NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Research from two studies by LifeWay Research indicates a disconnect between Southern Baptist pastors’ view of scripture and those of the people in their pews.
The research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention conducted one study this spring among a representative sample of 778 Southern Baptist pastors. A second study, in 2007, surveyed 2,500 adults who attend a Protestant church at least once a month, including 260 who attend Southern Baptist churches.
Southern Baptist pastors were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, “I believe in the divine inspiration of scripture.” Among Southern Baptist pastors, 100 percent strongly agreed with that statement.
To clarify further their beliefs about scripture, Southern Baptist pastors were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I believe in the inerrancy of scripture.” Among Southern Baptist pastors, 97 percent strongly agreed with that statement, another 2 percent somewhat agreed and 0 percent disagreed.
Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, noted, “It is clear that the ‘inerrancy’ debate is settled among the SBC pastors we surveyed. They all believe in inspiration with a very small percent not also affirming inerrancy. This is a remarkably high number.”
Although Southern Baptists strongly believe in inerrancy, they indicated that the “battle for the Bible” is not over. LifeWay Research asked for the pastors’ level of agreement with the statement, “In the Southern Baptist Convention, the battle for the Bible is over and won.”
On this item, opinions differed dramatically from the questions of inspiration and inerrancy. The majority of Southern Baptist pastors disagreed with the statement (21 percent strongly disagreed and 31 percent somewhat disagreed). At the same time, a large minority agreed (9 percent strongly agreed while 33 percent somewhat agreed).
“The numbers remind us that we still have work to do,” said Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “Yes, we have settled the issue of the authority of scripture in our confession. That battle is over and done. However, I believe that the battle for the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word is never really done. It is as old as the Garden of Eden and will continue until Jesus comes back. As we can see, Southern Baptists pastors are overwhelmingly inerrantists — but they are also discerning enough to know that we must always be on guard against compromise and error.”
Brad Waggoner, vice president of B&H Publishing Group, in his upcoming book The Shape of Faith to Come, reports that only 69 percent of adults who attend an SBC church at least once a month strongly agree that “the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches.” Eleven percent in the LifeWay Research survey somewhat agreed with the statement, 11 percent neither agreed nor disagreed, 5 percent disagreed somewhat and 3 percent disagreed strongly.
Research for Waggoner’s book also indicated that only 76 percent of adults who attend an SBC church at least once a month strongly agree that “the Bible is the authoritative source of truth and wisdom for daily living.” Twelve percent somewhat agree, 8 percent neither agreed nor disagreed, 2 percent somewhat disagreed and 1 percent strongly disagreed.
Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, said this shows that, “While Southern Baptist pastors are united in their view of the inerrancy of scripture, they must be aware that 1 out of 4 people who attend their churches each month consider the Bible less than totally accurate or authoritative.”
Research for The Shape of Faith to Come was conducted in 2007 among 2,500 adults who attend a Protestant church at least once a month. The Southern Baptist sample within this study provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error did not exceed plus 6.1 percent. All of the other questions were included in an online survey of 778 Southern Baptist senior pastors in 2008. The pastors agreed to be surveyed online while participating in a previous survey that was mailed to all Southern Baptist pastors. While the number responding to individual questions varies, the sample size provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error did not exceed plus 3.5 percent.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.)