Evangelicals are Becoming More Liberal and Leaders are Panicking

Survey results released yesterday by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research suggest that Evangelical Christians are becoming more accepting of a softer version of Christianity, rather than the fire-and-brimstone position you might hear from your local street preacher or aging televangelist.

The State of Theology (SoT) is a study of what “Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible,” and is based on a survey of 3,000 evangelical Christians which asked respondents questions like:

  • Is God perfect?
  • Does God accept the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam?
  • Did the resurrection actually happen?
  • Are most people basically good by nature, despite sinning a little?
  • Does the smallest sin deserve the punishment of hell?
  • Is the Bible 100% accurate?
  • Is hell a real place?

For the purpose of the survey, LifeWay identified evangelicals as people who strongly agreed with the following four statements:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Despite the up-front agreement by participants about the basis of their belief systems, the variation in responses is really fascinating and shows that Christians are all over the board in what they believe. Aside from that, it’s causing panic among some hardline church leaders.

For example, 53% of the Christians surveyed believe that “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.”

In response to this finding, Dr. Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College, said:

“These results are a serious cause for concern. It is the depth of man’s sin that led Jesus to die on the cross. How, then, can a majority of evangelicals say most people are good by nature? Down through history, Christians have proclaimed that Jesus is truly God, not some sort of created being. The evangelical world is in great danger of slipping into irrelevance when it casually forgets the Bible’s doctrine.”

On the SoT study’s web page, they say this about the contrast between Biblical doctrine and the beliefs of its followers:

This idea flatly contradicts the Bible, which teaches the radical corruption of every human being and declares that no one does good by nature (Rom. 3:10–12). This is why we need the gospel in the first place—because none of us is good.

That’s right, Christians — no room for optimism in the eyes of hardline Evangelical Christianity. According to Dr. Nichols and SoT, if we’re not ensuring that people understand the sinful nature of humans, then how can we sell them Jesus as the cure to their unavoidable affliction? You might as well go out and buy a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus, what is it good for?”

On the question of whether or not God accepts the worship of other religions, 51% agree that God is cool with people following Judaism or Islam.

That seems pretty strange, considering that the respondents agreed up-front that salvation only comes through acceptance of Jesus Christ. Here’s what SoT had to say about it:

The Bible is clear that the gospel is the only way of salvation, and God will not accept the worship of other faiths. It is only through Jesus Christ and by His Spirit that we are able to worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

Needless to say, the church leaders behind this survey aren’t too pleased with the disparity in responses to these and other questions and are calling for local pastors to help right the ship. Chris Larson, president and CEO of Ligonier Ministries, said:

“The State of Theology survey highlights the urgent need for courageous ministry that faithfully teaches the historic Christian faith. It’s never been popular to talk about mankind’s sinfulness or the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ, but at a time when a darkened world needs the light of the gospel, it’s disheartening to see many within the evangelical church confused about what the Bible teaches. We hope this survey provides local churches with a little more insight into what people in our neighborhoods and in our pews actually believe.”

In reading through the survey results, I think this is a good sign for those of us who feel secularism is necessary for a progressive and inclusive society. If self-described evangelicals are leaning toward values that can be adopted and carried forward without being rooted in fundamentalism, then we’re heading in the right direction. Just having the mindset that most people are naturally good, and that it’s not necessarily religion that makes them that way, is great. It means that even evangelical Christians are realizing people can be “good without God.” Attitudes like this can be very beneficial for the acceptance of non-Christians (especially atheists) in a Christian-dominated country like the US.

And if you’re a data nerd like me, you can see all of the survey questions, sort and manipulate the data, and get more insight into the pulse of a seemingly more liberal, softer Christian outlook here.


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Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

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46 thoughts on “Evangelicals are Becoming More Liberal and Leaders are Panicking

  1. I like that evangelical leaders know that they are losing more and more people every year and are frantically trying to stop the erosion of the churches and yet when their own study seems to suggest that the people are not buying into the hard line stance that the leaders want to take they think the solution is to double down and push forward on the same path they have been on. They jsut can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that reality doesn’t care what their beliefs are.

    1. Yeah, the fundagelical leader are ‘trying to stop the erosion’…by opening up the taps and letting a gusher flow through….

    2. It’s not the beliefs the leaders are in it for.

      It’s the power.

      Certain belief structures make it easier to exert control over people, which is why the most egregious micromanaging occurs under the alleged auspices of a strict authoritarian deity.

  2. It is the depth of man’s sin that led Jesus to die on the cross.

    He (or she) agreed to eat an apple and suddenly decided that leaves were the latest fashion statement. At least one of those things is worth dying for (not!)

  3. This trend of Evangelicals going liberals is pretty old: I remember leaders panicking over it in 2007. In fact, in 2006, a number of Evangelicals voted Democrat.

    Re: most people are good by nature

    They claim that contradicts the Bible, but Gen. 1:31 says that God called creation (including humanity) “very good”. I will also note that the stress on Original Sin is largely a Western Christian phenomenon; it isn’t stressed in the Orthodox Church. (A large portion of the idea comes from language: St. Augustine, who developed the idea of Original Sin, worked from a Latin translation of the New Testament, and the Orthodox Church, using the original Greek, argues that something important got lost in translation, and thus Augustine misunderstood.) I have noted, though, that even some secular people don’t agree that most people are good by nature, but that a lot of people fall short of being decent human beings. (When it comes to believing that people are generally good by nature, one of the most compelling beliefs in this is how Anne Frank believed that, even when humanity was at its worst.)

    Re: Jesus for salvation
    Muslims also believe Jesus is the way to God, for they see him as part of a series of prophets that Allah sent. Muslims think Christians are wrong to say Jesus is God or the Son of God (for Muslims teach that Allah has no sons). They also believe that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah like Jesus, and thus it is important to accept his mission as well.

    1. Re Anne Frank:

      I know a lot of people are inspired by her quote, but I just heard a talk that pours cold water on that idea. It was by Eva Scloss, her childhood friend whose mother married Otto Frank after the war. Eva and Anne were the same age, had both gone into hiding and both ended up being sent to Auschwitz. Eva is now 89 but still very clear and articulate. She said that people love that line, but forget that Anne wrote it while still in hiding. Eva doubted that she would have kept that optimism once in the camps.

    2. Good until we were darkened with the knowledge of evil. But we arent accountable for that sin, we are however, accountable for our own.
      And islam is not like Christianity. They worship satan masquerading as God. God does not condone killing nor is He forceful. But He is powerful. Incalculably so. You can find Christ in The Old Testament if you actually look. Jesus told us there is a veil over the hearts of some in The Old Testament. Referring to a misconception. Hence, why He came to earth in the flesh. To teach us who He is. That we would not be deceived. You have to separate the wheat from the tares concerning the Old Testament.

        1. Funny the double standard Christian apologists present: they highlight killing in the Qur’an and Hadith as signs that Islam is violent, but gloss over violence in the Bible.

      1. According to your propaganda your god kills people just because he can. He supposedly drowned the entire world except for one family with a floating zoo. In Exodus he kills a bunch of children because an unnamed Pharaoh won’t listen to a political lobbyist. Lot’s wife looks in the wrong direction and ZAPPO! she’s a pillar of salt. And the reason she looked that way was your god was nuking a couple of towns. No, there’s few things Ol’ Yahweh likes more than killing folks.

      2. First of all, it’s just a story.

        Second, even in a story, there has to be a plausible explanation for WHY something changed. If that ‘explanation’ is *magic*, then it also has to explain why the same magic fails to exist today.

  4. It’s par for the course for Ligonier Ministries, it’s a bit ridiculous for them to treat all non-Calvinists as if they aren’t Christians or don’t understand Christianity.

    In early New England, the pastors tried to enforce the Calvinist Westminster Confession, but failed within one generation. You had Antinomians, Baptists, and Arminians in Massachusetts within decades of the founding . They had to kick Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams out of Massachusetts Bay Colony, but by the early 18th Century, many, many people in Massachusetts had already gone Arminian. So this is really nothing new in American history.

  5. Seems a majority of people know of God. But they do not actually KNOW Him. Ive spent a good portion of my life denying Him. But a number of circumstances have lead me to believe without a doubt.
    Many people are under the spell of religious institutions and lukewarm christians who couldnt tell you much about God, let alone their ability to understand Him. They rely on human leaders to lead and show/give them the way.

    Call me insane if you must, maybe I am, but before anyone wants to try and change whats already been written, I would suggest actually reading the whole Bible yourself and meditate on its word before taking the hearsay of some people who have never really read The Word or have genuinely searched themselves. Especially before anyone insults or mocks Our Father. God does not change or conform to the will of mankind.

    As far as fire and brimstone, the world is already under His judgement. The Father gives some people over to a reprobate mind because it is what they desire. They hate truth and they hate accountability. Its in our nature to rebel. But my Lord is merciful and forgiving. There are countless reasons to be joyful. But mankind hates God. Therefore any who hate God are of their father satan. And insomuch that they should believe a lie. If anyone desires truth, it can be found. But if someone does not want to believe or submit themselves, so be it. Ask and ye shall receive. Just make sure youre making an informed decision. The Father does not force. He loves all. But not all love Him. The Lord will not force anyone. He calls but its up to you to pick up and listen. Id suggest picking up before its too late. Repentance and salvation is a gift. Many will not understand this until the hour has come and passed.

    May peace and Blessings abound to all of you! God Bless! Marantha!

    1. Dude, just because you swallowed the kool-aid, doesn’t mean anyone else will. I’ve read the bible – it is a random collection of myths, fairytales, and mythicized history. It’s not unique. It’s not that interesting. It’s full of contradictions. There is nothing in the bible that will convince someone of its “truth” if that person has any actual knowledge of, well, anything, but especially history and basic social systems and how the brain works.

    2. If I had a nickel for every Christian who claims to have been an atheist then I’d have a large bunch of nickels. Do these folks think that if they claim to have given up atheism for Christianity, particularly fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, that we’ll think “this person might have a point, I’ll forgo reality and embrace an unevidenced belief”?

    3. Oh God. You think we haven’t read the Bible? You people have this oh so ridiculous idea that – first of all we haven’t read the Bible, and secondly if we did really, really, really read it we would become Christian. Wrong on both counts.

      1. Reading the Bible at an early age, without the influence of adults trying to scare me into belief or otherwise insisting that the book was true, guaranteed that I would never believe. Pretty weak-sauce deity that can’t convince a genuinely curious and unbiased seven-year-old girl reading its alleged holy book.

    4. You know, you really ought to stop and think about some of your statements before you make them.
      Statement: Mankind hates God
      Statement: Those who hate God are fathered by Satan
      Conclusion: Mankind is fathered by Satan

    5. Cool story, bro. Needs more dragons.

      On a related note, the various space telescopes still haven’t spotted that dragon that’s supposed to knock a third of the stars out of the sky with its tail (Revelation 12:4). I’ll consider taking the Bible and your imaginary fiend seriously when the astronomical community makes a positive ID of a wyrm playing croquet with galaxies.

    6. They hate truth and they hate accountability

      And that’s why they’re Christians, so they don’t have to be held accountable for their sins.

    7. Well I’ve read about 3/4 of the bible and what I read is a disgrace to the concept of morality. The very foundations of christianity are based on gross injustices absurdly claimed to be a good thing. Like punishing an innocent person for the actions of others. Like all humans being cursed by the actions of their oldest ancestors.

      Really, you can’t convince any rational informed moral person that the bible is a reasonable guide to morality.

  6. Gah, why did they change the survey questions from year to year?

    In any case though, the results are not surprising. The misanthropic theology Ligonier Ministries wants to promote would make many faithful miserable, so instead they believe what they want to believe. And the churches can’t really crack down on these ‘heresies’ without just driving more members away.

  7. The REAL problem for “evangelicals” is that Jesus himself was such a LIBERAL. What is so astonishing is how many so-called “Christian Conservatives” can imagine that they are followers of Jesus of Nazareth without reading the Gospels for themselves and seeing that it’s LIBERALS – NOT Conservatives – who are most like the one who, according to Luke 4:18, defined his mission in life as follows:
    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that the blind shall see, that captives shall be released and the downtrodden shall be freed (i.e. liberated) from their oppressors.”
    See
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/92393cab41078677390d5c16344d4815c6e26fdc00511356ca39b8ae2f05e139.png and
    http://WhatwouldJesusthink.info
    Rev. R D

    1. Not so much.

      As the story goes, ‘jesus’ was a bad-tempered brat who advocated for slavery and prescribed eternal torment in ‘hell’ for thoughtcrime.

    2. “The REAL problem for “evangelicals” is that Jesus himself was such a LIBERAL.”

      What LIBERAL do you know who says LOTS of people are going to HELL?

  8. The lack of irony in “self-proclaimed” Christians is truly delicious.

    re: “These results are a serious cause for concern.”
    Quoted from Dr. Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College. (emphasis mine)

    I highlight his central point to illustrate his own lack of knowledge of early Christian history, which is clearly self-evident by this following utterance, “Down through history, Christians have proclaimed that Jesus is truly God, not some sort of created being.”

    History and I disagree.

    Early Christians were all over the board on whether Jesus was merely a man, a prophet favored by God, or the return of Elijah or even Moses. No one, not even Jesus, claimed he was God.

    There was no incarnation in early Christianity. That bit of dogma came much later with the anonymous, fictional gospels and was finalised by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
    http://en.reingex.com/Christianity-Dogmas.shtml

    Truth be told, Christianity existed before Jesus/Christ.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messianism
    http://nazirene.org/unfaithful2.htm
    https://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/forum/f08n04p243_christs-before-christ.htm

    Some claimed that Jesus only became the Son of God when he was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River as the dove of God settled on him accompanied by God’s vocal anointing. Some claimed he was a demigod, half man and half divine. Only much later did the idea that Jesus was equal with God gain dominance.
    http://en.reingex.com/Christianity-Dogmas.shtml

    “Dr.” Nichols should know better.
    There is no such aminal as Christianity. There exists only Christianities.

    http://www.christianorigins.div.ed.ac.uk/2017/05/24/adoptedasgodsson/
    http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/church.html
    http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0325-1965,_Concilia_Oecumenica,_Documenta_Omnia,_EN.pdf

    May god b-less. ; )

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