Americans’ Diverse Views on Religion More Opinion Than Fact

More than half of Americans say religious beliefs are a matter of personal opinion, not objective facts. And that’s made clear by examining the varying, and sometimes contradictory, theological doctrines they hold.

The biennial State of Theology study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research explores the religious and cultural beliefs of U.S. adults.

For 54% of Americans, theological beliefs are not a matter of objective truth, but rather belong in the category of subjective personal opinion.

“Many Americans treat theology like a choose-your-own adventure book,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “It’s clear from certain beliefs that some people feel truth is something people are free to define on their own, and in doing so they possess seemingly incompatible beliefs.”

The survey of more than 3,000 Americans is sponsored by Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries and follows previous State of Theology studies in 2014, 2016 and 2018.


A clear majority of Americans (72%) say they believe in the classic Christian doctrine of the Trinity—one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet most also believe Jesus was merely a great human teacher and the Holy Spirit is a force.

“Christianity has historically started with an understanding of God as the Creator and source of reality itself,” said McConnell. “While many Americans repeat with agreement a definition of this one Triune God, a further look at their beliefs reveals a majority do not believe in each Person of the Trinity as described in the Bible.”

Most Americans have no problem asserting divine perfection, as 65% say God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake.

Half of Americans (52%) agree Jesus was a great teacher, but not God. Slightly more than half (55%) believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, which runs contrary to the historical Christian belief that Jesus is eternal as God the Son.

While many reject His deity, most Americans say Jesus physically rose from the dead. Two-thirds (66%) believe the biblical accounts of Jesus’ bodily resurrection are completely accurate.

Three in 5 Americans (59%) agree the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being. For 1 in 5 (19%), the Holy Spirit can tell them to do something that is forbidden in the Bible.

Two-thirds of the U.S. (64%) say God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Few Americans believe learning about theology is only for pastors and scholars (15%).


When it comes to sin, most Americans say just a little doesn’t hurt, but a growing number believe even the smallest sins warrant an everlasting punishment, according to the 2020 State of Theology study.

Two-thirds of Americans (65%) agree everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. Still 26% say even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, the highest percentage in the history of the study.

“There has been a slow but steady increase in the portion of Americans believing that the deserving punishment for any sin is eternal damnation,” said McConnell. “While the number believing in hell has been steady, those who believe God doesn’t give any free passes for small sins has increased from 18% in 2014 to 26% today.”

A majority of Americans (56%) say hell is a real place where certain people will be punished forever.

More than half (56%) believe God counts a person as righteous not because of that person’s good works but because of their faith in Christ.

Most Americans believe they can only find salvation through Jesus. Three in 5 (60%) believe only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

A quarter of U.S. adults believe salvation was determined long ago, as 26% agree God chose the people He would save before He created the world, a doctrine known as predestination.

Three in 5 (62%) believe there will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.

For some Americans, they believe the rewards don’t have to wait. A third of Americans (36%) believe God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life, a doctrine associated with what has been called the prosperity gospel.

First published on Used by permission.

Aaron Earls
Aaron Earls

Aaron Earls is senior writer at LifeWay Christian Resources.