Christendom in America has been steadily declining for decades, with the views espoused by many who claim to be Christians straying further and further from pure orthodoxy. Like the audience of Hebrews, the church in America needs the pure spiritual milk that can only come through Scripture.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
—Hebrews 5:12-6:3, ESV
The Problem of Theological Illiteracy
One of the biggest problems I see in the church today is what I refer to as theological illiteracy. This means that many Christians have an overly limited or even erroneous understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. This is a serious problem, as an inadequate knowledge of God causes us to worship not the true God as revealed in Scripture but a god our minds create, which is the definition of idolatry. Erroneous views of Scripture, God’s nature, our sinful condition, and the process of salvation can cause us to trust in the wrong Gospel, which actually brings about God’s curse (Galatians 1:6-9). Such views also cause us to distort what Scripture teaches and misapply it to our lives, even leading us to approve what is evil and shun what is good, which similarly brings about God’s curse (Isaiah 5:20, Romans 10:2-3). But is it really that bad? The recent “State of Theology” study by Ligonier Ministries suggests it is. In this post I will look at the general takeaways from that study, while future posts will examine more specific lessons from that study. Ultimately, the goal is to begin to counter the epidemic of theological illiteracy found throughout the church in America.
The “State of the Theology” Study and Methodology
Ligonier Ministries regularly surveys American Christians to gauge the general state of theology in the American church. They present various statements that address Scripture, God’s nature, human nature, sin, salvation, the church, and how Scripture clearly applies to certain current issues. People could answer that they strongly or slightly agreed or disagreed with the statement or were unsure. These statements are written so that a Christian with general knowledge of the basic tenets of Christianity can easily identify whether the statement is true or false, as the validity of all of the statements can be determined either directly from Scripture or derived from Scripture. This means that the more people answer them correctly, the healthier the state of theology in America. The most recent results can be found here. The site also has a data explorer that allows you to view results broken down by region, denomination, age, gender, population density, education, income, marital status, ethnicity, and regularity of church attendance.