A majority of American adults believe religious belief is a matter of personal opinion, according to new data from the 2020 biennial State of Theology survey, but fewer people are expressing that view.
The survey, commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and conducted by LifeWay Research on March 10-18, involved a sample of 3,002 participants. The results show that while 60% of U.S. adults held the view that religious belief is a matter of personal opinion in 2018, that number dropped to 54% in 2020.
“More than half of respondents to the State of Theology survey say that religious belief is not about objective reality. However, fewer people expressed this view in 2020 than in 2018. It isn’t clear why this is the case, but it may be that our chaotic cultural moment has prompted more people to turn to religion for objective truth,” LifeWay researchers said.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research explained that what the results of the survey reveal is that Americans hold a complex set of conflicting religious beliefs.
“Many Americans treat theology like a choose-your-own adventure book,” he said in a recent report. “It’s clear from certain beliefs that some people feel truth is something people are free to define on their own, and in doing so they possess seemingly incompatible beliefs.”
The Christian Post previously highlighted from the survey how more than half of American adults, including 30% of evangelicals, say Jesus isn’t God, but most agree He was a great teacher.
Even though the Bible and traditional teachings of the Christian Church hold that Jesus truly existed as both man and God and 72% of respondents in the survey said they believe in Christian doctrine of the Trinity, among the key findings of survey is that 52% of American adults believe that Jesus was a great teacher and nothing more.
“Christianity has historically started with an understanding of God as the Creator and source of reality itself,” McConnell said. “While many Americans repeat with agreement a definition of this one Triune God, a further look at their beliefs reveals a majority do not believe in each Person of the Trinity as described in the Bible.”
The survey also shows that just over a third of Americans, 36%, hold the view associated with the prosperity gospel, that God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life. Less than half of American adults, 48%, believe the Bible is 100% accurate in all it teaches while just over half, 51% believe sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.
Nearly 60% of Americans also believe that worshiping alone or with family is a valid replacement for church attendance. Since the survey was conducted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, McConnell suggested that people’s attitude to worshiping at home and church might have been blurred.
“Those answering had no idea what COVID-19 would do to normal patterns of worship in America. March 15 (64%) was the last week that the majority of Protestant churches met in person until June 7 (55%),” said McConnell, citing LifeWay Research surveys of Protestant pastors conducted in March and July.
“While the pandemic suspended the ability to gather as a local church for worship, a large minority of Americans recognize there is something more to this assembly that a family can’t accomplish on their own.”