First of all, I want to say a huge “thank you” to everyone who participated in the Theology Survey that I sent out a little over a month ago. It was really encouraging to see people’s willingness to share their views and, as much work as it was, I really did have a lot of fun going over the results.1 So, without further ado, here we go.
Below are the charts representing the views of respondents with regard to different theologies and doctrines.
Faith TraditionInteresting Observation: Almost half of respondents identify themselves as non-denominational. I don’t know exactly why this is, but I am guessing that it is either because the groups of people that I was able to get the survey to were mostly non-denominational or because most people are hesitant (or unwilling) to identify with a single denomination or faith tradition.
Please list a few (5 or less) major influences in how you understand your faith (Where do you turn to with your questions? What books/authors have shaped your thinking?)
Interesting Observation: Because several respondents gave specific names as major influences in their faith, I am hesitant to provide their responses (unless enough people ask for it). However, I will say that the most commonly mentioned influences were (1) the Bible, (2) C.S. Lewis, (3) Greg Boyd, and (4) local pastors. Again, as much as I tried to offer the survey outside of my immediate sphere and faith tradition, I still don’t know if these four influencers were so prominent because those are the circles I tend to run in, or if these really are four of the biggest influences in the minds of Christians.
Scripture (the Bible)
Interesting Observation: Over 10% of responded are unconvinced that the Bible is divinely inspired. While not the majority view by any stretch of the imagination, I still thought that this was surprising.
How would you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Interesting Observation: While the vast majority of respondents described Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior (or something along those lines), there were some respondents who offered less traditional descriptions, such as “a human mystic,” or “a man that lived long ago. Had a divine connection.” Truth be told, I really appreciated the honesty that these respondents displayed. It takes a lot of guts to offer a view that you know might make people uneasy.
God (the Trinity)
So you believe in God, huh? Tell us about this God you believe in. What is he/she like?
Interesting Observation: When describing God, only a few respondents mentioned God’s wrath or judgment, whereas almost all of them mentioned His love (respondents tended to save any mention of judgment for when they described salvation, which is itself an interesting observation). When it came to describing the Trinity, one or two outright rejected it, saying rather that God is “Unitarian. God is a singular person. He is the father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Understandably, many who did affirm the doctrine of the Trinity struggled to articulate it. One described it as an “unknowable mystery,” and another confessed “three parts, all different yet only equaling one – but I can only try to wrap my head around that concept.” In an attempt to describe this doctrine, many couldn’t help be use language that at least seemed to tend toward heresy, particularly Modalism – “Each of the personas of God has its own unique offering to humanity,” “I’ve always been taught … that God exists as one in three ‘personalities’ or ‘persons,’ those being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” “Father – progenitor, Son – propitiation and example, Spirit – paraclete.” To be safe, however, most just said something simple and paradoxical (which isn’t a bad thing) – “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and these three are one,” “He is three natures in one … Father, son and spirit,” “One triune being in three persons,” “God is three in one”.
By far, my favorite answer to this question came from a respondent who was so orthodox/traditional that they balked at the idea of God being referred to in a feminine sense, but then described the Trinity with almost textbook Modalism – “The question [about God] asked what is he/she like… Who do you think God is? God has never been referred to as a female. I don’t believe in 3 separate beings that collaborate as God. I believe there is one God that manifests himself different during different situations.”
How do you understand the nature of sin and humanity?
Explain what salvation is (How are we saved? What does it mean to be saved? What are we saved from?)
Interesting Observation: As mentioned above, this is where most respondents chose to voice any mention of judgment or divine wrath. On the one hand, I wonder if this is simply because they were describing the need for salvation (part of the question did ask what we are saved from). On the other hand, I wonder if this is the only place where respondents felt the wrath of God even needed to be mentioned, which raises the issue of wrath being an inherent part of God’s nature or simply a temporal thing for salvation history.
What is the role and function of the church in human history and society?
Interesting Observation: Most respondents were ready and willing to voice frustrations with the way the church has behaved throughout history. However, few showed any desire to abandon corporate or organized Christianity altogether.
What do you imagine heaven will be like? What do you think hell will be like?
Interesting Observation: Most respondents hold to a view of inspiration that places a large emphasis on the human element, with the largest group believing that the thought in the Bible are God’s, but the words are the human authors’. I just found it interesting that when asked very few claimed a word-for-word view of inspiration.
Interesting Observation: Whereas the largest group of respondents hold to a Simple Knowledge view of divine foreknowledge, Open Theism comes in as a considerable second. I don’t think most people have even heard of Molinism. It is either not widely known, or not widely accepted. Open theism is more prevalent than I thought it would be.
Interesting Observation: In general, people tended toward the middle or free will end of the sovereignty spectrum. Interestingly enough, several respondents who identified with Calvinism under the Divine Foreknowledge question then placed themselves closer to Libertarian Freewill under the Divine Sovereignty question. I’m not sure if they have just never formulated a coherent view of divine sovereignty in their minds, or if they actually hold to a view in which every future event is predetermined by God without God controlling everything.
Interesting Observation: According to the survey results, the majority of Christians accept evolution to at least one degree or another, although most are not ready to buy into it wholesale. Given the popularity and hype surround the whole Ham on Nye debate, one would think that Young Earth Creationism made up more than just one-third of Christians.
Interesting Observation: Almost exactly 3 out of 4 believe that babies should not be baptized. Given the fact that the vast majority of Christians throughout the world are still infant-baptizing Roman Catholics, the results of this question tell me that either (1) I was only able to get this survey in the hands of mostly Protestants influenced by Anabaptism because that’s who I’ve surrounded myself with, (2) Protestants just make up a bigger demographic in America than Catholics do, or (3) a lot of people who were baptized as infants don’t actually agree with this practice.
The Eucharist (Lord’s Supper)
Interesting Observation: The vast majority of respondents hold a symbolic view of the communion elements. I think the reasons that I listed for Infant Baptism above are probably the same reasons for this statistic.
Women in Ministry
Interesting Observation: The majority of respondents believe that women can serve in positions of church leadership, and the majority of those believe that women can serve in any position depending on their gifting. So, there’s a big win for feminists and suffragettes!
Interesting Observation: The vast majority of believers do not believe that God makes people gay. Additionally, there is a slightly larger percentage of believers who claim that God does not condemn homosexuals (48.8%) than those that claim He does (40%).
Interesting Observation: While the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious suffering is still the dominant view among Christians, Annihilationism is very present, and Christian Universalism has a surprisingly noticeable presence. One interesting trend I noticed is that Christian Universalists make up half as many people as Annihilationists, and Annihilationists make up half as many people as those who hold to hell as eternal conscious suffering. I don’t know what this means (if anything), but I thought it was interesting.
Things Not Represented on the Graphs
Big Things That I Learned
Anyhow, there you have it, folks! If you have any follow-up questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. Also, and most importantly, let me know what your thoughts are. What are some of the trends that you notice that I might have missed? What interesting observations do you have on this data? Perhaps you can explain why the responses came out the way they did. Are there causes and motives leading to these results that I haven’t considered?
1: Again, to everyone who submitted a response before I figured out the survey software, I promise to keep your answers completely anonymous. Your secret's safe with me... you heretic, you ;)