In its biennial “State of Theology” survey, Ligonier Ministries uncovered rampant confusion about basic Christian beliefs and a continued need for clear biblical teaching. The 2020 State of Theology survey, commissioned through Lifeway Research, was completed in early March, just before the pandemic caused widespread shutdowns. Three thousand U.S. adults, including 630 professing evangelicals, responded to 35 statements about faith-based and ethical issues.
While many findings raise alarms for church leaders, they also point to the ongoing importance of ministry among Americans.
2020 State of Theology Reveals Causes for Concern
More than half (52 percent) of American adults and 30 percent of evangelicals “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that Jesus was a great teacher but not God.
Almost half (48 percent) of survey respondents and 15 percent of evangelicals say the Bible isn’t literally true.
More than half (54 percent) of U.S. adults and 23 percent of evangelicals say religious belief is a matter of personal opinion, not objective truth.
Fifty-six percent of all respondents and 84 percent of evangelicals say righteousness comes not through works but through faith in Jesus.
Sixty-three percent of all respondents and 42 percent of evangelicals agree with the statement “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.”
Regarding social issues, 88 percent of evangelical Christians label abortion a sin, 21 percent say gender identity is a matter of choice, 17 percent say modern science disproves the Bible, and 11 percent say the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality no longer applies.
In response to the statement “Learning about theology is for pastors and scholars only,” only 15 percent of U.S. adults and 10 percent of evangelicals agree. That, say researchers, offers hope that Americans are open to learning about matters of faith. “Particularly with the fears and concerns occasioned by COVID-19,” they write, “people may now be giving more thought to ultimate matters of eternal significance.”
A Call to Action
Results from the 2020 survey underscore the need for solid, Bible-based ministry, say Ligonier representatives. Specifically, they point to the importance of teaching Christology, the doctrine of Jesus’ identity.
“This survey shows that people inside the church need clear Bible teaching just as much as those outside the church,” says Chris Larson, president and CEO of Ligonier Ministries. “With biblical illiteracy and doctrinal error on the rise, we remain committed to contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Dr. Stephen Nichols, Ligonier’s chief academic officer, says the results “shed light” on many longtime concerns of Christian churches. “As the culture around us increasingly abandons its moral compass, professing evangelicals are sadly drifting away from God’s absolute standard in Scripture,” he says. “The church does not have the luxury of idly standing by. This is a time for Christians to study Scripture diligently, engage confidently with people in our culture, and witness fearlessly to the identity and saving work of Jesus Christ in the gospel.”