American evangelicalism experienced a seismic shift toward theological and social progressivism over the past two years.
As revealed by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research’s most recent State of Theology Survey — a biennial poll that tracks the beliefs of professing evangelicals and the overall adult population — the winds of the social justice movement appeared to sweep through the pews equally as strongly as the culture at large.
“The frightening results only reveal the fact that many who claim to be evangelical in America are not, indeed, truly evangelical,” G3 Ministries Executive Vice President Scott Aniol told The Daily Wire. “At the very least, this should cause us to think twice when we read statements in the media about what ‘evangelicals’ do or believe, and above all, the results should motivate pastors to be sure to faithfully teach their people core biblical doctrine.”
Two years ago, for instance, only 22% of evangelicals agreed that “gender identity is a matter of choice” — a figure that has since increased to 37%. Only 11% affirmed that “the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today” — a figure that has risen to 28%.
The results correspond with a rising tolerance of homosexuality and transgenderism in the broader American culture. Toward the beginning of 2021, a majority of Republican voters for the first time indicated that they support same-sex marriage. As officials consider the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would codify homosexual marriage into federal law, several high-profile Republicans publicly endorsed the legislation.
For a handful of issues, however, evangelicals became more conservative.
The share of evangelicals affirming the statement “sex outside of marriage is a sin” increased from 90% to 94%. On the sanctity of life — “abortion is a sin” — evangelical support also rose from 88% to 91%. “While the reasons for this positive trend are unknown, it is encouraging to see more evangelicals affirming the personhood of human beings in the womb,” Ligonier remarked.
Cultural battle over wokeness cascaded into evangelicalism after the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Many pastors and high-profile evangelicals spoke in favor of critical race theory and posited that the United States is systemically racist, requiring patently unbiblical responses such as repenting of whiteness. As Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo became household names, evangelical volumes such as “Woke Church” by Eric Mason and “How to Fight Racism” by Jemar Tisby began circulating in many church circles.
Perhaps most concerning of all is an apparent rise in postmodern tendencies among evangelicals; agreement with the notion that “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion” rather than “objective truth” soared from 23% to 38%.
Professing evangelicals likewise folded on historic Christian teaching with respect to matters of doctrine. Two years ago, 15% said that “the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true” — a figure that increased to 26% in the most recent survey. “A rising disbelief in the Bible’s literal truth may help us understand why American evangelicals also increasingly believe that religious faith is a subjective experience rather than an objective reality,” Ligonier continued.
Rather than affirming that salvation is available through Jesus Christ alone, the share of evangelicals claiming that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam” rose from 42% to 56%. Meanwhile, the proportion of evangelicals agreeing that “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” rose from 30% to 43%.
The closure of churches as a result of government lockdowns is a possible explanation for declining affirmation of orthodox Christianity — especially since many former attendees stayed at home on Sunday mornings even after the lockdowns ended. For the first time in American history, church membership fell below half of the population in 2020 — an overall decline of nearly 30% since the end of World War II.
Although evangelicals in the United States have long faced the temptation to prioritize social activism and capitulate to theological liberalism, the turmoil of the past two years appears to have accelerated such a shift — and manifested that the sons of the present age are alive and well within the four walls of the church.
“These results convey the ongoing need for the church to be engaged in apologetics, helping unbelievers by providing a well-reasoned defense of the Christian faith, and helping believers by strengthening their clarity and conviction regarding why they believe what they do,” Ligonier concluded. “The need is great, but the power and promises of God can equip the church to bring truth and light to a deceived and dark world.”