Evangelical Heterodoxy

The term “Evangelical” no longer has meaning

A recent study by Lifeway and Ligonier points out once again that the term “Evangelical” means next to nothing these days. The doctrinal survey points out that those who self-identify as evangelicals are all over the theological map in terms of their beliefs. If there is an overarching theme it is that American evangelicals are products of their time, and are far too influenced by the surrounding culture. They are being transformed alright, but not toward a more biblically-shaped mind. It should surprise no one that Americans in general hold heterodox views, and the study data must be read carefully to distinguish when the respondents are Americans in general, or whether the answers reflect only evangelicals.

“Two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Twenty-four percent disagree. Twelve percent are not sure.” The exclusivity of salvation through Jesus is very clear in the NT. “No man comes to the father except through me”, Jesus told his disciples. That cannot be squared with “God accepts the worship of all religions” when no other religion defines Jesus as God incarnate. Among evangelicals, those who agree with this statement drops to 46%, but that is still a shocking number. Nearly half of evangelicals apparently believe that all faiths are more or less equal in God’s sight.

Not surprisingly, the majority of Americans are not clear on one of the most fundamental aspects of the gospel: You cannot earn salvation. “Three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. Half of Americans (52 percent) say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven.” That drops to 36% agreement among evangelicals, but again, a startling number of believers are confused on a most basic aspect of salvation.

It should be noted that were the survey to segment other groups aside from evangelicals, I don’t doubt that the results would be similar. That is, if Roman Catholics, Methodists, etc. were categorized, the results would not be any different. (See Thomas Bergler’s The Juvenalization of American Christianity for such evidence.) In other words, this problem is not unique to evangelicals, but indeed it should be the case that evangelicals are the outliers due to their orthodoxy, not their heterodoxy.

The solution to this is not a new one: Faithful exposition of the Bible. No amount of catechesis that is divorced from the biblical record can do this. The creeds are not living and active, able to divide between soul and spirit. Only the Word of God is able to do that. American evangelicals need to recover a regard for the Bible once again, not as supreme authority, but as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, as sole authority.

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