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Who – exactly – is He? And who – exactly – are you?
Every two years, Ligonier Ministries (founded by R.C. Sproul, who has now passed into Eternity) and LifeWay (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) cooperate to create the State of Theology survey of Americans, to find out what they – and, the subset of Americans who self-identify as Evangelicals – really believe. Quick answers can misrepresent what’s really going on within people as they seek to expose what these “Christians” hold as incontrovertible truths.
Last week, I pulled the curtains back and shared what George Barna has reported regarding the beliefs of church pastors in modern America. This week, I want to look beyond the pulpits – out to the pews – to see what has happened to personal beliefs based on what folks hear on Sunday mornings.
The results of the Ligonier/LifeWay study are broad, but I want to zero-in on what may be the most important – and extraordinary – portion of their findings.
The irreducible minimum of one’s theology addresses the question raised by Jesus Himself, in the days preceding His betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” (Matthew 16:13). He followed that up with the laser-focused query: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (v 15).
Every two years, this survey is repeated; within the American pool are the people most likely to “get it right.” Evangelicals are those who say that they: 1) regard the Bible as their highest authority; 2) believe it important to encourage others to trust Jesus as their Savior; 3) believe that Jesus’ death is the only sacrificial payment for sin; and, 4) only those who trust in Jesus alone will receive salvation and eternal life. Those are great headlines; what’s the fine print that hides beneath those?
From those like-minded “Evangelical” followers of Jesus, 73% agree that Jesus is the “first and greatest being created by God.” More than half (58%) believe that God accepts worship of all religions; not just the Christian faith founded on the Lord Jesus Christ. Almost half say that Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.
Those poll results don’t line up with what Jesus said about Himself. To the Jewish leaders, He was direct and absolute: “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24). To His 12 Apostles, He was equally unequivocal: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.’ (John 14:6-7).
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t mince words: “Jesus is a powerful spirit who lives in heaven. He was created by Jehovah God before everything else.” For them, Jesus was created; not the Creator.
From an LDS/Mormon website: “We do not believe in the Trinitarian view of God. We believe that Jesus was begotten of the Father during the preexistence, our existence before the creation of the earth. As were you and me…” Again, they describe Jesus as a created being, not the Creator.
The Christian faith is about having a relationship with the triune God on His terms: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:2-5).
Americans are hanging on survey and poll results leading to the next elections. The tragedy of tragedies is that there are Americans who identify as “Evangelicals” who are at risk of being on the wrong side of the most important survey ever fielded: “Who do you say I am?” asks Jesus.
What do you say?