In 1994 Mark Noll wrote an important book entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans). In it he argued that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind. That is, we evangelicals are failing to love God with our minds as well as our heart and soul, as Jesus commands us (Mat 22:36,37). In this he reflects the sentiments of R.C. Sproul who said that we live in the most anti-intellectual era of church history.
But it is not just that we are failing our Lord by our dumbing-down of religion. We are also failing morally, and failing big time. In 2005 Ronald Sider wrote this provocative volume: The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Baker). In it he argues that for all intents and purposes, most evangelical Christians are living lives no different from their non-Christian neighbours.
Evangelical Christians, says Sider, are very much like the pagans in rates of divorce, premarital sex, domestic violence and use of pornography, and are actually more likely to hold racist views than other people.
Says Sider: “Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most ‘Christians’ regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.”
Much of the documentation for these claims comes from two American pollsters and researchers: George Gallop and George Barna. Their surveys, polls and studies have been documenting these disturbing findings. George Barna, for example, has written dozens of books, chronicling and assessing the state of play of the American church. And the findings do not look good.
The question is, is there a connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxis? That is, does right thinking lead to right behaviour? In a 2003 volume by Barna (that Sider relies on), Think Like Jesus (Integrity), Barna argued that there is a connection. He first argued that Christians need to develop a thorough biblical worldview. This is based on Scripture and a belief in moral absolutes. Such a worldview would entail at least six components:
-God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who still rules the universe today;
-Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while on earth;
-Satan is a real, living entity;
-salvation is a free gift, not something we can earn;
-every Christian has a personal responsibility to evangelize;
-the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches.
Barna notes that only a small percentage of evangelicals have a biblical worldview with these elements. In fact, his research has found that only 9 per cent of born-again adults have such a worldview, and only 2 per cent of born-again teenagers have it. That is the bad news.
But the good news is, those who do have a biblical worldview tend to live more Christlike lives than those who do not. Some of the specific findings include: those with a biblical worldview are nine times more likely than all the others to avoid adult-only material on the Internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose intentionally not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content.
Also, they are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people. Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldview have volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor, whereas only 29 percent of born-again Christians without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non-born-again Christians had done so. Thus a solid biblical foundation does make a difference.
As Barna puts it, “Jesus’ modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus. They fail to represent Him well not because they are incapable of Christlike behavior or out of an absence of good intentions, but because they do not think like Him.” Right behaviour must be based on right belief.
Noll was right to draw our attention to the importance of the Christian mind. Sider was right to draw our attention to the importance of Christian character. And Barna was right to draw our attention to the connection between the two.
The volume by Sider is well worth reading (as are the books by Noll and Barna). For those who are too busy, however, a shorter version of the Sider book appeared in Christianity Today, Books and Culture, January/February 2005. The article can also be accessed on the web at this address:
The three books may make for discouraging reading, but it is essential reading if we care about why the Church has become powerless, anemic and saltless. We need a revival, and that means a stirring up of the basics. And we cannot get any more basic than to do what Jesus said when asked which commandment was the greatest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
We need to once again love God with our mind. And we need also to love him with our obedience and discipleship. Without those basics, the Church will only continue to further deteriorate and become more irrelevant.