‘Sound Doctrine” And Evangelical Christianity In 2022

Oct 22nd, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

What do American Christians believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible? Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research partnered to find out. Every two years, these two ministries take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and to equip the church with better insights for discipleship.  Their findings are in a study entitled The 2022 State of Theology. In the Pastoral Epistles of the Apostle Paul (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) the phrase “sound doctrine” appears nine times.  The Greek term translated “sound” means that which is conducive to health—in this case spiritual health.  Paul connects sound doctrine with godly living; in God’s eyes, sound doctrine produces righteous living.  So, the survey results of these two ministries are profoundly important.  [Respondents were considered evangelical by belief if they strongly agreed in the Bible as the highest authority; the importance of encouraging non-Christians to trust Jesus as their savior; that his death removed the penalty of sin; and that trust in him alone brings salvation. This four-part definition was adopted by Lifeway and the National Association of Evangelicals in 2015.]  What are the results of this important and timely survey?  Permit me to offer a short summary of the salient finding:

  • Does God Change?  “As we look at ourselves and at the world, it is clear that human beings, along with the rest of creation, undergo frequent changes. But does this principle of change apply to God as well?  The Bible affirms the truth that the triune God is both omniscient, meaning that He knows all things, and immutable, meaning that He cannot and does not change (Isa. 46:10Mal. 3:6James 1:171 John 3:20). Despite this truth, the majority of adults in the United States believe that God both learns and adapts to different circumstances.  Despite the clear teaching of Scripture, this year’s survey reveals that approximately half of evangelicals believe that God learns and adapts to various situations, meaning that they believe that God does change.”
  • The fact that almost two-thirds of evangelicals believe that “humans are born in a state of innocence reveals that the biblical teaching of original sin is not embraced by most evangelicals. God’s Word, however, makes clear that all humans are ‘by nature children of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3). This truth is foundational for an accurate understanding of the gospel and of our absolute need for the grace of God in salvation.”
  • The word “heresy” sounds evil to modern ears. “But heresy, strictly speaking, simply refers to beliefs that deviate from orthodox Christianity. And when large numbers of Christians start embracing heretical views, it’s a problem.  That’s why the recent report on The State of Theology is concerning. It shows that Americans increasingly subscribe to unbiblical beliefs. And, sadly, Christians are no different. For instance, 73% of evangelicals agree that Jesus was created by God, a belief known historically as Arianism and condemned at the Council of Nicaea.  At the same time, the survey found more uniformity among evangelicals when it came to their cultural and political beliefs. It seems politics is doing a better job of teaching us than the church.”
  • Overall, “adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year. More than half of the country (53%) now believes Scripture ‘is not literally true,’ up from 41 percent when the biannual survey began in 2014.  Researchers called the rejection of the divine authorship of the Bible the ‘clearest and most consistent trend’ over the eight years of data. This view makes it easy for individuals to accept biblical teaching that they resonate with while simultaneously rejecting any biblical teaching that is out of step with their own personal views or broader cultural values,” the researchers wrote.
  • Here are five of the most common mistaken beliefs held by evangelicals in this year’s survey, as summarized by Stefani McDade:
  1. “Jesus isn’t the only way to God.  More than half—56 percent—of evangelical respondents affirmed that ‘God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam,’ up from 42 percent in 2020. And while the question doesn’t include all religions, it indicates a bent toward universalism—believing there are ways to bypass Jesus in our approach to and acceptance by God.  This contradicts orthodox theology found in the Scriptures, in which Jesus affirms that ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6).”
  2. “Jesus was created by God.  A surprising 73 percent agreed with the statement that ‘Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.’  This is a form of Arianism, a popular heresy that arose in the early fourth century. Those believing it caused such a stir that it led to the gathering of the very first ecumenical council of church leaders. They discussed and denounced these and other unorthodox beliefs as heretical for being contrary to Scripture.  Out of the Council of Nicea came the Nicene Creed, which states in part that Jesus was ‘not made’ but ‘eternally begotten and ‘one in being with the Father,’ as found in passages including John 3:16 and John 14:9.”
  3. “Jesus is not God.  Given the above beliefs on Jesus as a created being, it’s not too surprising that 43 percent affirmed that ‘Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,’ which is another form of Arian heresy.  This effectively denies the divinity of Christ and his unity with God the Father as an equal member in the Trinity, who is one God in three persons. This has been considered classic orthodox belief since the early church, and is based on many biblical passages—like where Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For this, he gets accused of blasphemy (and threatened with stoning) by religious leaders for claiming to be God.”
  4. “The Holy Spirit is not a personal being.  Speaking of the Trinity, 60 percent of the evangelical survey respondents had some confusion about its third member, believing that ‘The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.’  To be fair, the Spirit of God is often described as an impersonal force throughout the Bible (sometimes as a dove, a cloud, fire, wind, or water), but these are all just metaphors for the Spirit’s personal presence. The Scriptures clearly affirm that the Spirit is fully God—just like Jesus and the Father, who sent us the Spirit—including the time when Ananias was described as simultaneously lying to the Holy Spirit and to God (Acts 5:3–4).”
  5. “Humans aren’t sinful by nature.  Interestingly, 57 percent also agreed to the statement that ‘Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.’ In other words, humans might be capable of committing individual sins, but we do not have sinful natures.  This response indicates that many American evangelicals believe humans are born essentially good, which leans toward a heresy known as Pelagianism. This denies the doctrine of ‘original sin,’ which is based on a number of biblical passages, such as Romans 5:12. Even David acknowledged in the Old Testament that humans were born in sin, saying ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Ps. 51:5).”

Conclusion:  “The 2022 State of Theology survey reveals that Americans increasingly reject the divine origin and complete accuracy of the Bible. With no enduring plumb line of absolute truth to conform to, U.S. adults are also increasingly holding to unbiblical worldviews related to human sexuality. In the evangelical sphere, doctrines including the deity and exclusivity of Jesus Christ, as well as the inspiration and authority of the Bible, are increasingly being rejected. While positive trends are present, including evangelicals’ views on abortion and sex outside of marriage, an inconsistent biblical ethic is also evident, with more evangelicals embracing a secular worldview in the areas of homosexuality and gender identity.

These results convey the ongoing need for the church to be engaged in apologetics, helping unbelievers by providing a well-reasoned defense of the Christian faith, and helping believers by strengthening their clarity and conviction regarding why they believe what they do. Additionally, the people of God must continue to obey the Great Commission by communicating the whole counsel of God in biblical evangelism and discipleship. The need is great, but the power and promises of God can equip the church to bring truth and light to a deceived and dark world.”

See The 2022 State of Theology by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research; and  Stefani McDade, “Top 5 Heresies Among American Evangelicals” in www.christianitytoday.com (19 September 2022).

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