed wrong theological doctrines.
The researchers interviewed 3,000 American adults and presented to them 47 theological statements about Christianity. The respondents evaluated whether they agreed with these statements or not.
The study is a follow-up of a similar study released in 2014, which was conducted to “take the temperature of America’s theological health.” Two years ago, the survey results revealed what Ligionier founder R.C. Sproul called “the pervasive influence of humanism” among evangelicals.
This year, 586 out of the 3,000 respondents were identified as evangelicals based on the following beliefs they held: that the Bible is the highest authority, that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way for the wages of sin to be removed, that putting trust in Christ is the only way to salvation and that evangelism is integral in the life of a Christian.
While the evangelicals claimed to believe these four basic doctrines, the survey results showed many of them are not sure about the nature of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
For example, 71 percent of evangelicals believed that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God. However, 98 percent of them agreed that Jesus rose from the dead.
And while 97 percent believed that there is one God in three persons, there appeared to be some confusion regarding the person and nature of the Holy Spirit. More than half of them (56 percent) said the Holy Spirit is not a personal being but merely “a divine force,” and 28 percent said the Holy Spirit is a divine being but not equal with God the Father and Jesus.
These results are a “theological concern,” according to Howard Snyder, visiting director at Manchester Wesley Research Center.
“Clearly there is confusion about the nature and being of the Holy Spirit,” he commented.
The evangelicals also showed inconsistencies regarding the doctrine of salvation. For example, 86 percent of them said “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.” Furthermore, 74 percent said a person needs to have an effort to be saved.
On the contrary, 80 percent said “salvation always begins with God changing a person so that he or she will turn to Him in faith.”
“The results show awareness that God alone by his grace provides salvation, but that salvation also involves ethical responsibility to put forth effort in seeking God,” Snyder said, adding this idea could have stemmed from the “can do” culture.
However, Timothy Larsen from Wheaton College said the respondents’ answers could have been influenced by how the questions were presented.
“Much depends on how a question is phrased,” he said. “There is a lot in this survey which shows that the respondents are not even being internally consistent, but have been led to contradict themselves based on how the question sounded to them.”