What the Church needs now is Credibility, sweet Credibility!

I was recently watching Austin Powers agin. One scene stuck out to me this go around. Austin and Vanessa were sitting atop a double decker bus having a nice meal with live music. Austin famously announced, “Burt Bacharach, everyone!” To which Mr. Bacharach started singing his 1960’s hit, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” Reflecting on that lyric raised the question, “what does the church need now?”

I keep coming back to this answer– “Credibility, sweet credibility”. I don’t mean credibility in the sense that we compromise our beliefs and set cultural winds up as norms for our theologies. Rather, I mean ‘credibility’ in the sense that non-Christians get the impression that we know what we’re talking about when we speak of our convictions. You see, many non-Christians are under the impression, and rightly so in many cases, that they know our faith better than we do. If this is indeed the case, the church’s credibility is damaged. In fact, I think I think it is the case, unfortunately. If I’ve learned one thing from teaching theology to undergrads, it’s that too many have not been adequately trained by their parents and churches in the basics terms and concepts of the faith.

A couple years ago a senior at the institution at which I teach was completing his senior project. He conducted a survey of the Intro to Theology classes as well as the student body, in general, to see what students thought were the defining tenets of our faith. His findings were disturbing, to say the least. The number one answer was not, the Trinity, nor the deity and humanity of Christ, nor was it salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The students responded that the number one tenet of Christianity is…community? Yes, that’s right folks. ‘Community’ is apparently that doctrine on which the church stands or falls. In the conversations I’ve had with non-Christians, never once were any of them under the impression that “community” is one of the major tenets of our faith.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Maybe, the sample was skewed and students were unfairly led in the questioning. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case in this situation. One of the Psychology professors was serving as the student’s advisor and was double checking each part of the project prior to the student’s follow-through. Further, this student’s findings seem to be supported by the recent Ligonier Ministries survey.[1]

The Ligonier Survey was conducted by Lifeway Research and questioned 3000 Americans about their current theological beliefs and then further divided the sample into demographics including Evangelicals. The survey found that respondents with evangelical beliefs in many cases held heretical beliefs. 71% of Evangelicals agreed with the statement, “Jesus was the first and greatest creature created by God.”[2] That’s Arianism, a heresy condemned by the first ecumenical council of Nicea in AD 325! Arius couldn’t have said it any better himself. 82% of Evangelicals hold to a Pelagian view of salvation and human nature.[3] Consistent with that, 86% of Evangelicals believe salvation is initiated by humans and God merely responds with grace.[4]

The findings further show that Evangelicals are much more comfortable answering confidently and consistent with historic orthodoxy with regards to our doctrine of Scripture than we are about our God.[5] It’s just a shame that we aren’t saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Bible alone, for the glory of the Bible alone. Evangelicals need to give our doctrine of Scripture a rest for a bit because the rest of our faith is suffering. We can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re content to have an orthodox doctrine of Scripture, all the while we blissfully ignore what it is that the Scriptures are concerned to set forth–Christ! Many Christians approach their faith like Cousin Eddie in the movie Vegas Vacation did with the $1.49 buffet– so many conflicting flavors of mashed and creamed food. When it comes to our doctrine of Scripture, we repeat after Eddie, “go ahead and give me a bit of the ‘yella’; and don’t get cheap on me,” while simultaneously sneezing on the broccoli and carrots of our doctrines of God and Christ. This hurts our credibility immensely.

I think there are at least two problems the church faces with regard to her credibility:

  1. Inarticulation

It is a problem that we cannot recognize one of the oldest heresies in our own confessions. I think this is rooted in the fact that many Christians have bought into the lie of Modernity that faith and knowledge exist in an antithetical relationship. If Christianity is a faith, and it clearly is based on its own vigorous use of the world throughout the past two millennia, then it needs to be approached in a manner different than ‘knowledge’. Therefore we end up approaching medicine, law, various business endeavors with great levels of care and precision, indeed, critical thought, but those qualities are unbecoming of faith, it is assumed.

  1. Visible disunity

Those outside of the church can see the thousands of Baptist churches that exist in our cities. They see just as many Presbyterian and Methodist and Lutheran churches. In short, they see the reality of our different traditions. This may disturb them, or confuse them. But this denominationalism isn’t the real problem, it is the fact that within our denominations/traditions we are unacquainted with each other. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”[6] We have to admit that it is very difficult to have love for people we don’t even know exist. How many times in this last year has your church partnered with another church of your same denomination, or even in your area, to serve your community together? How many times in the last year have you gathered with other churches in your denomination to worship together? It is difficult to present a united Christian front to the world if we can’t even reasonably say that we have a united Presbyterian front, or even more specifically, a united PCA or EPC, etc. front.

What is the antidote to these two problems?

  1. Theological Instruction-

The first thing the church needs to help its credibility is an informed laity. There is no reason in this day an age for lay Christians not to have an undergraduate level knowledge of their own theology. Lack of interest does not excuse us from the responsibility to avoid false statements and false beliefs about God. How many of us would stand by everything we’ve ever thought, or ever said about God? None, probably. Theological instruction is how we go about learning to take care in our thoughts and words about God. In other words, Theology is nothing more than an attempt to obey the 3rd commandment and not take God’s name in vain.

  1. Ecumenical endeavors-

The second thing that will aid our credibility, concerted efforts to branch out beyond our church’s walls to engage with other Christians in worship and service. A few years ago, my church’s youth group did something amazing. On a normal Wednesday night, we met at another church and listened to another youth pastor teach, and sang with another worship band, and played games with kids we didn’t know. This past September, our church partnered with two other area churches to have a worship service in the park as part of our community’s annual fall festival. A number of years ago many churches in our community banded together and canceled the worship service on a Sunday and together did service projects throughout the city. These are all examples of simple things that if done regularly and publically, reinforce the Church’s credibility. The problem is that they certainly are not regular occurrences.

 


[1] Lifeway Research, State of American Theology Study, 2016. https://thestateoftheology.com/assets/downloads/2016-state-of-america-white-paper.pdf

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ibid., 15. (Emphasis mine)

[5] 95% of Evangelicals agree that the Bible alone is the written Word of God. 95% agree that the Bible is 100% accurate in all that it teaches. Etc., Ibid.

[6] John 13:35, NRSV.

50 Questions: Question 1 “Does Christianity make sense”

Does Christianity make sense?

The simple answer obviously, as a Christian, I think it does make sense. Not only does it makes sense on its own, but it makes sense of everything else as well.I’ll explain what I mean in due course.

Let’s parse out the question a bit more. When one asks if Christianity makes sense they are asking about the internal coherence of the faith as well as whether the faith comports to human experience. 

First, is Christianity internally coherent? There is nothing internally contradictory within it such as the belief in square circles or five sided triangles, etc. The closest appearances of contradictions are paradoxes and dialects. On the surface paradoxes appear to be contradictory.  That is, that the two concepts appearto have either-or quality. Either the shape is five-sided or it is a triangle. But a paradox differs slighty in that the concepts have a both/and quality. The consepts dont neegate each other but they dont sit well with each other without tension. For example, G.K. Chesterton, known as the Prince of Paradox, once said, “Courage is a love of life taking the form of readiness to die.” Life and death are commonly seen as opposites but in this formulation they dont negate each other but rather compliment each other.

A dialectic developes this progression further. If a contradiction poses an either/or relationship between two concepts, and a paradoxe poses a both/and, a dialtectic poses a both/and, niether/nor relationship. Here is where it gets trippy. A great example of a dialectic comes from Karl Barth. Barth stated that Jesus Christ was both God’s Yes and No to humanity. By this he meant that Jesus brought both God’ssalvation and God’s judgement. It differs from a paradox in that the very judgemnt brought engenders salvation, and the salvation brought engenders judgment. (I hope to write more on this in the future.) In a dialectic one concept necessitates its opposite and vice versa.

To summarize: Does Christianity make sense? Yes, dialectics and paradoxes exist while contradictions do not.

Now to the second sense in which someone may ask whether it makes sense. Does Christianity comport with human experience? Here the answer is not as as cut and dried. Christianity could be defined as reflection upon all of life in light of the reality of God’s revelation in Christ. So yes it certainly makes sense as any worldview does, it’s not an attempt to escape the reality of human experience but rather assumes meaning in human experience and seeks to discern that meaning in light of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

But do things like miracles really comport with human experience? I think they do, but less so. Certainly not everyone has had experiences they were willing to chalk up to miracles, hence the “less so.” I will kick the question of miracles down the road a bit as one of the 50 questions specificaly deals with it. But I will say, we need to be careful of making too much of miracles in the Christian worldview. Miracles by definition are not the norm. They are rare and extraordinary events that occur for revelatory purposes and not ends in and of themselves.

To summarize this section: Does Christianity comport with human experience? Yes and no. Yes it does in the sense that it is reflection upon all of life in light of the Christ event. It is a worldview like Islam, Naturalism etc. used to make sense of the world around us. No it does not comport with human experience in the sense that things such as miracles, while playing a significant role in the Christian worldview, are by no means the norm of human experience.

What do you think? 

50 Questions for Every Christian

I came across Guy P. Harrison’s 50 Questions for Every Christian at Barnes & Noble and breifly browsed the table of contents. There are some really good honest questions that tend not to be dealt with adequately by the believing public. I figured I’d use the 50 questions to structure a series of posts to make an articulate case for the Christian faith. I hope to be able to provide some sort of articulate answer to Christians who may be asking themselves these questions, or skeptics who haven’t ever really received adequate answers to these questions or similar ones. At the very least I hope to spurn further thought. So, without further ado, here are the 50 questions he poses that I will answer in the coming weeks:

  1. Does Christianity make sense?
  2. What is a god?
  3. Is it rude to ask?
  4. Does Jesus answer prayers?
  5. Who is a Christian?
  6. Does Christianity make societies better?
  7. What is atheism?
  8. What are Miracles?
  9. Does the complexity of life reveal an intelligent designer?
  10. Have you read the Bible?
  11. Why do some Christians do bad things in the signt of Jesus?
  12. How can we be sure about the resurrection?
  13. How do we know that heaven is real?
  14. Why is God so violent?
  15. What do prophecies prove?
  16. How important are the Ten Commandments?
  17. Do you know the real Ten Commandments?
  18. Is Christianity good for women?
  19. Is it smarter to believe or not believe?
  20. Is the born-again experience in Christianity unique?
  21. Is faith a good thing?
  22. Should children be Christians?
  23. Does Jesus heal the sick?
  24. How do we know that the man Jesus existed?
  25. What about all the other gods?
  26. Are Christians happier?
  27. Is the USA a Christian nation?
  28. How can we be sure that Jesus performed miracles?
  29. What do evil atheist dictators prove?
  30. Is the universe fine-tuned for us?
  31. Could we design a better world?
  32. What has archaeology proved?
  33. Why isn’t everyone a Christian?
  34. What is the problem with evolution?
  35. Is it better to be safe than sorry?
  36. Why did God sacrifice his son?
  37. Did God drown the world?
  38. Why do birth location and family matter so much?
  39. Why do Christianity and science so often come into conflict?
  40. Why do people go to hell?
  41. Can atheists be trusted?
  42. Why hasn’t the Bible convinced more people?
  43. Are angels real?
  44. Is Christmas under attack?
  45. Will the End Times ever end?
  46. Does Christianity make individuals better?
  47. Why does a good god allow so much suffering in the world?
  48. Would you take Jesus’ place on the cross?
  49. Should Christians try to be good skeptics?
  50. Will Christianity endure?