A large percentage of our country—and world—is confused about who God is and from where salvation comes
By Ed Stetzer
“America is a Christian nation” is a phrase we’ve all heard.
We can debate it on several grounds—and many have. There is history, and we can ask if that was the founders intent. Then there is polling, and we can ask if the vast majority say they are Christian (and they do), does that mean we are a Christian nation.
Or, we can debate it by belief—and that gives us a whole different answer.
What Do Americans Really Believe About God?
To hold the view that a country generally shares a Christian worldview is to imply that the people in the country live in a general agreement about Christianity. This is simply not the case.
The results of this study were published this week as part of an eBook from The Gospel Project titled, The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors. The study offers new insight, including:
- 1-in-5 Americans deny that Jesus is the God-man
- One third of Americans think the Father is more holy than the Son
- 6-in-10 Americans deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit
While some results from the study indicate healthy beliefs toward God, these statistics on the Trinity indicate a general lack of orthodox Christian thinking in the American public.
To quote Ross Douthat, we are a nation of heretics.
A Renewed Urgency for Mission
As the research dives deeper into specific doctrinal beliefs, the data paints a picture that should light a fire underneath the mission of the church.
On the subject of salvation, this study finds that:
- The majority of Americans (53%) agree with the doctrine that “Salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone.”
- But 45% agree that “there are many ways to get to heaven.”
These statistics, while just a small sampling from the study, indicate an evident cultural confusion about the most urgent of spiritual matters.
The truth is these people need to hear the gospel—the real gospel—and Evangelical Christians in America and their churches can no longer rely on a cultural context to bring people in the front door. We must engage our neighbors with an intentional presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Use Words. It’s Necessary.
In addition to the research detailed in the eBook, The State of American Theology, there are also a number of essays on theology, the gospel, the Church, and the Christian life. Among them is an essay I wrote called, “Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words.”
The essay is a nod to the quote often misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” As I say in the essay, “The missional impulse here is helpful, yet the gospel isn’t anything the Christian can live out, practice, or become.”
I believe this quote’s popularity in the churches speaks to our historical comfort and belief that since most people have attended church at some point in their lives, they don’t feel the need to hear or see more “gospel” than the one we model for them.
Yet, as the Apostle Paul teaches, the gospel is not a habit we live out individually or culturally, it is a history. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through whom sin is atoned for, sinners are reconciled to God, and the hope of the resurrection awaits all who believe.
We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.
It is as the Apostle Paul wrote:
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?
(Romans 10:13–14, HCSB)
The truth is evident; a large percentage of our country—and world—is confused about who God is and from where salvation comes. While our behavior as Christians is certainly important, we cannot live out our daily lives as Christians as if that is all the gospel our neighbors need to see. We must tell them.
Download the eBook
In the essay mentioned above, I outline four ways we can use gospel words to make disciples of all nations. I encourage you to read them, as well as the other essays contained in the eBook, and view the research from Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research yourself.
You can download your own copy of The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors from The Gospel Project here.
Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research Division.
Originally posted at christianitytoday.com/edstetzer.