When Cary Balzer, Ph.D., a professor of biblical studies at John Brown University, was told 30 percent of Evangelicals believe Jesus was a good teacher but he was not God, Balzer said, “It is awfully ironic they would say they are Evangelicals.” He remarked, “If you say this, you are not Evangelical.”
The question and results of Jesus’ divinity come from The State of American Theology study conducted by Lifeway Research, in association with Ligonier Ministries. Christianity Today reported this question was newly added to the survey and revealed a minority of beliefs within the Christian community.
According to the report, 51% of Americans agree Jesus was a good teacher, but he was not God, with 30% of that population identifying as Evangelical. In contrast, 37% of Americans disagree with the statement with 66% identifying as Evangelical.
For members of John Brown University, the results came as a shock because it orthodoxically announces a sect of Christians in the church with differing views – which some viewers see as problematic and heretical.
Sarah Ladehoff, a sophomore nursing major, colloquially stated she was, “shookified,” at the statistics and Christians who believe this.
Megan Guthrie, a junior family and human services major, said, “My confusion comes with how people reconcile identifying as Evangelical, but not believing Jesus is part of the trinity.”
Elyssa Beckner, a junior intercultural studies major, bluntly stated, “they are not Christians.” Beckner continued her sentiment by acknowledging the apparent contradiction for Christians to believe in faith, yet deny one fundamental aspect of the faith – to believe that Jesus is the son of God who died for our sins and subsequently rose from the dead.
Kye Abbott, a sophomore graphic design major, said, “My thoughts are that it is hard to rate something like this on a scale.” She elaborated that to claim Jesus is not a member of the trinity defeats the purpose of his presence in Christianity.
These results invoke inquiries among Christians to ponder whether this is a bigger or isolated issue in the church and what is the culprit behind these ideals. An apparent contradiction to Christian faith is evident for many, particularly those who do identify as Evangelical Christians.
Balzer summarized that identifying as an Evangelical means believing in the trinity and the divinity of Christ. “Clearly there are evangelicals who include themselves in the label and probably go to an Evangelical church, but they are just not paying attention and that might be the fault of the church,” he said. “So not only is it ironic, definitionally, it actually doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
When asked about who is to blame for this, Balzer said, “I think in some way we, as Christians, should hold ourselves to blame.” He hypothesized people might have a simple view of what being an Evangelical means and constitute it with the idea of only believing in God. Moreover, he continued that people may have misinterpreted the question by associating Jesus with the God the Father, but he is God the Son.
Balzer added, “this might have to be with biblical illiteracy,” as people could view Jesus and God as separate entities – which is contrary to the belief of the trinity. “They know what they believe, but they didn’t know what the question was asking about,” he said.
Nonetheless, Balzer cited C.S. Lewis’ argument for the validity of Jesus’ divinity. “If he, as the bible claims, said he was the Son of God; if he said he was divine; if he claims to be God – which he does quite often in his ‘I am’ statements through the New Testament – he’s either a liar, a lunatic or Lord,” he said. “If he is a liar, he is not a good teacher. If he is a lunatic, he is is not a good teacher – we don’t listen to lunatics.”
“I think there is a sense of comfortable deism that has perverted the church,” Balzer concluded. Results from the survey do not reflect the state of the church, however, provide a general view into the thoughts and ideals Christians have about the divinity of Jesus.