What were some of the key findings of the survey?
SN: All of the questions deal with crucial theological and ethical issues. Working through the results of all of the questions could be very worthwhile and revealing in terms of what Americans believe. The results of three questions in particular are telling. We kept most of the 2014 questions in the 2016 survey. One new question, however was this:
Modern science discredits the claims of Christianity.
Only 40 percent disagreed with that statement, while 44 percent agreed and 16 percent were unsure. Admittedly, the margin is narrow, but the result is significant and the implication is even more significant. Americans think we know better now in the twenty-first century than the authors of Scripture.
Another one is this:
Even the slightest sin deserves damnation.
You need to look at the bar graph results for this question. Most of the answers are fairly evenly distributed along the “Agree Strongly” down to “Not Sure” scale. The answer scale on this particular question jumps off the page at you. “Disagree strongly” spikes to 62 percent. Another 12 percent “disagree somewhat.” Only 7 percent are not sure, which leaves only 19 percent who agree, and only 11 percent of them “agree strongly.”
Seventy-four percent of Americans do not grasp the true nature and consequences of sin. We cannot have a clear understanding of Christ and the gospel if we do not grasp our true need as sinners and the heinousness of our sin before a holy God.
A third question involves the identity of Christ. Actually, we can look at two questions and see some significant theological confusion. When asked if Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature and if Jesus is truly man and has a human nature, a strong majority of 62 percent agree. Six out of 10 Americans think Jesus is the God-man. Yet, consider this. When asked if Jesus is the first being created by God, 53 percent agree. This is a contradiction. To say Jesus is created by God is to deny His divine nature and to deny that He is truly God. To say that Jesus is the first created being is actually to repeat a heresy that echoes through the early centuries of the church, the heresy of Arianism. The answers to this question reveal that this old heresy is still prevalent. When put over and against the question that asks if Jesus is truly God, this question also reveals how confused Americans are on essential issue of the identity of Christ. “Who do you say that I am?” was a question Jesus Himself asked. We must point people to the right answer.
In addition to what we can learn from these individual questions, likely the most significant overall finding of this survey regards church attendance. In some cases, the spread between regular church attenders and non-church attenders reaches as much as 30 percent. Quite simply, those who attend church are far more likely, by a significant margin, to give a biblically and theologically correct answer. Church attendance played a far more crucial role than any other control factor, including self-identifying as an evangelical. This finding stresses the imperative of the church and church attendance. Parents, go to church. Make sure your kids are there.
How has the survey influenced the trajectory of Ligonier’s ministry?
CL: It intensifies our focus and reinforces the urgency of our task. In one sense, there are few surprises in the aggregate results. But it is interesting to dive deeper into the data to see how people from different denominational, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds answered in differing ways. Furthermore, there is a disconnect between that portion of Americans who believe society is getting progressively worse and headed in the wrong direction, and those who overwhelmingly state that man is by nature basically good. If man is basically good, why is society getting worse?
The survey demonstrates that we do not know who God is and we do not know who we are. God is holy. We are sinful. We need the clear proclamation of the authoritative Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The results of this survey tell us that we need to remain faithful to proclaiming the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.
Now that we have conducted the survey twice in America, we are planning to do something similar in other areas of the world to serve the church there. Ligonier is seeing growing global interest in Reformed theology and we are moving more discipleship resources around the world through English and translated materials as quickly as we are able to do so as God provides.
SN: Faithful Christians can look at these survey results and lament and decry the state of theology in America. Or, we can look at these results and engage our Great Commission work with a renewed urgency and purpose. We are taking the latter approach. It is easy to get caught up in trends and apply our resources to chasing after current news cycles. This survey reminds us of the necessity of teaching the foundational truths, of teaching on God’s holiness, on Christ’s person and work, on humanity’s true need to be saved from the wrath of God, and on the Bible’s authority—even in the twenty-first century.