The State of Theology

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The word “evangelical” used to mean something. It distinguished those churches who believe in the authority of Scripture and the gospel of salvation by grace apart from works from churches that don’t, notably the mainstream denominations like the Presbyterian Church, USA and the United Methodist Church.

Where mainstream Christianity tends to be more pluralistic in its beliefs, and more meritorious in its salvation message, evangelicalism has stood for salvation by grace and the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. But there has been a drift among evangelicals.

Earlier in 2020, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay research partnered to create “The State of Theology” survey, asking what Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible. Some of the responses, particularly from so-called evangelicals, are shocking.

Among evangelicals (those who claim to be Christians):

46% agree that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

56% agree that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. This was shockingly a higher percentage than the general population.

32% agree that Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.

47% agree that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

23% agree that the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.

31% agree that God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life.

While 80% agree that God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works, but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ, 15% of evangelicals disagreed with this statement. This is the sine qua non, the essential condition for being “evangelical.” In other words, if you can’t affirm salvation by grace apart from works, don’t call yourself an “evangelical.”

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul describes Christian maturity as no longer being “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Doctrinal stability and surety are not a matter of nerdy interest; they are a matter of life and death. I’m not speaking of minor doctrinal issues about which we may legitimately disagree but not disfellowship. There are winds of doctrine that would shipwreck souls to eternal destruction. Some of these “ill winds” include

  • Denial of the eternal deity of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man
  • Acceptance of extra-biblical revelation that renders the Bible insufficient for life and truth
  • Denial of the sinfulness of sin and the wretchedness of our state
  • Denial of Jesus as the only way of salvation
  • Drift from salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from works
  • Emphasis on material blessings as the “stuff” of Christianity, rather than forgiveness of sins, fulfilling our mission, and citizenship in heaven

These are “human cunning and deceitful schemes” (v. 14), because they can deceive someone into thinking they are saved when they are not.

The answer to this doctrinal drift is to become immersed in the Bible and in the historic doctrines and creeds of the Christian Church. One learns to recognize error by becoming better acquainted with authentic truth. May this be so!

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