There’s an adage that sometimes comes up in the church: “You can’t love what you don’t know.”
Research has shown that people with the greatest understanding of other faiths tend to have more positive views of outside traditions. But a recent survey found one key exception: evangelical Protestants.
The people who know the most about religion—and scored the highest on Pew Research Center’s religious literacy quiz—actually had worse views of evangelicals than the average American or those with low scores.
“Higher scores on the overall (32- point) religious knowledge scale tend to be associated with warmer evaluations of most religious groups,” the researchers wrote. “One exception to this pattern is evangelical Christians, who are rated most warmly by those at the low end of the religious knowledge scale.
Meanwhile, evangelical Protestants actually know more than the average American about religion, due largely to their familiarity with their own faith. While few in the US can parse Protestant theology or define the prosperity gospel, evangelicals were among the top-performing faith groups in a religious literacy quiz, ranking after Jews, atheists, and agnostics and above other Christian affiliations and religious nones.
Evangelicals—in this survey, a multiethnic sample grouped by affiliation—know the Bible and Christianity better than anyone else, but when it comes to other traditions, their standings fall. Only evangelicals who said they regularly dedicated time to learning about world religions knew more than average about other faiths.
The issue of religious literacy matters more than ever in America’s pluralistic context, and evangelicals have been on both sides of mischaracterizations, misunderstandings, and discrimination over religious beliefs.
“It is crucial that evangelicals, both young and old, have accurate understandings of other religions. Insofar as Christians want to be fairly represented, so they need to do the same for others,” said Nijay Gupta, a Portland Seminary professor who has written about New Testament perspectives on interfaith relations. “With social media and other online communication, the world is getting smaller and caricatures of any religion are easily deconstructed and dismissed.”
Scoring above average on Scripture and sola fide
Pew’s 32-question survey included basic questions about religious beliefs and practices; Old and New Testament stories; and religious demographics in the US and globally. Americans answered 14.2 questions right on average (44%), while evangelicals got closer to half, with 15.5 right.
Only around one in five respondents answered the questions about Protestantism correctly—making them among the hardest in the quiz. Around 20 percent of Americans identified Protestants (and not Catholics) as the group that traditionally teaches salvation through faith alone, while 22 percent could define the prosperity gospel as affiliated faith with health and wealth.
Though evangelicals fared the best on this pair of questions, still fewer than half (35% and 37% respectively) got them right. (The State of Theology survey from Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research has similarly found that a surprising number of evangelicals affirm heretical beliefs or simply do not know where they stand on certain teachings.)
Among the seven Bible questions, evangelicals scored the highest (5.2), answering over a full question higher than average (4.2). Of the passages in the quiz, the best-known Bible story was David and Goliath, which 91 percent of evangelicals and 72 percent of Americans could identify David as the figure “most closely associated with killing an enemy with a stone.” The least familiar was Esther, whom just half of evangelicals and 28 percent of Americans named as the Old Testament heroine who “saved Jews from murder by appealing to king.”
Source: Christianity Today