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Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell, and a Little Bit of Heresy

Posted on by Philip Nation in Culture | Leave a comment

Results from a new LifeWay Research study has just been released on Americans’ belief about the afterlife. Below is the release authored by Bob Smietana. As always, I’m appreciative of the good work that LifeWay Research is doing to help us better understand what is happening in the church and the culture.

Americans Believe in Heaven, Hell, and a Little Bit of Heresy

by Bob Smietana


By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— Most Americans believe in heaven, hell, and a few old-fashioned heresies.

Americans disagree about mixing religion and politics and about the Bible. And few pay much heed to their pastor’s sermons or see themselves as sinners.

Those are among the findings of a new study of American views about Christian theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The online survey of 3,000 Americans was commissioned by Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries.

Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, says the study was intended to “take the temperature of America’s theological health.”

Ligonier founder and chairman, R.C. Sproul, says, “What comes screaming through this survey is the pervasive influence of humanism.”

Researchers asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife. They wanted to know how people in the pews—and people on the street—understand theology.

Many Americans get the basics right, but they’re often fuzzy on the details, says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines,” says Stetzer. “However, when we asked about harder beliefs—things that the church has and still considers orthodoxy—the numbers shift.”

Among the study’s findings:

Americans say heaven is a real place. But they disagree about who gets in.
Two thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe heaven is a real place. That includes, following standard demographic categories, 9 in 10 Black Protestants (88 percent) and evangelicals (90 percent), three quarters of Catholics (75 percent) as well as a third of non-Christians (37 percent).

theology-HeavenHellJust under half of Americans (45 percent) say there are many ways to heaven—which conflicts with traditional views about salvation being linked to faith in Jesus.
Catholics (67 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are most likely to say heaven’s gates are wide open with many ways in. Evangelicals (19 percent) and Black Protestants (33 percent) are more skeptical.

About half of Americans (53 percent) say salvation is in Christ alone. Four in 10 (41 percent) say people who have never heard of Jesus can still get into heaven. And 3 in 10 (30 percent) say people will have a chance to follow God after they die.

Hell is a real place, too. But you have to be really bad to go there.
About 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say hell is a real place. Black Protestants (86 percent) and Evangelicals (87 percent) are most likely to say hell is real. Catholics (66 percent) and Mainline Protestants (55 percent) are less convinced.

Overall, Americans don’t seem too worried about sin or being sent to hell. Two-thirds (67 percent) say most people are basically good, even though everyone sins a little bit—an optimistic view of human nature at odds with traditional teaching about human sin.

Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans (18 percent) say even small sins should lead to damnation, while about half (55 percent) say God has a wrathful side.

When it comes to faith, Americans like a do-it-yourself approach.
Most Americans (71 percent), and in particular Black Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (87 percent), say people must contribute some effort toward their own salvation. Two thirds (64 percent) say in order to find peace with God, people have to take the first step, and then God responds to them with grace.

That sounds right to many people, says Stetzer, especially in our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture.  But it doesn’t reflect the Christian idea that faith is a response to God’s grace.

Many Americans also don’t mind being disconnected from a local church. About half (52 percent) say worshiping alone or with family is as good as going to church.

Almost all (82 percent) say their local church has no authority to “declare that I am not a Christian.” More than half (56 percent) believe their pastor’s sermons have no authority in their life, while slightly less than half (45 percent) say the Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose.

Americans believe in the Trinity. But the details don’t reflect traditional views of orthodoxy.
About 7 in 10 (71 percent) Americans believe in the Trinity. That’s the idea that one God exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But few—even those in evangelical denominations—seem to grasp the details of how Christians have historically taught the Trinity. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent), for example, say the Holy Spirit is a force – not a personal being. Ten percent are not sure, while 31 percent agree the Spirit is a person. Overall, two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force.

More than 1 in 7 Americans (15 percent) say the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. A third (33 percent) believe God the Father is more divine than Jesus. One in 5 (19 percent) say Jesus was the first creature made by God. All of those run counter to Christian doctrine as found in historic creeds of the Church.

theology-BibleSome Americans like the Bible. Others are skeptical.
About half of Americans (48 percent) believe the Bible is the Word of God. Four in 10 (43 percent) say the Bible is 100 percent accurate, while a similar share of Americans (41 percent) say it’s helpful but not literally true.

Evangelicals (76 percent) and Black Protestants (67 percent) are most likely to say the Bible is accurate. Mainline Protestants (50 percent) and Catholics (49 percent) lean toward the Bible being helpful but not literally true.

The Bible is not the only religious text Americans disagree on. About half (54 percent) disagree when asked if the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God. About 10 percent say the Book of Mormon was revealed by God, while another 36 percent say they are not sure.

Americans disagree about sex, God and politics.theology-Sin
About 4 in 10 (42 percent) Americans—and more than half (55 percent) of non-Christians—say churches should remain silent about politics.

Among Christian groups, Catholics (47 percent) and Mainline Protestants (44 percent) want less politics in church. Black Protestants (31 percent) and Evangelicals (26 percent) are less likely to want their church to skip politics.

Less than half (48 percent) of Americans say sex outside of marriage is a sin. Christian groups are split on the topic. Mainline Protestants (44 percent) and Catholics (40 percent) don’t see sex outside of marriage as sinful. Three quarters of Black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (76 percent) believe it is.

The study’s overall results, Nichols says, show churches have a lot of work to do.

“This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological awareness throughout our nation, in our neighborhoods, and even in the seat next to us at church,” Nichols says.

A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults.  Three thousand surveys were completed February 25 – March 5, 2014. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed +1.8%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Slight weights were used to balance religion and gender and remove constant raters.


“How Can It Be?” by Lauren Daigle

Posted on by Philip Nation in Music | Leave a comment

This song is what you need today. Trust me.

I’m loving this new song from Lauren Daigle.

Flourish by Staci Frenes

Posted on by Philip Nation in Books, Creativity | Leave a comment

Staci head shot trench pinkMy uber-cool musical friend Staci Frenes has done it again. I posted a two-part interview with her previously about the role of creativity in our faith. You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2. Staci is a great singer and songwriter. Now she has added author to her skill set. She has just released her book flourish: Cultivate Creativity. Sow Beauty. Live in Color. I had the opportunity to do some early reading of her manuscript and was happy to encourage her to write on the topic. As people of faith and children of our creative God, it is critical for us to reengage the arts, renew ourselves as artists, and reach out to the artisans of the culture. With her book, Staci shares how God can work in all us — even those of us who do not feel particularly skilled — to live a celebratory life of creativity. Below is an excerpt from flourish and I hope you’ll hit one of the links to buy the book for yourself.


NANA, ME & THE WORK OF ART by Staci Frenes

… all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life, to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece. -Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

My grandmother, Viola Mathilda Anderson, (“Nana”) was a professional seamstress in my hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Her shop was a perpetual flurry of spinning spools of multi-colored thread and the familiar whir and hum of her trusty sewing machine. It was my favorite Saturday morning hangout. I loved being right in the middle of the sounds, the smells, and all there was to see in that little dress shop because it was all Nana—her work, her world, her laughter and her energy. She was the most creative, passionate, immensely talented person I’d ever been around.

People loved Nana’s work. She tailored their pantsuits, hemmed their skirts, designed and sewed their prom dresses, Easter outfits, and even their wedding gowns. She could whip up great-looking outfits for me in a jiffy. One in particular I wore for my sixth grade school picture consisted of a polyester tunic and matching bell-bottomed pants in a pink paisley print. (Think: Marcia Brady. Don’t judge, I was a child of the 70’s). Wearing that outfit felt like a warm hug from Nana. It’s as though she gave her very self to me—to all of us who wore her clothes—in the pieces she created.

Nana worked at what she loved, creating and sewing clothes almost every day of her life. Sewing for people fueled her emotional tank, kept her up at all hours, made her a little loony during busy seasons, but it also infused her life with a sense of purpose and deep fulfillment. Nana was never happier and more focused than when she was sitting at her sewing machine, knee-deep in fabric, thread and deadlines.

Flourish_coverNana’s clothes lived a life beyond her as they got passed down to daughters, nieces, grandkids, neighbors. I imagine brides nervously walking down church aisles in Nana’s dresses, babies squirming in her christening gowns, and my mom as a teen, dancing in one of Nana’s specially-made party dresses with the handsome, shy boy who later became her husband, and my dad. Each person lived a different life, experiencing the full gamut of human emotions wearing a garment that was cut, stitched and pressed by Nana’s own hands. Her works of art stretched beyond the limits of her 88 years.

Two generations later, I, too, find myself a working artist, creating for a living. My tools are much different than Nana’s—a guitar and the melodies and words that I shape into songs. Songs are the language I speak, the thoughts I think, they are the way I receive and give back to the world around me. When I’m writing and singing my songs, I’m more grounded and content than when I’m doing any other thing. I feel a kind of timeless connection to something bigger than me; as though what I am doing matters in a way I can’t quantify or explain. I hope that others can hear something of their own story in some of my songs and feel understood; or hear comfort and hope in the words I write and feel less alone.

This kindred creative spirit I share with my nana has little to do with the kind of art we each make, and one isn’t more or less important or worthy. It has to do with the love we share of expressing something new—shaping it, tweaking it, playing with it until it starts to please us, starts to feel like an authentic and unique creation, unlike anything else we’ve seen or heard. We enjoy working at our creativity, because it’s something only we can do, and in the stretching, cutting and pinching of the materials under our hands we begin to feel our art do its work on us, too. We find out who we are and what we love.

(excerpted from “flourish: Cultivate Creativity. Sow Beauty. Live in Color” by Staci Frenes)

6 Leadership Lessons from Peyton Manning

Posted on by Philip Nation in Leadership | Leave a comment

Peyton Manning broke the record for the most touchdown passes by an NFL quarterback. It is a record that will not likely be touched any time soon. He did not only break the current mark held by Brett Farve but added an extra one on for good measure. Peyton Manning, with a few years of playing still ahead of him, has now passed for 510 career touchdown passes. Additionally, he has done so in 56 less games than Brett Favre.

Given the current leaderboard, it seems unlikely that anyone will catch up to him for quite a long time. The current standings for career touchdown passes is:

Though I’m only a casual observer of the NFL, I’ve always enjoyed watching Peyton Manning. He sets a standard for excellence and for life that many leaders can learn from and imitate. Here are
There is much we can already learn from Peyton Manning’s career.

1. Work ethic. There are few players in the NFL that work harder than Peyton Manning. The stories from sports writers are that younger players wear down in practice long before Manning does. He shows up early. He stays late. He puts in the hours necessary to succeed. Oftentimes, the only difference between mediocrity and greatness is one’s work ethic.

2. Understand your opponent. “Omaha” became almost a joke in the 2013 NFL season because Manning called it out so much. It is one of the many signals that Manning gives at the line of scrimmage to indicate a shift in the play because of the formation of the defense. Manning is committed to understanding his opponent and diffusing its abilities to stop his team. Even after Manning broke the touchdown passing record, he went to the bench to look over the defense’s scheme against his team. Know what you are up against and commit yourself to defeating it.

3. Always work for a comeback. With looming neck surgeries, many thought Manning’s career would be over in Indianapolis. Manning disagreed with the doubters. Instead, he worked hard, understood the obstacles, and believed that he had more years of playing the game. He believed not just in an ethereal concept of a comeback. He worked for it. Many people can work hard when there is forward momentum. Great leaders work hard when everything is against you.

4. Enjoy life. Underneath the very serious demeanor, Manning is a guy who likes to have fun. In the locker room, he is known as a prankster. He’s had his moments on Saturday Night Live and in silly commercials with his brother Eli. Even when he broke the passing record, the game of “Keep Away” that the receivers played with the football was apparently really not a prank on Manning. It was Manning’s prank on all of us because they had planned it.

5. Make others better. Many of the members of both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos are better players because of Manning. He has done it with his example and through his coaching. Having attained such a mastery of strategy and understanding defensive schemes, Manning regularly acts as the coach to other players. And, they readily accept it. There is no doubt that he expects a great deal from his teammates and the cameras periodically catch him excoriating a teammate who messed up an offensive drive. Nevertheless, he regularly brings out the best in those around him.

6. Thank those who help you. When Manning threw the 509th touchdown pass, the following tweet from Gatorade (one of his sponsorship deals) went up:

One sign of a great leader is recognizing the need to help and be helped. Manning is the consummate teammate. He is quick to hand out compliments when it goes well and take the blame when it goes poorly. As a leader, he ensures that the gigantic men blocking for him are well taken care of and the guys who score the touchdowns are celebrated for their skill.

Leading a football team is a unique expression of leadership but so is the area of life where you lead. It is good to, every now and again, learn from someone who has done well, done well for a long time, and has brought others along for the journey. Well done, Peyton.

New Music from Crowder

Posted on by Philip Nation in Music | Leave a comment

David Crowder has released his newest music video. It is, as expected, quite wonderful. Take a moment to listen to “Come As You Are.”

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