Scripture and the Church

New Survey Reports Rampant Unbelief Among Self-Described Evangelicals

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
According to a recently-released survey, the majority of Evangelicals no longer believe what the Bible plainly teaches about any essential tenet of the Christian faith.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase


Some commentators suggest that this survey tells the story of abject failure on the part of Evangelical churches, colleges, seminaries, and their leaders. I submit that it tells the story of their overwhelming success. They have engaged in a deliberate, long-term campaign to cultivate Biblical and doctrinal illiteracy in the name of "church growth."

January 2017 - According to a recently-released survey, the vast majority of Evangelicals no longer believe what the Bible plainly teaches about any essential tenet of the Christian faith - including the origin and inerrancy of Scripture, the holiness of God, the deity of Christ, State of Theology Surveythe personality of the Holy Spirit, the sinfulness of man, the sufficiency of the Cross, the fact of the Last Judgment, the reality of Hell, the sinfulness of abortion and homosexuality, and much more.

The survey demonstrates that those who still hold positions that are true to the Bible are now a small minority among self-described Evangelicals. The "Bible-believing church" has to a great extent become the Bible-leaving church

The survey reveals rampant denial of the Gospel - that the shed blood of Jesus Christ provides the one and only means by which sinful man can be reconciled to a holy God. In fact, the survey reveals a woeful lack of sound teaching regarding any element of that last sentence - the holiness of God, the depravity of man, the sinfulness of sin, the person and work of Christ, or the exclusivity of the Christian faith.

Below are survey results by category.

Evangelicals' Unbelief About God

  • Only 50% of self-described Evangelicals believe God is a perfect being who cannot make a mistake.
  • Only 53% believe that there is "one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit."
  • 64% believe that God accepts the worship of all religions, including Islam.
  • Only 40% believe that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man.
  • 53% believe that Jesus Christ was created by God - which is also the false teaching of cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • 56% believe that the Holy Spirit is a force not a person - another common cultic heresy which is also commonplace within the charismatic movement.
  • Only 42% believe that "God continues to answer specific prayers."

Evangelicals' Unbelief About the Bible

  • Only 37% believe that God is the Author of Scripture.
  • 55% do not believe the Bible is literally true, or are not sure.
  • 60% believe that "modern science discredits the claims of the Bible" or are not sure that the Bible is scientifically accurate.
  • Only 33% believe that the Bible alone is the written Word of God.
  • Only 29% believe the Bible is "100% accurate in all that it teaches."
  • Only 45% believe the Biblical account of Christ's resurrection is accurate and actually occurred.
  • Only 23% believe that a church that does not preach from the Bible cannot be considered a Christian church.

Evangelicals' Unbelief About Sin, Judgment, and Salvation

  • 65% believe that most human beings are good by nature.
  • 62% do not believe that all sin deserves eternal punishment.
  • 76% believe a person must contribute his own works to obtain salvation.
  • Only 23% believe that Hell is a place of eternal judgment where God sends all people who do not trust in Jesus Christ.
  • Only 31% believe it is fair for God to show His wrath against sin.
  • Only 40% believe that "Jesus' Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin."
  • Only 33% believe that "only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation."
  • Only 41% believe that there will be a time when Christ returns to judge all people who have lived.

Evangelicals' Unbelief About Sanctification

  • Only 45% believe God has authority over all human beings by right of creatorship.
  • Only 26% believe the Bible has the authority to tell mankind what to do.
  • Only 31% believe that sex outside of Biblical marriage is a sin.
  • Only 33% believe that abortion is a sin.
  • Only 50% disagreed with the statement that "gender identity is a matter of choice."
  • 56% believe the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality does not apply today, or are not sure.

Abject Failure of Pastors - Or Deliberate Dumbing-Down?

Some commentators are saying that this survey tells the story of abject failure on the part of Evangelical churches, colleges, seminaries, and their leaders. I disagree. I submit that it tells the story of their overwhelming success. They have engaged in a deliberate, long-term campaign to cultivate Biblical and doctrinal illiteracy in the name of "church growth." The survey describes the tragic fruits of their efforts.

From the 1950s onward, much of the self-described Evangelical church has been consumed by the falsehoods of Neo-Evangelicalism. As far back as 1963 a Conservative Baptist publication, speaking against this phenomenon, gave an excellent definition of its un-Biblical program:

Neo-Evangelicalism is that relatively recent theological movement of neutralism affecting orthodox Christianity, designed to close the gap between fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy; [it] is weak on verbal inspiration of the Bible, enamored of unbelieving scientific scholarship, benevolent towards social action projects, committed to the inclusive policy, noted for a sympathy for neo-orthodoxy, characterized by an antagonism toward fundamentalism...; [it is] given to the "dialogue," which means conference [i.e., conferring] with the liberals to learn more of doctrine, with the Pentecostalists [in more recent terms, the Charismatics] to learn more about the Holy Spirit, with the cults to broaden their fellowship, and with a corresponding willingness to confer with Jews, Catholics, and even other faiths [e.g., Islam and Eastern religions] for possible religious benefits. [1]

Neo-Evangelicalism was popularized beginning in the 1950s by men like Billy Graham and his Evangelistic Association, Carl F. H. Henry as editor of Christianity Today magazine, and Harold J. Ockenga as co-founder of Fuller Theological Seminary. Present-day descendants of Neo-Evangelicalism range from Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church Movement to New Calvinist organizations such as Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition.

The main tool of Neo-Evangelicalism and its offspring has been the deliberate de-emphasis and even the elimination of systematic, Can the Blind Lead the Blind?expository teaching of the Scriptures designed to build up church members in the knowledge of sound doctrine and resultant sanctified living. One of Neo-Evangelicalism's main slogans has long been, "Doctrine divides." Indeed, it does. It divides truth from error. It divides the believer from the unbeliever. It divides the Gospel from counterfeits. But Neo-Evangelicalism has sought - quite successfully in most cases - to eliminate those distinctions within the organized church in its pursuit of ever larger numerical growth.

When any church neglects the Bible, it creates a spiritual vacuum. What is true in physics is also true in the church: Nature abhors a vacuum. The natural world will do everything it can to fill a physical vacuum. Satan will do everything he can to fill a spiritual vacuum in the life of the church. The worldly mindset fills that vacuum. Man, not God, becomes the source of authority. As a result, man's word, not God's, shapes a church's thinking and conduct. If a church does not teach the Word of God, it teaches the Hell-bound thinking of the unbelieving world. There is no third alternative.

Often today's Evangelical church is driven by purposes that have little or nothing to do with God's Word - purposes described in the definition cited above. The spiritual vacuum created by neglecting Bible doctrine is being filled by worldly philosophies, man-centered authority structures, and consensus approaches to "truth" in the pursuit of numerical church growth. By this approach the so-called Evangelical church has in some cases gained astounding numbers - but extremely few genuinely saved souls. It has lost its spiritual power, as the survey results demonstrate, because it has unplugged itself from the Source of true power, the Word of God.

We live in a time of famine of the Word of God in the so-called Evangelical church - or more accurately, the post-Evangelical church. Why has it happened? Simply because that is what the leaders and the majority of their followers have wanted - just as was the case in Israel and Judah before they were carried away into captivity:

"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord God, "that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the Word of the Lord, but shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12)

An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and a product of the Southern Baptist Convention's seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, summed up the attitude of growing numbers of post-Evangelical pastors when he said this to his congregation:

We don't teach from books of the Bible because it gets in the way of evangelism. We don't offer different kinds of Bible studies because it gets in the way of evangelism. We don't teach doctrine because it gets in the way of evangelism. If you want to be fed God's Word or have the Bible explained to you then you are a fat lazy Christian and you need to shut up and get to work or you need to leave this church because we only do evangelism. [2]

"Evangelism" in Furtick's vocabulary is nothing but raw numerical growth based on self-improvement preaching, A So-called Worship Service at Elevation Churchand has nothing to do with regeneration by the Holy Spirit. He also tells his people, "If you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you." Such a man, arrogantly promoting Biblical illiteracy, knows nothing of genuine evangelism or the genuine Jesus, and is disqualified for the ministry.

It is men like this who have deliberately cultivated the environment in which self-described Evangelicals reject the essentials of the Christian faith, as reported in the latest survey. His congregation of people who "love to have it so" numbers over 20,000. That number is multiplied by thousands in similarly-darkened "Evangelical" churches across America and the rest of the world. Furtick, among others of similar mind, is a celebrity and hero in the post-Evangelical Hillsong Church movement based in Australia, which reaches into the United Kingdom, most nations of continental Europe, several nations in South America and Africa, and now also the United States. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and other agents of unbelief borne of Biblical illiteracy have their own worldwide followings in the tens and even hundreds of millions.

Authentic Christianity In Contrast

A church will only be a body of truly regenerated people whose understand and practice sound doctrine, if it is a Scripture-driven church. The Bible must be its exclusive source of doctrine - its sole authority, and infallible critic, in every area of life and ministry. Christ must be the undisputed Head of the church. He must be the only One whom men and churches follow. All illegitimate authorities must be rejected and removed. True believers must pray for revival, beginning with the Holy Spirit's changing of their own hearts. They must come out of local and denominational bodies and other ecclesiastical associations that are "Evangelical" in name only, but no longer truly committed to Christ and His Word.

The recently-released survey underscores the reason that TeachingTheWord exists. Our mission is equipping the Scripture-driven church. When people ask me, "What is TeachingTheWord all about?" I often answer, "We are missionaries to the Evangelical church. The church has become a mission field." That sometimes evokes an incredulous response, but never before has it been so much the case. Thank you for praying for us and supporting us in that effort.

Endnote: The Origins of the Survey

I have saved this information for last, because I did not want it to distract from the flow of thought in the paragraphs above. The survey cited in this article, The State of American Theology 2016, was commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and conducted by LifeWay Research. [4] This is an ironic partnership; both organizations have been long-time major contributors to the problems their survey has spotlighted.

For several years Ligonier's Tabletalk magazine featured articles by Douglas Wilson, one of the leading spokesmen for Federal Vision theology. Wilson and his ilk have long taught that salvation is not by the free grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone. They teach, instead, that salvation commences with water baptism, is maintained by partaking of the Lord's Supper and law-keeping, and is allegedly consummated at the Last Judgment when those who are "saved" are declared to be justified not by the blood of Christ alone, but by their works. This is, in essence, Romanism. By having Wilson as a contributor for many years, Ligonier effectively promoted these heresies.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, Sr., founder and chairman of Ligonier, is a minister in good standing of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He has largely maintained a public silence over the past fifteen years while the PCA has acquitted several of its ministers charged with heresy for teaching Federal Vision theology; as major elements of the denomination have made celebrities of leading men such as Timothy Keller, Bruce Waltke, and Peter Enns who are theistic evolutionists and deny the historicity of Adam and the early chapters of Genesis; as growing numbers of PCA churches have admitted women to the office of deacon and "commissioned" women as evangelists; and as the PCA has embraced a "social justice" agenda that is pointing toward the admission of women to its pulpits and homosexuals to the membership of its churches.

Dr. Sproul, Sr. is also a major proponent of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, which form "The Twenty-Four Fundamental Theses Of Official Catholic Philosophy." [3]  Dr. Sproul, Sr.'s teachings, through Ligonier's publications and videos and its Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast, are marketed as "Reformed theology" but are couched primarily in a Thomistic philosophical framework usually accompanied by minimal reference to, or real exposition of, Scripture.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr., has served as editor of Tabletalk and has been a long-time featured Ligonier conference speaker alongside his father. From 2006 to 2010 he was an ordained minister in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC), a Federal Visionist denomination founded by Douglas Wilson and his heretical associates. Before this Dr. Sproul, Jr. was deposed from the ministry by the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA) because of his illegal use of another denomination's tax identification number and engagement in the practice of paedocommunion in the church he pastored. [5] The serving of communion to infants and small children is a key tenet of Federal Vision theology.

LifeWay, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been a major promoter of Neo-Evangelicalism and in particular of the inclusivist church-growth philosophy of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Church movement. (Warren is a leading Southern Baptist.) A few years ago I attended a church-growth conference (as an observer) at which Ed Stetzer, then LifeWay's leading missiologist, was the keynote speaker. He told the audience that in the present cultural environment, for a pastor to emphasize systematic, expository preaching of the Scriptures would be "a sin." Earlier this year, Stetzer was appointed to the newly-created Billy Graham Distinguished Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, a leading Neo-Evangelical school. In this role, Stetzer has also been named Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton.


1. This statement was quoted by Dr. Edward Panosian in "What Is New Evangelicalism?" published in Voice of the Alumni, November-December 1963 (Greenville, South Carolina: Bob Jones University Alumni Association).

2. As quoted at (as viewed on 10/31/2016) and a number of other sources.

3. P. Lumbreras and Hugh McDonald, "The Twenty-Four Fundamental Theses Of Official Catholic Philosophy" as viewed on 10/31/2016 at See also "Thomism" in the Catholic Encyclopedia,

4. The State of American Theology Study 2016, Final Report, as viewed at on 10/31/2016.

5. Declaratory Judgment by the Westminster Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly, January 26, 2006.


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