“What ARE they teaching in these Sunday Schools?”

Happy Tuesday, y’all!

I apologize for the delay. I meant to post yesterday, but I just had so much fun over the weekend, it was hard for me to buckle down and get some writing done. (More on that tomorrow!)

Today, I feel compelled to address some statistics. (No, no, don’t go!) Specifically, these statistics.  (Thanks to Patrick Mitchell for posting the link on Twitter.)

According to research done by LifeWay, on behalf of Ligonier Ministries, the following data were found in the responses of 557 self-proclaimed “evangelicals” who attend church at least once a month:

  • 31% agree or don’t know if God the Father is more divine than God the Son, and 27% agree or don’t know if Jesus was the first created being.
  • 58% agree or don’t know if the Holy Spirit is an impersonal Force instead of a personal being, and 18% agree or don’t know if the Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father or the Son.
  • 68% strongly or somewhat agree that a person must first seek out God before He responds with grace (38% strongly agree); 53% strongly or somewhat agree that a person must contribute their own effort to personal salvation; and 18% agree or don’t know whether or not God loves them because of the good they have done.
  • 43% strongly or somewhat agree that while everyone sins at least a little, people are basically good by nature.
  • 40% strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that even the smallest sin deserves damnation.
  • 55% strongly or somewhat agree that God does not determine what happens, but He just knows it all in advance.

I just… I can’t even.

Okay. A few technical things:

  1. The first thing we should consider is the statistical value of the survey. It’s admittedly a small sample size of respondents. The article notes that these 557 were taken from the initial 3000 respondents in the survey. However, just because it’s not a huge sample size doesn’t mean that there aren’t some trends we can observe.
  2. As far as “agree or don’t know,” you may be inclined to think that the “don’t know” is a large category. It’s not. The infographics in the CT article bear this out, OR you can peruse the actual data in the other link above. Bottom-line: the “don’t know” camp is very small by comparison.
  3. Just because someone calls themselves a churchgoing evangelical doesn’t mean they actually are one. That’s the basic weakness of self-report survey–you have to trust the answers. But since there aren’t really alternatives, well, uh, there it is.

SO. What do we do with this?

Well, I think we have to first sit back and really take a look at the whole picture. Evangelical church people are woefully ignorant on the tenets of their own faith. Almost all of the issues above were addressed in the first 5 centuries of the church, or were shorn up in the Protestant Reformation.  Of course, if you said “Athanasius” to the typical church member, they’d respond “Bless you.”

Does this mean that pastors must train their congregations to be church historians? Maybe. Okay, no. But these issues, they aren’t just minor doctrines of the faith.

Too often I’ve heard it said. “Let’s not fight over lesser issues.” “Doctrine divides.” “We’re all followers of Jesus, right?” Wrong. These issues do matter, in practical life and in personal faith. These are issues that men and women suffered and died to defend. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in the faith to take theology more seriously.

Since I’m in a bit of a rush today, this will have to be Part 1. I want to go through each of these ideas and address them at some point in the near future. In the meantime, chew on this: If what you know or believe about your spouse or your best friend doesn’t really matter to you, would it affect your relationship with that person? Would it affect how you treat them, or how you speak of them to others? If we’re careful to think and speak rightly about the people in our lives about whom we care so deeply, how much more important is it to think and speak carefully about the God of the universe? How much greater the offense if we don’t?

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