UPDATE: Everyone go look at Rebekah’s cute summary of the debate that Drew and I are having. It’s filled with adorable pictures that will make you smile!
Drew, who operates his own blog and also blogs at Laura’s blog Pursuing Holiness, comments on his own experiences in the church.
But whereas Wintery Knight emphasizes the lack of apologetics in churches, I think the real problem is an overall lack of substance. In many churches, both the sermons and the music lack substance. And you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of finding a Sunday School class with meaty, intellectual teaching.
One problem is that lots of churches have given into the “seeker-sensitive” movement. This movement constitutes a corroding influence in Christianity akin to John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s influence within the Republican Party. That is, the movement tries so hard to please potential converts that it forgets to please God, and thereby cripples Christian churches from the inside. (In the long run, this dumbing down actually results in fewer converts.) The church where I officially hold membership, for example, has largely given way to this movement – to the point that it recently abolished Sunday School for all high schoolers. Apparently, learning is not a priority anymore!
Meanwhile, the simplistic worship music of the modern era often tends to lack any real doctrinal substance. Or worse, sometimes the lyrics are so poorly thought-out that they actually promote false doctrines.
The reason I emphasize apologetics is because it addresses the question “is Christianity true?”. To me, even if you go into a church that emphasizes sound doctrine in the sermon and in the singing, it’s still doctrine. And doctrine that cannot be tested cannot be believed in. At least, that’s my view! So I don’t doctrine is the whole story, but it’s part of the story.
And as soon as young people who have been raised on doctrine alone go out in the real world and it may be as useful as apologetics when are tempted to jettison their beliefs in order to be happy. I think our beliefs needed to be grounded on evidence to help us to hold up under fire. Without an emphasis on truth, these sound doctrines are just our community’s preference claims, like flavors of ice cream! They are not regarded as true objectively unless they can be tested against the laws of logic and the external world.
When they get out into the real world and feel pressured to dump their beliefs to fit in or to be happy, they are not going to constrain their actions based on the preferences claims of a bunch of church people. If you teach them preference claims, then watch out when they leave you – they will develop new preferences in a new community. Like binge drinking and hook-up sex.
The only way that a person can constrain their behavior under fire is when they actually believe that they are rationally compelled to constrain their behavior. And rational compulsion is not under the control of your will. The only way to be rationally compelled is by taking time to study issues like the existence of God and the historicity of the resurrection. Then watch some debates. That’s how you determine what is true. And you will always act on what you really believe is true. NOT just what you have been taught is true, and not what you say is true when asked.
But even mainstream churches that have resisted these movements often tend to suffer from non-intellectualism. For example, most pastors have gotten into the habit of preaching three-point sermons. I’m not going to declare myself the voice of God and suggest that three-point sermons are sinful, but they do create the opportunity for pastoral laziness. I think pastors frequently take advantage of this opportunity, and wind up presenting watered-down sermons filled with extrabiblical philosophy.
I know what Drew means here, but I wish that pastors did bring in professional philosophers to discuss issues such as:
- the problems of evil and suffering
- the problem of the unevangelized
- the problem of religious pluralism
- the problem of the justice of Hell
- the problem of hiddenness of God
- the problem of free will vs divine foreknowledge
- the problem of moral relativism
- the problem of consciousness, free will and rationality
Not to mention the evidential arguments from science and history! And all should be capped by showing or hosting public debates to the entire church. Sound teaching alone is not sufficient to reverse the slide of the church into postmodern relativist universalist feminization. Without assessing whether these sound teachings are true, you are again just sharing your preferences in a community whose purpose is happiness, not truth.
I’ll bet Drew will oppose me here. Do your worst, Drew. You can’t beat me up any worse than Rich and Rebekah have already!
I have found is that although apologetics-oriented issues that challenge faith are popular in the culture in books by New Atheists, Bart Ehrman and even fictional authors like Dan Brown or William P. Young, the church is not interested in addressing them. And the reason is simple: we think church is about fulfilling our needs, not about truth. We would never be so dismissive of truth concerns in any other area of life that mattered.
While the entire culture is being confronted by popular challenges from apostates and atheists, we just keep quoting the Bible to our congregations so that they can be really really clear on our spiritual preferences. But as soon as they step out of the church, they will be facing actual arguments in their workplaces, and classrooms. And you know what they’ll do? They will go silent. And God is not served by that silence.
Either we are going to put public, effective evangelism using apologetics first, or we are going to put our personal feelings and self-esteem first. Either we are going to drip tears onto our apologetics textbooks because studying is hard work, or we are going to make excuses that allow us to continue business as usual at church. The dimension that is never raised in these discussions is that people don’t want to do the most effective thing to defend God’s honor. Getting preached at on Sunday with sound doctrine is easy. Singing songs is easy. But engaging your co-workers with science, philosophy and history is hard. Which one has the most impact on the non-Christian culture? I say it’s engagement.
Drew, I want you to watch this debate online, if you haven’t already:
This debate was held at Purdue University in front over 3000 university students. It is a close debate – this was no blow-out for Craig.
Now I want you to leave me a comment telling me what would happen if every Christian who goes to church were to see this debate in their main Sunday sermon. What would happen if every Christian could defend their faith like William Lane Craig? Would God benefit from it? I don’t care how many people’s pride and self-esteem would be damaged by someone smarter than they are talking. Would God benefit from it?
What does Peter say in 1 Peter 3:15?
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
With respect to God’s purposes in the world, our happiness is expendable.
Watching debates is not even about who wins and who loses. It’s about whether Christian claims can be defended using public evidence in the real world. And if we don’t have confidence that the churchgoers should be made aware of the arguments for and against Christianity, (because we are afraid they will lose their “faith”), then we should just drop Christianity entirely.
Christianity is a fighting faith. The purpose of it is not to make people have happy feelings and community so they, (and everyone they should be evangelizing), can be comfortable on their way to Hell. It’s either true or it isn’t. And if it isn’t then we shouldn’t waste another second on it. Period.
What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19?
12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Do the feminized churches believe that? THEY DO NOT BELIEVE THAT. No matter what they say, they do not really believe that at all. They may teach it as “sound doctrine”. But they do not believe that it matters whether the resurrection really happened. They don’t know or care to know if it really happened. And we know this by watching how little emphasis is put on the historical evidence for the resurrection in the church today.
Have you EVER in your entire life seen anyone speak from the pulpit about whether the evidence is good for the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead? Ever? Anyone reading this – have you ever heard the resurrection addressed using mainstream historical approaches? A talk that DID NOT assume the inerrancy of the Bible, and that could have been delivered in a university classroom or in the workplace?
What are we even doing in church if not teaching Christians how to confidently defend the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?
Am I asking too much?
Sorry to be so insistent and passionate, I hope you will take time before replying to be calm and realize that this is the passion talking, and maybe a little emotional distress, as well. I have been hurt by the church opposing me on this many, many, many times. And so have all my friends.
Please try to be charitable. I am not blaming you for this mess, but I don’t think sound doctrine alone is the answer.