American Evangelical Protestants are Blissful People

I guess my BJU Bible education and my stints as religious newsletter editor, religion researcher, Bible textbook author, and blogger have all been worthwhile, because I’m not ashamed to say that I aced the Pew Research Center’s 15-question Religious Knowledge Quiz.


I’m ashamed to say,  however, that white evangelical Protestants as a whole did worse than Jews, Atheists/Agnostics, and Mormons, and if evangelicals beat the overall population I’m guessing their victory may only just squeak past the survey’s margin of error.

(You may want to take the quiz now before you read further, because I’m about to reveal some answers.)


70% of Jewish respondents knew that Martin Luther and not John Wesley or Thomas Aquinas started the Protestant Reformation. Only half (52%) of white evangelical Protestants knew that.

A lot of evangelicals were fooled by the question about the legality of Bible reading in public schools. Jews beat them soundly on that one, too.

Hardly anybody knew that Jonathan Edwards—and not Billy Graham or Charles Finney—participated in the First Great Awakening.

Overall evangelicals are most notable for their ignorance of world religions, though their ignorance of their own religion, its doctrines, and its history is the most sobering result of the survey.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.


  1. Duncan on September 29, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I’m not sure what to believe based on this report. The stats for white Protestants are poor, but not necessarily surprising.

    See some of the links in the comments here:

    We need to be careful not to abuse the statistics, which is apparently as common a problem among white evangelical Protestants as not knowing what we believe.

  2. Jeremy Patterson on September 29, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Very interesting, Mark. Thank you for this.

    My favorite statistics-related quotation of all time relates to what Duncan said about being “careful not to abuse the statistics” and what happens in news media much too often (but not in the case of this blog post, happily):

    “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts, for support rather than illumination.”
    -Andrew Lang

  3. Mark L Ward Jr on September 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Jeremy, that’s gold!

    Duncan offers a good caution, surely, in part because (though I didn’t notice anyone at religioninamerica making this point, I could have missed it) Pew’s definition of “evangelical” is probably a bit broader than ours.

  4. Duncan on October 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Now here’s something I didn’t expect to come out of this Pew survey. If you ask me, these numbers are turning out to be more useless than I previously thought.

  5. Mark L Ward Jr on October 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Those were good points, but I still think that a citizen of the world, and especially a Christian one, ought to know nearly all of the answers to those questions. I’m not sure how it follows to say that we should actually view Americans as “savants” when it comes to religion because they were equally dumb on a political question (namely “Who is the US VP?”). Perhaps compared to European nations we’re doing ok on religious knowledge, but American evangelical Christians still ought to do better.

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