Americans: Heaven and Jesus, Sure. Hell and Sin, Not So Much

on September 30, 2016

It’s bad news for theology lovers: Americans love God, Heaven, and Jesus, but are inconsistent when it comes to doctrine, a new study shows.

Though 61 percent of Americans believe Jesus is divine, 64 percent say God accepts worship from all religions, according to LifeWay Research’s survey on theology. A bright spot was that Americans with evangelical beliefs were less likely to accept a Universalist God, but not by much (48%).

On Heaven and Hell, Americans were again murky on the doctrinal details. The concept of eternal judgement proved especially unpopular. Only 4 in 10 Americans believe Hell is where God sends all people who do not accept Christ as their savior. But 60 percent of Americans believe all people are reunited with loved ones in Heaven. Especially surprising2016-heaven was those with evangelical beliefs (64%) were most likely to agree all people go to Heaven when they die.

It would seem incompatible then for 54 percent of Americans to agree “only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.”

Original sin too comes up short within American belief systems. Lifeway found 65 percent of Americans believe everyone sins, but most people are inherently good.

As the product of Evangelical youth groups and an “inter-denominational” Christian campus ministry where the concept of sin went unspoken, I’m not shocked most Americans believe humans are naturally good and deny the idea of eternal judgment. If these messages are being churned out (or insinuated by silence) by leaders within the Church, how can we expect society to get it right?

Re-visioning salvation, not as coverage for sin, but rather a healing for shame is an increasingly trendy theme especially among “post-Evangelical” pastors, authors, and cultural influencers.

Back in June, I heard the pastor of Nashville-based Gracepointe Church, Stan Mitchell, re-imagine the concept of original sin at the progressive Christian Wild Goose Festival. “We were told that the reason we were born separate from God is because we are all sinners…because of something two people did thousands of years ago in a primordial world,” said Mitchell from the Mainstage. “God does not separate from us. But estrangement is my sense that God cannot be with me in my brokenness.”

A nice-sounding (albeit self-absorbed) concept, maybe. But incredibly damaging. If Christians do not accept humanity is born into this world broken, then do we need Jesus? Beyond that, why would we expect society in general to believe us when we tell them they need Jesus too? I mean really need Him, seek Him, talk with Him, cherish Him, depend on Him, thank Him, and love Him and His instructions.

Look, I’m still playing catch up when it comes to theology. But I’m pretty sure humanity’s original sin and Jesus Christ’s saving grace are not mutually exclusive concepts.

“Basic Christian theology is easy to find on a church’s beliefs webpage, yet most Americans don’t understand how the pieces are related,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, as reported by Baptist Press.

Indeed, the pieces of historic Christian teaching need to be puzzled together. But this will need to start in very places discipling Christians: from our pulpits, in our Sunday school classrooms, within our campus ministry small groups, and especially in our own homes.

When the local church moves away from trends and back towards a classical approach, we will likely see a less confused state of theology in America as a whole.

Other central findings from the survey of 3,000 adults that was conducted April 14-20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.0 percentage points includes:

  • 52 percent of Americans agree: “The Bible alone is the written word of God.”
  • 47 percent agree: “The Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches.”
  • 44 percent agree: “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.”
  • 49 percent of Americans agree: “sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.” 44 percent disagree.
  • 59 percent of Americans believe worshiping at home alone or with family is a valid alternative to attending church services.
  • 29 percent agree the local church has the authority to exclude persons from participating in the Lord’s Supper and church services
  • 65 percent of Americans agree: “God has authority over people because He created Human beings.”

Readers: What strikes you about LifeWay’s study? What actions should be taken to help resolve the confusion surrounding Christian doctrine?

  1. Comment by Dan on October 1, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I think you are looking at the rise of therapeutic deism as espoused by deep theological thinkers like Oprah and Joel Osteen.

  2. Comment by Roger on October 10, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I have studied LifeWay’s book “the God Who Is” and they leave out a lot of Paul’s Gospel. Paul’s Gospel of Grace is 1Cor.15: 1 – 4. When you believe this, you are placed into the Body of Christ. God has done all the work for Salvation. Believing this is Faith plus nothing else. Abram believed God (Faith plus nothing else) and this was counted as righteousness to him. When we believe Paul’s Gospel, we become Abraham’s children by faith. Selah

  3. Comment by Deborah Braman on July 10, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    So sad, but Jesus asked if He would find faith on the earth. That is why He talks of a remnant. Good question: why do those people need Jesus? I suppose they would say they don’t really NEED Him, they just kinda like Him. They think they are entitled to disagree with Him. Well, I guess they are. The consequences are beyond horrific.

  4. Comment by Rodney Watson on August 11, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Regardless of who believes in Jesus, Heaven and Hell and salvation or not,.. according to God’s Word in the Revelation of Jesus Christ,.. once the Tribulation starts, you will have 7 years to accept Him (Jesus) as your personal Savior. But once the time is up and we see our Lord Jesus descending down with all the Saints behind Him,.. IT’S TOO LATE MY FRIENDS!!
    You DON’T have to suffer those 7 years. You can be ready for Him NOW and be Raptured before the Tribulation starts!! Hallelujah!

  5. Comment by Endar Malkovich on January 21, 2019 at 11:12 am

    1. Sin is real, but not in the way mainstream religion teaches.

    2. Hell is a Greek/Roman invention. The concept does not exist in the Hebrew language. Jesus is a Jew, not a Greek or roman.

    3. Heaven is not a place people go to when they die. That’s another Greek teaching by Plato. The teaching of Jesus is that the kingdom of God is coming to earth to seize control. You’re either getting on board with it or you’re out. God is coming here to rule in the flesh. The hope of the gospel is resurrection of the body just as Jesus’ after his resurrection and to rule and reign in the kingdom and the eventual new earth and new heavens. All of those that aren’t willing will find themselves perished.

  6. Comment by Lisa on June 26, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    After my friend and my sister told me how sad they were for me because I’m going to hell, I began asking a variety of members of the clergy if that was acceptable. That’s when all but one told me almost no clerics believe in the concept of Hell now. It is also no one’s business or understanding to tell someone that. Didn’t stopped an attendant at a garbage collection site from progressing from his faith in Trump to his faith in my going to Hell. Holy shit!

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