By Jacqueline J. Holness
Doubt in the major tenets of the Christian faith is nothing new. We only have to look back to Thomas in the Bible, arguably the most famous skeptic in history, to see an illustration of doubt. Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” in Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25). Hence the phrase “doubting Thomas,” which is actually defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an incredulous or habitually doubtful person.” At this time of the year, when we Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it is appropriate to reconsider the major precepts of our faith.
The Physical Resurrection of Jesus
“The State of American Theology Study 2016” was a survey commissioned last September by Ligonier Ministries in partnership with LifeWay Research. They conducted 3,000 surveys “to measure the theological understanding of Americans today.” The online survey included responses to about 47 theological statements of the Christian faith.
One of the statements respondents were asked about was this: “Biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. This event actually occurred.” While 45 percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement, on the opposite end 14 percent of respondents strongly disagreed with this statement. At 98 percent versus 56 percent, Americans with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without evangelical beliefs to agree with this statement. If you live in the South, you are more likely to agree with this statement (69 percent) compared with Northeastern Americans and Western Americans coming in at 62 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
Discussion of this topic was also seen last December as New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof interviewed evangelical Christian pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church about Kristof’s skepticism. While Kristof professed admiration of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, he admitted he found it hard to believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Trinity & Hell
“There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit” was another statement respondents of the theology survey were asked to consider. While 53 percent strongly agreed with this statement, 14 percent strongly disagreed. Americans in the West were more likely to agree with this statement at 61 percent. Americans with an income of at least $100,000 were less likely to agree with the statement than Americans making $35,000 to $49,000 (66 percent versus 73 percent).
When survey respondents were presented with this statement: “Hell is an eternal place of judgment where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ,” 40 percent somewhat or strongly agreed and 44 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed. African-Americans were the most likely to agree (57 percent) followed by Hispanics (44 percent). Respondents with graduate degrees were more likely than respondents with bachelor’s degrees to disagree with this statement at 57 percent and 47 percent.
Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who ran for president last year, revealed in a Washington Post interview that he does not believe in Hell. He told Sally Quinn that he doesn’t “believe there is a physical place where people go and are tormented.”
The Virgin Birth & Other Beliefs
Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church provoked the ire of some Christians when he said in a sermon last December, “If somebody can predict their own death and resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world. . . . Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus. It really hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.” Stanley responded to the outcry and told The Washington Post, “I am often misunderstood because of my communication style. I frequently verbalize what I know unbelievers and those who have left the church believe.”
Other interesting statements were considered by the respondents of the American theology survey. One was: “Modern science discredits the claims of Christianity”—18 percent of people strongly agreed. Around 35 percent of people surveyed agreed strongly with, “Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones.” Finally, “The church should be silent on issues of politics,” had 29 percent of respondents strongly agreeing.
As we journey in our Christian walk and strive to grow, it is good for Christians to take time to reflect upon God’s Word and consider what we truly believe.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).