Study Shows Americans’ Shocking Ignorance About Theology

Who is Jesus? Who goes to Heaven? Is Hell real? Is sin bad? Most Americans claim to believe in God, but we don’t really agree on much else–or even hold to self-consistent and coherent views about God.

A study by Lifeway Research exposes a shocking ignorance of theology by Americans.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says most Americans still identify as Christians. But they seem to be confused about some of the details of their faith.

For example, he says, about two-thirds of Americans believe Jesus is God while half say Jesus is a being created by God. Those two beliefs don’t seem to match, he says.

“Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are OK for most people,” McConnell says.

Sixty-seven percent of non-evangelical Christians believe that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Thirty percent of non-evangelicals think Hell is real.

Evangelicals fare a bit better: only 48 percent believe God accepts all religions’ worship and 84 percent believe Hell is real. When it comes to Heaven, evangelicals and non-evangelicals are about equal: 64 percent of evangelicals believe Heaven is real, and 60 percent of non-evangelicals. The ten percent of non-evangelicals who don’t believe in Hell but do believe in Heaven must think everyone goes to the good place–apparently.

Two-thirds (65 percent) agree that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. More than half (57 percent) say it would be fair for God to show His wrath against sin. But that wrath seems to be reserved only for the worst sinners.

Of course, nobody agrees on who the “worst sinners” are. Maybe there’s a committee?

About half of Americans (49 percent) say sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. Forty-four percent say it’s not a sin. Seven percent are not sure.

Forty-nine percent say abortion is a sin. Forty percent say it is not. Eleven percent are not sure. Almost 4 in 10 (38 percent) say gender identity is a matter of choice. Half (51 percent) disagree. One in 10 (11 percent) is not sure.

Forty-two percent of Americans say the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today. Forty-four percent disagree. Fourteen percent are not sure.

There’s also no agreement on grace and how to be saved.

Three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven. Sixty percent agree that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of their sin.

The New Testament is fairly clear that we are saved by grace, not works. That 52 percent are simply trying to gild a lily that needs no gilding.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3-5)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

And the poorer you are, the more likely you are to see God as a divine slot machine.

Those with high school degrees or less (33 percent) are more likely to believe that God blesses the faithful with material blessings than those with graduate degrees (18 percent).

The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). But it also says to give, and it will be given to you (Luke 6:38). The more money people have, the less likely they think God wants to give them more (which is contrary to Jesus’ teaching on investing into the Kingdom of God in Matthew 25).

Basically, the study shows that Biblical ignorance is the rule rather than the exception among Americans. As the Bible says in Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Americans can’t agree on even the most basic tenets of faith, and in general don’t know enough to know what they believe. Writer G.K. Chesterton wrote about where we are headed:

When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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