Evangelicals Earn “F” on Beliefs about the Trinity

on November 8, 2018

Public surveys are not usually graded tests, but in a 2018 study on Christian beliefs by two Christian ministries, Ligonier and LifeWay, American evangelicals earned what would qualify as a grade of “F” on the Trinity. A majority of my fellow evangelicals answered 3 out of 8 questions about the Trinity heretically, meaning they answered only 62.5% correctly—a failing grade.

According to the survey, we are falling for ancient heresies!

On one question, researchers asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Among evangelicals, 71% agreed and only 22% disagreed. I hope that some respondents stopped listening after “Jesus is the first and greatest” and so did not intend to agree that Jesus was “created.” Having a soundbite attention span is at least preferable to denying the Trinity.

In any event, the early church wrote the Nicene Creed specifically to contradict the notion that Jesus was created, which is known as the Arian heresy. The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus was “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Furthermore, in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16-18, we read that Jesus existed in the beginning and that everything was created through him. Additionally, if Jesus was created, he could not be a full and equal member of the Trinity, which calls into question the incarnation, his perfect sacrifice, and his resurrection. Our salvation depends on Jesus pre-existing as God, as both John 1 and Colossians 1 go on to assert.

Lest I come across as “better than” others, I must admit that I would not have been able to identify Arianism before I took a theology course in college. But I must ask, why didn’t I learn about this false teaching until college? This is not some obscure academic question for “those who wish to know more;” it is something critical to the faith of every mature believer because it concerns the power and identity of Jesus. As evangelicals, we must have a better understanding of church history and tradition, if only to identify the same false doctrines that continue to resurface.

On another question, 60% of evangelicals agreed (compared to 31% who disagreed) that “The Holy Spirit gives a spiritual new birth or new life before a person has faith in Jesus Christ.” The Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit only dwells in those who are saved, and they are not saved except by faith. For example, Ephesians 1:13-14 explains, “You also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Third, evangelicals agreed, 59% to 33%, that “the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.” This is especially confusing, because 93% of evangelicals had already agreed to a statement calling the Holy Spirit a person: “There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps our evangelical churches should study John 16:7-15, a passage that refers to the Holy Spirit with a personal pronoun (he, him, his) twelve times; never in the Bible is the Spirit referred to as an impersonal force.

I believe we evangelicals are justly confident in the profitability of Scripture “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But Paul warns confident Christians, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The results of this survey seem to indicate that many of us could not identify heresy if it hit us in the face. Christians who cannot spot false teaching are called “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

We should be concerned, but not despair. On other questions in the survey, American evangelicals displayed fairly strong orthodoxy. Even the survey’s definition of evangelicals was robust. The survey defined evangelicals as those who believe “the Bible is the highest authority,” “evangelism is very important,” “sin can only be removed by Jesus’ death,” and “salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior.”

In Hebrews 4:14 and 10:23, Christians are exhorted to “hold fast our confession” amidst a hostile world. Evangelicals across the U.S. need to engage more deeply with the theological truths of Christianity, so we will recognize false doctrines when they come.

  1. Comment by Josh on November 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

    No creeds, catechesis, confirmation, liturgies, or rich theological worship results in this. Repetition, conversation, and a focus on the central tenets of the Christian faith are the only way that people can truly imbibe and take in what we believe.

  2. Comment by April User on November 9, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    Well said!

  3. Comment by April User on November 9, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    We have recently moved from a UMC Church to Anglican. And years before that, Assemblies of God. We were tired of the “concert and lecture” approach to worship. In the ACNA (Anglican) worship, we reaffirm week after week the foundational and historical truths of Christian faith, both in liturgy and music. No excuses now for failing a test on the Trinity!

  4. Comment by Steve Watson on November 11, 2018 at 7:19 am

    The is a lot of poor theology here. The Eternal Son existed equal with the Father and Spirit in deity, unique in relationship. Jesus, (the God-man), the unique combination that is a mystery (1 Tim 3:16), did not exist from all eternity. The Eternal Son took on a body in time and space (Heb 10:5). The distinction is important.

  5. Comment by Roger on November 12, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    The next to last paragraph is not clear. The Gospel is 1 Cor. 15: 1 – 4.
    The Resurrection is part of the Gospel. If one does not believe in the Resurrection, they are still in their sins. If you do not preach The Gospel listed above you are accursed. Read Gal. 1: 8.

  6. Comment by Grevile Constantine on November 22, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    When Jesus said ” I and my Father are one “, he wasn’t taking about in principle, teaching, or doctrine. He was saying He and God are literally ONE & THE SAME. Even when Jesus said he only works as he SEES HIS FATHER WORK, he literally meant seeing GOD THE FATHER WORK. These words came from Jesus himself, why would he saying anything else when he said these things about himself?

  7. Comment by Harold Ballew on January 21, 2019 at 8:50 am

    The Holy “Spirit” is feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic. In Greek it is neuter. You state the Holy Spirit “never in the bible is the Holy Spirit referred to as an impersonal force.” “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” (see also Matthew 10:20, Romans 8:26).
    Respectfully, that statement is incorrect.

  8. Comment by Susan on April 29, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    You know the answers to those survey questions are a bit concerning. All believers need to be baptized ( submerged, immersed in) the spirit of the author of the Bible- the Holy Spirit. Only through spirit fullness can we rightly divide the Word of Truth. Most all of the disciples/ Apostles we unlearned men but they were full of the Holy Spirit and knew Truth from heresy … we don’t all have to be theologians- what we need is to be full of the Spirit of God. That could be the answer right there The early church flowed in the gifts of Holy Spirit which are the manifestations of the Spirit , they lived in moment to moment dependence on HS as the Teacher, Comforter, Spirit of Revelation, Wisdom ect. We should do they same

  9. Comment by Pat on January 19, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    My experience with Evangelical friends and family has revealed their ignorance regarding the trinity. It also is disturbing they are hesitant to pray to “God” or the “Father”, as opposed to “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” and seem to distinguish between “God” as judge and Jesus as savior.

  10. Comment by Tom Daniels on May 20, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    As a non-believer, I could have answered these questions correctly. It is disturbing that Evangelicals, who think they know best for what society needs, are so ignorant.

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