The State of Our Theology: It’s Good and Bad

state of theology

In the third installment of its State of Theology survey, Ligonier Ministries uncovers several interesting trends, especially among young adults. Every two years, the Christian discipleship organization, in conjunction with LifeWay Research, takes the “theological temperature” of Americans. For the 2018 survey, 3,002 adults (581 of whom hold evangelical beliefs) answered questions about their faith and ethics.

Among Millennials (those ages 18 to 34), “the survey picks up some fascinating, and perhaps unexpected, results,” Ligonier says. For example, 18 percent of young adults now claim to profess evangelical beliefs, up from 14 percent in 2016. And 62 percent agree with the statement “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” That’s up from 53 percent two years ago.

“There has been a significant change for the better among Millennials across a range of questions when compared to previous State of Theology surveys—so much so that they score higher than any other age group in several areas,” according to Ligonier. “Whether this is an anomaly or will continue unabated in future years remains to be seen.”

Millennials’ views matter, the organization notes, because these are the people who “will eventually shape the future of America.” They’re also the future leaders of the church and play key roles as social influencers.

The News Isn’t All Positive, Though

Despite some promising numbers, the 34-question survey reveals confusion among Millennials—and adults of all ages—about some basics of the Christian faith.

In response to the statement “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true,” 53 percent of young adults said they agree. That’s up from 46 percent in 2016 and 44 percent in 2014.

Almost half (46 percent) of Millennials said they “strongly agree” with the statement “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.” That’s up five percentage points from 2016.

Significantly more Millennials also now agree with the statement that “God is unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions.” That figure rose from 21 percent in 2014 to 36 percent this year.

“These results overall may indicate an increasingly stark polarization of views among young adults,” Ligonier states.

Secular Culture and Relativism Are Influencing Ethics

Millennials’ views on ethical issues also are “noteworthy,” according to Ligonier’s recap of the just-released survey. Of all the age groups, young adults are the most likely to call abortion a sin. (Fifty-seven percent of Millennials now believe that, up from 50 percent in 2016.) More than half (54 percent) also say sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.

Yet slightly more than half (51 percent) of young adults agree with the statement “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.” And 46 percent agree with the statement “Gender identity is a matter of choice.”

“In only a few short decades, America’s sexual ethic has changed significantly, and it continues to move away from a Christian ethic to a secular and relativistic one,” Ligonier notes. “However, the media may be exaggerating the extent of this upheaval. Many Americans continue to agree with biblical ethics.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.