Six in 10 Americans say religious belief is a matter of personal opinion. For 7 in 10 Americans, such religious beliefs include one true God existing in three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But an increasing majority of Americans deny Jesus has always existed and many say the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a personal being.
Those are among the findings of a new study of American views on Christian theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
“When the majority of Americans believe religious belief is more personal opinion than objective truth, then we expect to see contradictory beliefs [as well as] beliefs that change over time,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
The survey of 3,000 Americans was sponsored by Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries. Title the 2018 State of Theology Study, it is the third in a series of surveys examining Americans’ theological beliefs. Previous surveys were conducted in 2016 and 2014.
Survey questions focused on key doctrinal beliefs and included a number of areas where Americans often differ from historic and orthodox Christian views. Among the findings:
Character of God
A majority of Americans (70 percent) believe there is one true God in three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Eighteen percent disagree while 12 percent are not sure. This has remained consistent since researchers began asking the question in 2014.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans say God is perfect and cannot make a mistake, which is higher than both the 2016 (65 percent) and 2014 (63 percent) surveys.
Two-thirds believe the biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. Twenty percent disagree; 14 percent are not sure.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans say Jesus Christ is the only person who never sinned; 29 percent disagree; and 15 percent are not sure.
A similar number say Jesus is a created being. Fifty-seven percent agree with the statement “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Twenty-eight percent disagree and 15 percent are not sure. That’s a slight increase from 2016 when 52 percent agreed Jesus was created by God.
Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a personal being. Twenty-five percent disagree; 16 percent are not sure.
A quarter of Americans (26 percent) say God is unconcerned with their day-to-day decisions; 61 percent disagree; and 13 percent are not sure.
Researchers found Americans are split on their views of the Bible. More Americans believe the Bible is completely accurate but a growing number say the Bible is not literally true.
In 2018, half of Americans say the Bible is 100 percent accurate in all that it teaches. up from 47 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2014.
Fewer than half (47 percent) of Americans, meanwhile, agree the Bible contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but isn’t literally true. Forty-three percent disagree. In 2016, 44 percent agreed the Bible isn’t literally true; in 2014, 41 percent said the same.
Researchers also found 36 percent of Americans say modern science disproves the Bible while 48 percent disagree.
“The last writing included in the Christian Bible was completed nearly 2,000 years ago,” McConnell said. “Yet Americans’ beliefs around this book are shifting more than most other theological beliefs.”
Sin & punishment
More than 6 in 10 Americans (62 percent) expect Jesus to return and judge all people. However, fewer expect people to be punished in a place called hell. While 54 percent of Americans agree hell is a real place where certain people will be punished forever, 30 percent disagree.
According to the study, a majority of Americans (66 percent) admit everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. Twenty-seven percent disagree and 7 percent aren’t sure.
Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Americans say even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation. Sixty-nine percent disagree and 8 percent aren’t sure. However, Americans are more likely to agree now than four years ago about the consequences of sin. In 2014, only 18 percent of Americans said even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation; in 2016, 19 percent agreed.
Americans with evangelical beliefs are the most likely to agree (49 percent) that the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
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Source: Baptist Press