Saturday, December 27, 2008

Of Surveys and Salvation

The Pew Forum has released a follow-up survey subsequent to the previous U. S. Religious Landscape Survey to focus on the question of what Americans who profess to be Christians believe concerning the exclusivity of their faith.

The previous survey of 35,000 Americans found that 70% of professing Christians and 57% of those who identify themselves as evangelicals believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life". In a previous post I suggested that perhaps respondents were thinking of many denominations within the Christian religion rather than other religions outside of Christianity when answering this survey question.

This suggestion was raised by many who analyzed the results, and the Pew Forum proceeded with the subsequent survey which included a much smaller sample of 2905 adults. It clarified to the people being surveyed that the exclusivity of Christianity compared to non-Christian belief systems was in view and, as expected, the results were significantly different. While the numbers of professing Christians who don't understand what Christianity is remains dramatically high (my conclusion, not the survey's), the Religious Landscape Survey's 70% of those who feel "many religions can lead to eternal life" drops to 52% that feel at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life (a distinction in both number and degree) when the ambiguity is removed from the question. That 52% of professing Christians erroneously allow for the possibility that some non-Christian belief systems may result in salvation is still cause for great concern.

Among Protestant evangelicals surveyed the results went from a 57% majority in the previous Religious Landscape Survey to less than half (47%) in the current survey who feel many religions can lead to eternal life. Therefore, it appears there was some misunderstanding of the question in the first survey.

Another issue I pointed out in my previous post on the Religious Landscape Survey is the question of the extent to which someone who identifies themself as a Christian or evangelical actually understands or practices the faith with which they identify. I pointed out in a blog post in July 2008 that a LifeWay Research study found that 80% of evangelicals reject the idea that eternal life can be obtained through a belief system outside Christianity when an evangelical is identified as someone affirming certain minimal doctrinal beliefs and attending church at least once a month.

In my blog post last summer about the Pew Forum's Religious Landscape Survey I had written:

For example, we think of an evangelical as one who attends church regularly, yet according to the survey, only 58% of those who said they were evangelicals claimed to attend church at least once a week. It would be interesting to know how the regular attenders would respond to the "many religions" question.

The recent Pew Forum Survey shows 60% of evangelical Protestants who attend church at least weekly affirm that theirs is the one true faith leading to eternal life, double the figure for those who attend less than once a week. Thus an obvious distinction between a said faith, or religious category selected by default (e.g., someone's relative belongs to a particular religion or the respondent attended a particular church as a kid) and a practiced faith is also going to affect the answer given. Obviously we don't know which respondents fall in which category but a further clarification of minimal doctrines and church attendance such as the LifeWay survey attempted would be helpful.

Interestingly, only 2% of the respondents believe in Universalism, or the erroneous belief that everybody goes to heaven.

According to the Pew Forum, nearly 80% of the U. S. adult population claims to be Christian, but only 17% affirm the Protestant doctrine of faith alone in Christ alone. The message to us evangelical Protestants is: America is a mission field. Let's proclaim the gospel. The message to the church: Let's make disciples.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Infinite Condescension

The humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ (relative to, say, an earthly king's baby being born in the royal trappings of a palacial estate) offer a veiled glimpse to our human perception of the magnitude of our Lord's voluntary descent. The extent to which He emptied Himself (Phil 2: 7) when He added a perfect human nature to His eternal divinity and became the Babe Who would be born of a virgin in the manger in Bethlehem is a scale of measureless length.

This fathomless step by the the sovereign Creator, Who is without beginning or end (Heb 7:3), subsisting in His very essence as God (Phil 2:6), was only a first step when He became flesh (John 1:14).

As Paul describes in Philippians 2: 8, the voluntary obedience of God the Son to God the Father continued as He "became obedient unto death, even the death of a cross."

The extent of the humility He endured and the lengths He covered to save us from our sins are a sobering reminder of how desperate and helpless was our plight.

As Charles Wesley wrote,

Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

For those who believe in Him, every day is a joyful Christmas indeed.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It was Supposed to be a Walk in the Park

"True religion is not a series of guesses at truth..." -C.H. Spurgeon, as quoted by Phil Johnson in an excerpt posted at Pyromaniacs.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Essentials Unity

After a meeting that won't be confused with Wittenberg, It appears the Evangelical Theological Society has decided not to amend their doctrinal basis or include some recommended minimal propositional statements to sufficiently define the group as...well,...evangelical.

Such appears to be the state of a significant portion of evangelicalism today, or at least of many who want the label but don't always want to sign on to the essential doctrines. No doubt many members will offer divergent and varied rationales for their respective votes against an amendment which would have required a super-majority to pass, but ultimately failed to come close to even 50% in favor. Likely many nay-voters agree with the doctrinal points made in the amendment offered but for one reason or another don't want to require assent for membership purposes.

It's disappointing. These were not points that would have separated Calvinists from Arminians, charismatics from non-charismatics, premils from amils, or credo-baptists from paedo-baptists. They were just some basic statements affirming a basic definition of the gospel, and also clarifying what Evangelicals mean when they refer to the Bible (no, it does not include the book of Tobit). And they defined the authority of Scripture (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) as exceeding that of any earthly ecclesiastical leader or organization.

In voting down the amendment, the ETS lost an opportunity to affirm the truth with clarity.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Various Opinions. One Truth.

The so-called "epistemological humility" of the postmodern herd seeks to renegotiate the unalterable truths delivered once and for all to the elect. Today at Phil Johnson's blog he posts a reminder from a famous 19th-century preacher that truth is not on the negotiating table.

People are free to believe what they want (I'm referring here to rights, not the subject of predestination). They are free to believe, or claim to believe, nothing if they want. They are free to be tossed to and fro by every new religious fad that erupts and to live their lives in a clueless haze. They can stick their fingers in their ears and sing "nanananana-I can't hear you-nanananana..." every time a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ tries to tell them the truth.

But the truth is the truth, and it does not become altered based on whether or not one believes it. It is not created through deliberation and not subject to committee vote. It does not change because the culture changes or because times change.

Even if no human on earth believed it, the truth would still be the truth. And anything other than the truth would still be untrue. And every human would still be accountable for the truth. Accountable to Jesus Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The truth of the gospel can be discovered and understood, but it can't be re-engineered, although people can delude themselves into thinking they can remake it.

Believe it or not.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who Says?

A LifeWay Research study of 2500 Protestant adults may have a different take on how many evangelicals adhere to the soteriological exclusivism of Christianity than does the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

While the surveys are far from identitical in structure and format, in many ways the differences appear to help clarify the data. For example, rather than categorize an evangelical as self-designated, the LifeWay study requires the subject to agree with minimal evangelical essential doctrines in order to be classified as such. In addition, the LifeWay study focuses on those who attend church at least once a month. So while the Pew study indicates 57% of those who fancy themselves as evangelicals also hold to the erroneous notion that many religions can lead to eternal life, the LifeWay results show that 80% of evangelicals reject the idea that eternal life can be obtained through religions other than Christianity-- when the evangelical category is defined by meeting essential beliefs common to the evangelical community. And again, the LifeWay results are confined to those who attend church at least minimally.

One conclusion that might be drawn from a comparison of the two studies is a lot of folks who think they are evangelicals don't understand what an evangelical is. Another is that both the Pew and LifeWay reports highlight recent weaknesses in evangelicalism in the area of teaching sound essential doctrine to the flock under the care of evangelical leaders, pastors, and teachers.

In 1 Timothy 3: 15 the apostle Paul describes the church as the household of God and the pillar and support of the truth. This is both a tremendous blessing and sobering responsibility.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


26% of a recent survey sample of 35,000 Americans identified themselves as Evangelicals according to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life U.S. Religious Landscape Survey . Of these, a surprising 57% felt that "many religions can lead to eternal life."

On the other hand, it is not so surprising. And while the survey results should be interpreted as a warning siren to pastors and teachers in evangelical circles concerning the degree to which the flock apprehends essential doctrine, there also appears to be some conclusive weaknesses in applying these numbers to the typical evangelical as held in the perception of most Americans.

For example, we think of an evangelical as one who attends church regularly, yet according to the survey, only 58% of those who said they were evangelicals claimed to attend church at least once a week. It would be interesting to know how the regular attenders would respond to the "many religions" question.

Also, according to the survey, 88% of evangelicals agree that the Bible is God's word. I'm not exactly sure why the other 12% identify themselves as evangelicals, but such are the strange tendencies of humankind at times. So it is entirely possible that some of those responding to the question of whether many religions can lead to eternal life mentally replaced the term "religions" with "denominations" when considering their answer. If 88% agree that the Bible is God's word, it would be expected that a similar number would agree with Jesus' statement in John 14:6:

"...'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' "

Likewise, the 88% should concur with Peter's statement in Acts 4:12 when he referred to Jesus by saying:

" Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other Name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

At least if the question were posed this way, it would remove the ambiguity. Still, the results show that there is lots of opportunity to proclaim the gospel, both within the Professing Church and outside it.

There were a number of other interesting things in the report. It seems 21% of atheists believe in God. Huh? But I thought...oh, and in a similar vein, 12% of atheists believe in heaven and 10% believe in hell, according to the report. fact, per the report, 8% of atheists are absolutely certain they believe in God, while 18% of agnostics undermine their nomenclature by being absolutely certain of their belief in God. And while the 18% of agnostics who pray weekly or more can be understood to be perhaps attempting to cover all their bases, I'm not sure why 10% of atheists pray at least once a week.

Well, we have church tomorrow, so if you're an evangelical, be there and improve on that 58%. Hey, you atheists are invited too.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Manifestly Insufficient

Albert Mohler won't sign it. I have to agree with him. The Evangelical Manifesto has much to applaud, some points to disagree with, and raises perhaps as many questions by what it doesn't say as it does by what it says. Curiously, it seems more comfortable with unequivocal propositional statements about culture than about theology or doctrine, and thus has very little of the latter. This alone causes its attempt to define an evangelical to fall short. The document, which doesn't fill 20 pages (and I'm not criticizing the length) comes with a shorter summary and a longer study guide. The study guide makes a little more obvious the agenda behind the document.

Why does a paper this short even need a study guide? Is it because in the study guide we see that an evangelical is not really being defined by this effort, but instead we see an attempt to coax a redefinition of the term?

For example, in the study guide, Session 1 (six sessions are prescribed), Part 1, question #5 it asserts that while Jesus was Bible-believing,"it was nowhere near the heart of the good news he announced." Wrong. We could spend six sessions covering how many ways that statement is filled with error and still not cover them all. And if that declaration represents the way in which An Evangelical Manifesto wants to redefine evangelicalism, then it misses manifestly.

In the Reformation of Our Behavior section of the study guide, Session 4, Part 2, Discussion question #5, the centrality of the cross is compared with concern about the creation. The reader is asked whether there is "... equally rich teaching...(in concern about) creativity and the arts, or about a proper care and our fellow creatures on the earth?"As my wife often asks, "Are You Serious"? Are they really comparing the cross to the arts? As for the environment, while we should be good stewards of it, concern about one's carbon footprint in no way compares to the importance of the gospel message of the cross. Here, the study guide suffers a huge miss in the attempt to define an evangelical.

On the one hand, the study guide incorrectly asserts that the veracity of Scripture is not central to the gospel message, on the other, it erroneously equates stewardship of the arts and the environment with the centrality of the cross in the gospel message.

There has been quite a bit written already about the manifesto itself, and as more folks read the sub-manifesto in the study guide I think there is going to be even more blogging from various sources about its content.