[by Dean Smith] LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based research and polling group, recently asked Americans their opinions on Christian theology. The online survey was commissioned by Ligonier Ministries based in Orlando, Florida.
Their polling considered the opinions of both non-churched and church attenders and sorted the latter group according to various expressions of the Christian faith — Catholic, protestant and Evangelicals.
While the survey showed that many Americans agreed on the theological basics, things got a bit confusing when you drilled down on the specifics of their faith.
This is when the odd heresy began to show up — even among Bible-believing, Evangelical Christians.
The existence of heaven
When asked about heaven, 67% of Americans believed in it. But there was a bit of disagreement on how you got there.
When asked that question, 45% Americans believed there was more than one way or path to heaven.
And surprisingly 19% of those who classified themselves as Evangelical Christians also believed there are many ways to heaven. Yet the Bible is very clear on this issue:
5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5 NASV)
Meanwhile 40% of Americans believe you will get to heaven if you have never heard of Christ and 30% believe you will have a second chance to make things right after you die.
71% of Americans believe a person contributes (good works) to getting to heaven. This belief was highest among Catholics where 87% held this opinion.
The existence of hell
Well over half of Americans (60%) believe in a literal hell. When you broke this up by faith group, 55% of protestants believe in hell compared to 66% of Catholics and 87% of Evangelicals.
This means that 13% of those who consider themselves Bible-believing Evangelicals don’t believe in hell.
In fact, hell is one of the major themes of the Gospels where Jesus made more references to hell than heaven.
41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:41-43 NASV)
The majority (67%) of Americans believe everyone is basically good. Though they did agree that everyone sins a bit, they were almost unanimous that it would not affect their spiritual destiny as only 18% believe small sins will result in you going to hell.
On the Trinity and Holy Spirit
Most Americans (70%) believe in the Trinity, that God exists in three persons — the Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Though the word Trinity is not used in the Bible, the concept is found in many verses, such as the baptism of Jesus, where all three are seen at the same time: The Father speaking, the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and Jesus (Matthew 3:16).
However, Americans got a big fuzzy on the details and this included Evangelicals.
64% of Americans believe the Holy Spirit is a force compared to an actual person and oddly this was not far removed from the 59% of Evangelicals who believed the same thing. Among Evangelicals only 31% believed the Holy Spirit was a real person, while 10% said they were not sure. (A force seems more Star Trek mysticism, than Biblical theology.)
But throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit is consistently referred to as a person:
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a person (masculine ekeinos):
13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13 NASV)
And in Acts, 13:2, the Holy Spirit specifically spoken to people:
2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (NASV)
The survey shows that even Evangelical Christians are not clear on some of the basics doctrines of their faith. You can view the full survey results by clicking on the link below.
- Americans believe in Heaven, Hell and a little bit of heresy: Lifeway Research