LifeWay Research Counters Pew Findings

Sam Rainer

July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July everyone! I’m taking a break from the Florida sunshine, so I figured I would update you on some reports about the latest research news.

Last week the Pew Forum’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” study alarmed many of us who track the health of the church. While it is certainly no secret that the church is in a state of decline, Pew’s survey found that 57% of evangelicals agreed with the idea that other religions can lead to eternal life. The news that almost 6 out of 10 evangelicals were possibly Universalists was indeed a shock.

LifeWay Research, however, contends that these findings are a bit inflated. The hitch? The Pew Forum simply defined evangelicals as those attending evangelical churches, and the wording of the question itself may have misled some respondents.

The Pew survey posed the statement for agreement/disagreement, “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.”

Ed Stetzer, guru of Christian research, explains:

“The Pew Forum accurately reported the question they asked and accurately reported the responses they received, but I do not think that led to an accurate portrayal of evangelicals.”

Scott McConnell, associate guru of Christian research, further elucidated:

“I believe the Pew study is directionally right in pointing out that a surprisingly small number of self-identified American Christians believe in the exclusivity of Christ as a means of salvation, and therefore, getting into heaven. But the way they worded their question may have had some impact; many people think of ‘denomination’ when they hear ‘religion,’ so it isn’t that surprising that a Lutheran could think a Methodist would also go to heaven or a Catholic could think that a Protestant would go to heaven.”

Stetzer cautioned, “When we define evangelicals as not just those who sit in pews but who agree with certain evangelical beliefs, we find a different picture than was widely reported in the news about the recent Pew study.”

What is this “different picture?”

LifeWay worded the question a little differently: “How much do you agree/disagree: If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity.”

According to the Christian Post, LifeWay Research found that only two out of ten evangelicals – as defined by their belief system rather than what church they attend – agreed with the statement that eternal life can be obtained through religions other than Christianity.

Well, 20% is not good, but at least it’s better than 57%.

One caveat from the LifeWay Research team:

The LifeWay Research study used a five-point scale and the requirement of minimal church attendance which makes direct comparisons to Pew’s data difficult as they used an “either/or” question and only required affiliation. However, Stetzer explained, “There is enough of a difference in the results for me to conclude that their choice of wording likely led a number of folks away from the exclusive response.”

2 comments on “LifeWay Research Counters Pew Findings”

  1. I encounter all of the time people who mix up “denomination” with “religion”. That was a poorly worded question, and to identify an evangelical as somebody who attends an evangelical church is misleading.

    I mean there are people who I attend church with whom I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to when the rapture occurs.

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