What do Americans really believe about heaven, hell, God and salvation?
Posted October 4, 2016
A new survey found Americans' views on theology, God and the Bible are complex and "fuzzy," with Lifeway Research executive director Scott McConnell saying many Christian Americans are confused about some elements of their faith.
Respondents were asked about heaven, hell, the Bible and God's view on religion, among other related issues, with the results painting a somewhat confounding dynamic. The survey was sponsored by Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, Florida.
Most Americans claim a specific faith, with the majority embracing Christianity, but 64 percent said "God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam" — and an additional 24 percent disagreed.
But evangelicals stood out from the American public more broadly, with only 48 percent agreeing with this sentiment.
This issue also ties into beliefs about heaven and hell. Many Christians believe one's eternal salvation is predicated upon a belief in Jesus.
In fact, 60 percent of Americans surveyed said Jesus' death is "the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of their sin." Seventy-seven percent believe people must make efforts to receive personal salvation, with 52 percent seeing good deeds as a way to reach heaven.
"Overall, about half of Americans (54 percent) say only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone receive eternal salvation," read the survey results.
Evangelicals, in particular, believe that trust in Jesus is essential for one to be "saved," with 64 percent saying heaven is a place where everyone is reunited with loved ones, compared to 60 percent of Americans who say the same.
Then, there's hell. As it turns out, only 40 percent of Americans said those who reject or don't believe in Jesus will be sent there. Evangelicals, though, were much more likely — 84 percent — to believe hell is a place where people who don't trust Jesus are sent for eternal judgment.
Americans also expressed some mixed views on the Bible. Nearly six in 10 — 58 percent — believe God authored the holy book, while 52 percent said the Bible, alone, is the "written word of God."
But when it comes to the Bible's contents, it seems there's some confusion, as 64 percent said that gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection are fully accurate; that proportion increased to 98 percent among evangelicals.
Majorities also believe Jesus is both human and divine (61 percent) and that God comes in a three-in-one package — father, son and holy spirit (69 percent), though there are confusing beliefs about some of the finer details.
The holy spirit seems to be the central point of confusion among the three. While 28 percent see the holy spirit as a divine being that isn't equal to God and Jesus, 51 percent reject such a notion; an additional 21 percent are unsure, according to Lifeway Research.
There were also some disconnects and conflicting feelings when it comes to perceptions on biblical accuracy.
Forty-seven percent of respondents said the Bible is "100 percent accurate in all it teaches," with 43 percent disagreeing. And, despite the majority seeing God as the book's author, 51 percent said the Bible was written to allow each individual "to interpret as he or she chooses."
But when it comes to God, more specifically, a larger share — 65 percent — said God is perfect and can't make mistakes, compared with 25 percent who disagreed.
Additionally, 66 percent said "God answers specific prayers."
Among the other issues explored in the survey is the so-called "prosperity gospel" — the idea that God always rewards devotion and faith with material blessings. As it turns out, 63 percent of Americans reject that controversial theology.
You can see the complete results of the Lifeway Research survey here.
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