CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Let My People Think

Sep 13, 2012

Both R C Sproul and Ravi Zacharias have had the above title as the name of programs they have been involved in. I think both men are quite right. And it may well be one of the hardest asks of the church today. Much of our Christianity today is a mile wide and an inch deep – and that is certainly true on the intellectual and theological level.

We are distinctly told that the greatest of all commandments is to love God with all our mind, as well as with all our strength, heart and soul. Yet millions of Christians deliberately ignore or disobey this clear command. They refuse to think, and use their minds for the glory of God.

We are perhaps the most theologically illiterate and dumbed-down generation of Christians of all time. And many believers even delight in this fact. They actually think they are more spiritual when they check their brains in at the door of the church after becoming Christians.

Too many people today think Romans 12:2 says this: “Be transformed by the removing of your mind”! Sorry, but it actually says this: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

It is a question of truth. Jesus said the truth would set us free. And truth is processed by the mind, and the will. Yet so many believers today seem to live their entire Christian life based on nothing but their feelings. And most of them denigrate or criticise those who do emphasise sound doctrine and godly thinking.

Rightly did R.C. Sproul state, “We live in the most anti-intellectual era of church history.” Yep, we sure do, and it gets worse each passing year. Simply walk into any Christian bookstore today and see what is on offer: plenty of feel-good sentimental sap and me-first self-help mumbo jumbo books, but the theology and doctrine sections are either non-existent or the smallest section of the shop.

As John Stott noted: “Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.” Or as C S Lewis wrote: “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than He is of any other slacker.”

And there are very real ramifications for all this. Says William Lane Craig: “Evangelicals have been living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence. The average Christian does not realize that there is an intellectual war going on in the universities and in the professional journals and scholarly societies. Christianity is being attacked from all sides as irrational or outmoded, and millions of students, our future generation of leaders, have absorbed this viewpoint. This is a war which we cannot afford to lose.”

With all this in mind a recent article I came across might be worth sharing here. It is entitled “Characteristics of the Dumb Church”. Let me offer part of it to you. In relation to church leadership, here are some characteristics:

“-Preaching is always topical and never expository. Selective topical series allow tough and deep theological subjects, as well as ‘controversial’ passages of Scripture, to be avoided with ease.
-Although the church leaders offer strong external facing statements as to how they are a ‘Bible believing church’, the Bible is actually used and referenced very little in the sermons. Few quotations from Scripture are heard in a message, with the vast majority of all sermons consisting of personal rhetoric, humor, videos, and personal stories.
-Biblical terms such as justification, reconciliation, sanctification, propitiation, etc., are avoided like the plague.
-There is little to no instruction for new (or existing) believers on the core doctrines of the Christian faith, and no requirement for new believers to attend such instruction.
-There is no easy way for the congregation to have tough questions answered by the lead pastors; such a thing is quietly ignored, discouraged or not practiced regularly.
-Deep Bible study programs are either absent or deliberately pushed out in favor of more ‘relevant’ classes that deal with softer subject matters (e.g. money management).
-There is a huge emphasis on relationship building and serving in areas of the church, but no similar importance placed on growing more Biblically and theologically literate.
-The youth department has an unmistakable concentration on entertainment, games, social interaction, etc., vs. actual teaching of Christian doctrines.
-The church either has no library or one that is not kept up to date.”

More such characteristics could be offered here. But these pretty well describe your typical church today. Doctrine, theology, apologetics and a rigorous use of the mind for the glory of God are all but absent, replaced by entertainment, amusements, personalities, and fun and games. No wonder we keep losing so many battles.

Of course it is obvious that the mind alone is not the entire basis of the Christian life. Our wills and the rest of us also need to come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are plenty of people who are great on doctrine and have plenty of Bible knowledge, but they are dead as a nail.

Conversely there are many on-fire believers who are doctrinally-deficient and theologically vacuous. Both extremes are unhelpful and in fact deadly. A Spirit-filled life and a mind given over for the glory of God is what we need here. We need both sound theology and a life on fire for Christ.

One without the other will just not do. But while we may have millions of zealous and on-fire believers today, we have few who are using their minds for Christ and his Kingdom. That needs to be rectified. If it is not, then we will continue to break the greatest commandment Jesus gave to us.

unmaskingfeminism.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/characteristics-of-the-dumb-church/

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26 Responses to Let My People Think

  • That’s the trouble with Peter Jensen and Sydney Diocese. We have pesky preachers who are Bible-bashers, giving sermons which are expositions of the actual words of Scripture. Worse than that, they expect us to obey what is expounded. Even on sexual matters and marriage!! And as for Moore College…

    To be serious, it is very disturbing to read in various places of the lack of a desire to read good Christian books with plenty of meat in them. There is so much good stuff published by Banner of Truth to name just one publisher. I have noticed down the years how difficult it is to get people to read good Christian books even in churches where the Bible is faithfully and carefully preached and there are many apparently keen Christians as members.

    David Morrison

  • Os Guinness also speaks on the topic of ignorant evangelicals. His book: “Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It” being just one of his offerings on the topic. My wife, an evangelical PhD (and NOT from a Christians college!) says that research shows the evangelicals are among the worst biblical illiterates – so surprising given they are some of the few who actually carry bibles around; but in fact they have no idea HOW to read it and are usually stuck in “Scripture Bites” of the usual ‘promises for times of trouble’.

    Dean Daniels

  • Exactly right David

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Dean

    Yes that thin volume of his is quite good indeed, as is pretty much all that he writes.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • How does one get invited to be on the panel of Q & A? I would like to see Bill Muehlenberg as one of the panel members when marriage,and/or atheism, pornography, prostitution are being debated. To whom should I make this suggestion, or does a prospective guest volunteer?
    Lorna Rogers

  • Thanks Lorna, but I don’t think they would really want me actually! And I have done many such debates over the years. They are always so horrendously lopsided and partial. But they need to be engaged in nonetheless.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Well said, Bill. However, the evangelical church here in Australia is its own worst enemy. The evangelical theological colleges seem to be pumping out those who are to pastor and plant churches with the entertainment mode and topical-lite preaching as a foundational milieu. Note how many of them want to be known as ‘contemporary’ churches. Read their websites.

    In looking for a new church when my wife and I moved to northern Brisbane 18 months ago, we went to 8 evangelical churches of known evangelical brand before we found one that dared to sing content in the hymns (yes, hymns and not lite ditties) and the pastor is a faithful expositor of Scripture. He works his way through books of the Bible (we are in John in the AM and Genesis in the PM). It is a Presbyterian Church. When I mentioned this to a Pentecostal friend at a funeral recently his reply was, ‘You actually go to a church where they read the Bible’.

    I mentioned my concern to a couple of the pastors of the churches we visited, but there was a disinterest in the content of what I was saying. They are so convinced of the contemporary way of doing things that thoughtful Christianity, that might even follow the Bereans of Acts 17:11, is not in the mix.

    Spencer Gear

  • Top marks Bill, Speaking Biblical truth has never been for the faint hearted! One only needs to read Hebrews!
    I always admire the Wesleys they got out of church and spoke to the people and just as they focused on biblical truth they followed that up with actions to support the poor and homeless. It was hard hitting and confrontational but brought great revival to the UK and beyond. For those who have never read his journals – do – it is instructive.

    Charles Northcote

  • YES! So true, Christians today are increasingly encouraged to give up thinking and just be docile sheep. Questions regarding doctrinal issues are regarded as divisiveness instead of answered. As dominion theology takes hold of what were once solid Biblical ministries, the trend is away from study especially study of prophecy. We are told “you can’t understand prophecy” so don’t try – just trust God to take care of you. I ran across this sentiment in a blog by Randy Alcorn just this week, as he expressed disgust with all those prophecy teachers who turn out to be wrong. The upshot was if all these “the sky is falling” teachers are wrong, we shouldn’t even bother trying to understand what God is doing lest we be wrong too. I would rather try to understand God’s Word (with the possibility of being wrong) than be mentally lazy and simpleminded.

    Denise Hayden

  • That “dumb church” perfectly describes my old church. Uncanny.

    Jenna Priest

  • Thanks Jenna

    Yes sadly there are many such churches around nowadays.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Sadly, I think the refusal to think is in some ways indicative of the wider community, but that’s another story. It’s certainly true that there is a woeful lack of thinking among many Christians today.

    One line there caught my attention and I’m not sure it’s completely fair. It is true as it indicates that topical preaching can be easier than expository preaching – if you are “dumbed down” it’s easier to stick to topical preaching and conveniently avoid expository preaching – that much is true. However topical preaching can be very challenging intellectually and you can also take a rather “dumbed down” approach to expository preaching (you don’t really “expose” anything much) so I don’t think it is fair to gauge the amount a church is “dumbed down” on a preaching style. The analysis needs to be a little deeper than that… :^)

    John Symons

  • If Christians starting thinking there would be no Christians left!

    “Most people would rather die than think. And most do.”
    Bertrand Russell.

    Thinking is inimical to the fanciful claims of religion.

    Kurt Skelland

  • Thanks Kurt

    Such sophomoric comments usually go straight into the bin – where all troll foolishness belongs. But for the sake of my many readers, let me note how frightfully easy it is to call your bluff here. Basically all of the great classical philosophers and giants of Western intellectual tradition, such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Leibniz, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Locke, Berkeley, Copleston, Adler, Lewis, Swinburne, Plantinga, to name but a few, were of course theists. And almost all the founders of modern science were as well – most in fact biblical Christians – men such as Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Boyle, Faraday Newton, Babbage, Mendal, Kelvin, Pasteur, and Clerk-Maxwell to name a few more. And they were all inimical to thinking eh?

    It would be far closer to the truth to suggest that your average, garden variety God-haters (such as those who come here on a regular basis) are in fact the ones who seem to be rather inimical to thinking, and clearly lacking in even a basic understanding of what they are pontificating on.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Kurt,

    Your sloganeering doesn’t work with me. I’ve heard that for much of my 50 years as a Christian and it zooms out as quickly as it comes in. Why? Because it is an unthinking, uncritical comment that doesn’t match reality.

    I’m a committed evangelical Christian because I am a thinker. The Christian world and life view as articulated in the Christian Scriptures fits like a hand in glove with reality. It gives the diagnosis of what is wrong with our world and provides the perfect solution. Yes, perfect solution.

    Paul the Apostle nailed your problem with another dose of biblical reality: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV).

    When you come onto this website to troll like this and regurgitate your natural way of thinking, we get statements that not only do not make sense but don’t match what happens in the real world.

    However, you won’t be open to considering these things until Jesus changes your heart – your inner being.

    Spencer Gear

  • Sad to see my dad’s Christian bookshop, that was set up to make good, theologically sound books available (back in the days before Amazon) has never made any profit from it. But in the not too distant past there were regulars browsing for additions to their libraries and indulging in the occasional over-the-counter debate. No time nor inclination for that these days?
    Vikki Kay

  • Adding to what John said, I think it is good to have topical preaching sometimes, so long as there is plenty of Bible in it. At the moment in our dinosaur Sydney Anglican church (one of Sydney’s biggest parishes) we are having a series of sermons on prayer and they are taking the form of exposition of a Psalm or other Bible passage which deals with the topic.
    David Morrison

  • What I don’t understand is how people stay Christians or rather how they go through life’s trials without understanding that suffering is part of the Christian life and without knowing that no matter what happens or how you feel, God is God, we are broken humans cut off from God without His grace and His Holy spirit to aid us. I mean even without being persecuted life can throw some curly ones at you and without having our roots deeply in the knowledge of God and how can we know Him if we don’t know His word we could easily end up like the seed that fell into shallow ground and even those whom the weeds choked. Or do some Christians go along in life, thinking they are Christians when they are not? See 1 Cor 15:1 to 3

    Feelings are as deceitful as our hearts, I wouldn’t put my trust in them, that is dangerous. Doesn’t the old testament teach us that “for the lack of knowledge – vision – my people perish?”

    If God tells us we will “perish” without knowledge, how come we don’t take more notice?
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • You and I live in privileged times where we know far more about the world, the universe and the nature of reality than Aristotle or any of the others you mention. What did they know of cosmology, or genetics, or atomic structure? How many great thinkers were theists after Darwin’s time?

    Not so many! The greatest mind of all – Albert Einstein – was to all intents and purposes an atheist.
    Kurt Skelland

  • Thanks Kurt

    With all due respect you should quit while you are only somewhat behind. Each new remark of yours becomes more and more of an embarrassment to your cause. You are simply digging yourself further into the grave with each new senseless remark. There are of course more theists today in the world than ever. As to Einstein, he of course said: “I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” And again, “I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.” Sorry but you again fail, so please go to the back of the class.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Kurt, even though these scientists Bill mentioned didn’t “know” as much as we do, by knowledge I mean here purely the collection of data, but because their presuppositions were right according to reality, not only their findings are still referred to among scientists today, where in fact they form the foundation of science as we know it today and they have been chiefly predictions, they have largely been verified. If you start with 1 plus 1 makes 2, you can end up from there with the most complicated trigonometrical equation, but if you pretend 1 plus 1 makes 3 or 4 or anything else, you get off the track in the next step already and you don’t even get as far as complicated trigonometrical equations. That’s knowledge, that’s also logic.

    C.S. Lewis talks about those who are “wise to be humble”. I think that is a brilliant combination of words and concepts.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • It is only as an adult that I realised that my ability to think critically was formed in spite of my public school education (which I am starting to suspect was designed to disable my critical thinking abilities) by a family that read, taught and discussed all manner of world view topics, apologetics, doctrinal issues and the like.

    Having said that, ingesting large amounts of modern fiction in my teens dumbed me down significantly, and it has been a discipline learning to read ‘meatier’ books again in recent years.

    In short – I don’t think our education system is helping matters.

    Lauren Hughes

  • Kurt really sums up a key view that many people profess these days, namely, that humanity is really intelligent because we have lots of information available to us.

    This is, of course, the same ‘educated’ humanity that insist on smoking and using drugs and lying and stealing and pretending that men and women are exactly the same in every way and that technology makes humanity better and that personal happiness justifies murdering 1 billion children and that we have actually progressed far beyond our deprived ancestors and that believes the universe, in its brilliant complexity and majesty, is a random, meaningless occurrence and that actually obtaining an understanding of this universe is a worthwhile pursuit according to a worldview that says we will die and cease to exist.

    Knowing lots of stuff isn’t all its cracked up to be Kurt.

    And having lots of information doesn’t mean you have interpreted the information correctly, it just means you have lots of information.

    Indeed, most of the aforementioned list are recent developments – you might say the trend suggests, in many cases, that the better the ‘education’ and the more advanced the technology, the more prideful the heart and the more blind one becomes to the reality that humanity hasn’t actually changed at all.

    Don’t be mistaken – I certainly appreciate the value of an education but education and knowledge isn’t God, Kurt.

    Simon Fox

  • We only see further because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. That is what Sir Isaac Newton said about his greatness. The problem is that people see their greatness as simply only their greatness and never recognise the work of others before them.

    Ian Nairn

  • I thought we were to modernise the scriptures, make them more relevant to the 2000`s, make them sound more feel good and sanitised, less sexist and deserving of guilt, well that’s how my church seems to think. No matter how often scripture is presented to them, they bring up the old, “but that’s a cultural thing for that time”. My church is not alone in this, and I know I haven`t addressed it as wisely as should have been, but thank you for the encouragement Bill.
    Johannes Archer

  • DNA is a code that is the building blocks of all life. Being a code, it is therefore information. Information in it’s most basic forms does not come about without an intelligent source, let alone the most complicated form of information we know of!

    Mario Del Giudice

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