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The Dumbing Down of Christianity

Aka, why Christians need to read more. I mean, Joel Osteen doesn't even have a freaking Bachelor's degree.

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The other day I was (surprise, surprise) in a coffee shop in the mountains, seated near the counter. A guy in his early 20’s walked in wearing a TOOL shirt and a long ponytail. I could overhear his conversation as he approached the barista and they began chatting. Somehow it came up that she attends a Christian university and he clearly didn’t approve.

“Do they incorporate religion into all the classes there?” he asked. “Even the science classes? How does that work?”

She valiantly began explaining how they pray before every class and teach from a Christian worldview, but it soon became evident that she was being crushed in this conversation. He was well schooled in the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Nye and began doling out the punishment.

I use the word punishment because this poor barista has herself been punished by a church system which, for the past 200 years, has begun discarding intelligence within the church in favor of emotion, conversion experiences, and passion. Ask most American Christians today any question deeper than “Does God love everyone?” and you’re bound to get some sort of response suggesting that that sort of discourse should be reserved for theological universities.

The other day a friend of mine said that he sees no merit in understanding Calvinism or Arminianism because he just wants to Love God and love people. And it seems that the ball stops there for most Christians today. No need to know any more than that.

I would go so far as to say that there is even a fear in evangelical Christianity of knowledge. In my experience, this fear comes from one of two sources: People are scared that if they come to know too much, they’ll be like the Pharisees and will just become haughty and judgmental to others, thus weakening their love for God; or they’re afraid that they’ll learn too much and go off the deep end of liberalism and swim in the risky waters of universalism and other heresies.

We have replaced rich, robust theology in the church with emotional music and constant reminders that “God is love and loves you and He’s your personal Savior and loves your soul…” These words are great at bringing outsiders through the doors (because they’re true by and large) but poor at growing believers into mature witnesses with rich understanding of the deep things of God.

I have found the opposite to be very true. I have found that the more I learn about God, His Word, and theology which describes Him, the more I can love and worship Him, because now there is that much more to adore and be amazed by. If my ability to worship God is a fire, learning more about Him only adds more wood to the blaze. After all, if you really loved God, wouldn’t you want to learn as much about him as possible?

Our logic is pretty backward here.

Quite honestly, I’m exhausted by Christians who don’t want to learn more. It’s one thing to not know much about our faith, but another to have no desire to grow.

I’m saddened that atheists are so passionate about what they believe that they will read stacks of books in order to define their beliefs, while we are happy to float along the surface with a (no offense) ‘Hillsong-deep theology’ and call it good. And we wonder why people are leaving the Church in droves! A church that offers only emotional, squishy feel-good theology is going to lose the long-term wrestling match to a well-read and convincing atheist nearly every time.

Puritan Cotton Mather wrote, “Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of HERESY” (caps lock his).

The mushy-gushy can only last so long.

Just as a marriage cannot be sustained by the tumble of infatuation, a life of faith cannot be sustained by passionate emotion. Yes, it may be a wonderful (and necessary) entryway, but without depth of knowledge and understanding, it will be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

One of my theology professors is so passionate about this issue that he has brought up the same metaphor at least three times this semester. It goes something like this:

“Why do people say they want to ‘know God, but not know about Him? That is absolutely ludicrous!

Imagine if I told you ‘I love my wife, but I don’t know anything about her.’

You could ask me where she was born and I would shrug.

What type of music or food does she like?

I don’t know.

What color are her eyes?

No idea. But I love her.

See how insane that sounds? The more you come to know about someone, the more you are able to love them.”

Yet we have no problem floating on the surface of our knowledge of God. And then we wonder why we have such trouble witnessing to others or describing what we believe, or why we believe it, to others.

J.P. Moreland, in his book Love the Lord Your God With All Your Minddemonstrates how the Second Great Awakening led to the beginning of emotional preaching and impassioned calls to a quick conversion experience, as opposed to a period of contemplation, learning, and discovery of the Christian faith and doctrines. We live in the fallout of that style of thinking. Moreland writes, “the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity…came to be part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.”

I was fascinated to learn that the Church was once the place where believers came to learn deep theology and robust doctrine, but now that seems to be reserved only for Biblical universities. Nowadays anyone can start a church, and as long as it’s engaging and entertaining enough, people will show up. Nevermind if it’s true or not. (Case in point: The pastor of the largest church in America doesn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree, much less a seminary degree and look where that leads…) This all helps me realize why people are seeing less and less need for the church. After the initial emotion has worn off, what does it really have to offer?

It should not only be pastors, authors, and theologians who study what they believe, but all believers. Jesus Himself stated that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and MIND (Luke 10:27), yet we tend to overlook this last one and focus on the heart and soul. (Crossfitters throw ‘strength’ in the mix too, I guess.)

God paints an intense fate for those who neglect to grow in their understanding in Hosea 4:6 when he writes, “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you.”

So let’s not get destroyed and rejected, eh?

It’s not too late for Christians to learn in their understanding of the holy. It’s not too late to learn the meaning and value of our creeds, doctrines, and systems. There is merit in learning and understanding the deeper parts of our faith and I say we start sooner than later.

If you’re reading this and thinking, Gee, I would love to come to a deeper understanding of God but don’t know where to start, I’ll give a few great starting points here, but never hesitate to email me with more questions or comments! I’d love to talk more about these things. Additionally, if you’re reading this and thinking, Gee, I don’t really learn that much about the Bible or God at my church, it just kind of hypes me up, it may be time to change that. Begin by talking to your pastor about it before going church shopping!

Here are some books which are very easy to read and introduce us to cursory facets of the Christian faith:

Delighting in The Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The New Lonely by me

(The last one isn’t theological, it’s just a really, really good book. ;})

Enjoy!

e

8 comments on “The Dumbing Down of Christianity

  1. Knowledge is a tricky thing. With knowledge comes contemplation which breeds opinions, and opinions are hard to control. It’s much easier to lead lemmings than free thinkers so why not go for feel good, shallow sermons…until someone asks you anything about why you believe in God, let alone Jesus. But when we hesitate and stumble over our words we ignore the scripture that tells us to be ready with an answer for anyone that asks for the hope that is within us.
    I find it interesting that many Christians know more about the Marvel Universe than they do about the Bible and their faith. If Paul was upset with the early church because many were content with only milk, how much more should we be getting into the meat of scripture. We have the entire book instead of scattered scrolls. We have over 1,500 years of church history. We have the freedom to gather for worship and discussion. And we have a collection of great minds to teach us.
    Adam walked with God in the cool of the day, and since we have the Holy Spirit we can live like Adam in Eden. We can have a deeper relationship with God so when questions or attacks come, we have prepared our hearts and minds to share His truth.

  2. Reblogged this on 4th Quarter Musings and commented:
    This author is on to a thought that resonates with me. We need to know what we believe and why. Enjoy the article!

  3. Wow! Great insight. Love the analogy about loving your wife but not knowing anything about her.

    Be blessed. God is with you.

  4. Ethan,
    This article and some of the questions that popped into my head just this morning on the train to work. It’s amazing how the spirit works in those ways. Appreciate the boldness and telling people to challenge their pastor before church shopping. Hope to see you around sometime. Have you heard of Hugh Ross? Thoughts?

  5. *this article ANSWERED
    -Typo

  6. Julia Bate

    “…Emotional preaching and impassioned calls to a quick conversion experience, as opposed to a period of contemplation, learning, and discovery of the Christian faith and doctrines”… the difference is vast. I am comforted in knowing that God who “began the good work within us, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” And, like you, I believe it is through our seeking to know Him more and more.

  7. Ryan Matus

    Very good read, a breath of fresh air to be honest, but I have one question… did you come to the aid of the young women in defense of the Scriptures that day on the coffee shop?

  8. Yes!!! More intellectual, theological knowledge, wisdom and conversation! I did not go to a Christian university but spent many evenings discussing theology (I’ve since learned this is pretty much the OPPOSITE of how almost everyone else spent their college friday nights). I dearly miss those times. There seems to be a lack of interest in deep spiritual conversations in my post-college, adult life. Maybe that’s due to jobs, families, netflix? I have also noticed that friends of mine who did attend bible colleges got this large dose of theology and bible knowledge that I never got. They forget other people don’t just ‘know’ those things. I’ve often wondered how to get that bible-college knowledge without actually attending bible college? 🙂 I’ve read the Piper and Lewis book and my bible study is going through the Reeves starting in January. Guess that’s a step in the right direction. Thanks for the post, and the reminder that loving God with all your mind is still something to strive towards.

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