A 2016 survey conducted by LifeWay and Ligonier Ministries revealed how confused Christians are regarding theology. For instance, although 62 percent of those responding agreed that Jesus Christ is truly God with a divine nature, 53 percent said that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God. Sixty-four percent of Evangelicals reported that everybody will go to heaven and yet they also said that only persons who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will be saved.
Other recent surveys found that some believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, and that over 50 percent of high school seniors thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
Why is there such a lack of theological understanding among Christian people? For years we've heard complaints from church leaders about this problem, but it's obvious that little has changed. Why is that?
Any pastor who has been at his or her church for more than three years has no right to complain about the lack of theological knowledge within that congregation. As the authors of The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision writes, "The theological integrity of the church will never rise above its pastors." The authors go on to blame pastors for the lack of theological integrity that exists in many congregations.
In too many churches today the sermons sound more like they came out of a self-help book than from the Scriptures. People attending these churches are seldom challenged to think theologically nor are they taught how to do so. Pastors have so many things that demand their time they don't have time to do the difficult, time-consuming work to develop theological sermons that contain rich, meaningful content. At least, many of them do not believe they have the time.
Pastors are the primary theological teachers in their congregations. If we do not fulfill that role we cannot expect our church members to hold to sound theological beliefs. We should also not be surprised if they begin to buy into questionable and even pagan beliefs that they hear from other sources. If pastors do not help them understand the theological truths found in Scripture they will be unable to identify false teaching when it appears.
Of course, not all the blame can be placed on pastors. Compare the numbers of people who attend the morning worship services with those who attend Bible studies. The numbers at the latter event is so low that many churches today have eliminated Bible studies. Some replace them with small groups, but these groups are often more for fellowship than for the study of the Scriptures. Many Christians never pick up their Bibles except to take them to church on Sunday. It's sad to hear people say they are leaving their church because they are "not being fed" when many of them do nothing to feed themselves.
Both pastors and lay people must take action to reverse the problem of widespread theological illiteracy among Christians. Pastors must take seriously their mandate to "Preach the Word," and lay people must become serious students of theology themselves. We cannot afford to continue in the direction we are going.