1. The Christian Church is becoming theologically illiterate.
What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans, especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As younger generations ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggests that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.
If you are a biblically educated believer, you know that some of what Barna refers to as “basic, universally-known truths about Christianity” are pagan myths that actually contradict what God’s Word says about critical issues such as who is Jesus Christ, what is salvation, what happens after death, is God in control and does He cause or allow evil, is speaking in tongues a gift, where will Christians spend forever, etc., etc. One wonders how things in the Church could get much more “inconsistent.”
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago. Examples of this tendency include the fact that less than one-third of born again Christians planned to invite anyone to join them at a church event during the Easter season; teenagers are less inclined to discuss Christianity with their friends than was true in the past; most of the people who become Christians these days do so in response to a personal crisis or the fear of death (particularly among older Americans).
With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. Why would a Christian be reticent about living and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ? Could it be because neither the Word nor the Lord is REAL to him? And could that be because the doctrine presented to most Christians is illogical, self-contradictory, confusing, bland, or unmotivating? Hello-o-o?! ERROR DOES NOT WORK, no matter how sincerely or widely it is taught! And that takes us to the next point.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams. Among adults the areas of growing importance are lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievements.
Those dimensions have risen at the expense of investment in both faith and family. The turbo-charged pace of society leaves people with little time for reflection. Spiritual practices like contemplation, solitude, silence, and simplicity are rare. Practical to a fault, Americans consider survival in the present to be much more significant than eternal security and spiritual possibilities. Because we continue to separate our spirituality from other dimensions of life through compartmentalization, a relatively superficial approach to faith has become a central means of optimizing our life experience. As if “spiritual principles” are not practically applicable! Please. This attitude shows that too many Christians are not being taught the truth of the Word, which is all about how to live, that is, how to be and what to do in any situation. People cannot be living truth unless they first hear truth.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past. Churches run the risk of watching congregants’ engagement wane unless they embrace a strong spiritual basis for such service. The more that churches and believers can be recognized as people doing good deeds out of genuine love and compassion, then the more appealing the Christian life will be to those who are on the sidelines watching.
The quality and fruitfulness of any Christian’s life is directly proportionate to the quality of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what moves us to identify with his interests in other people and act accordingly, as in, “Any friend of Jesus’ is a friend of mine.”
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled “judgmental.” The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the Body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the Scriptures. The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable.
How can we present life-changing truth to people if we tiptoe around the basic truths of Scripture? Of course we want to present them as palatably as we can, but at some point whether or not a person chooses to ingest and digest the truth is about his own level of hunger. For centuries precious Christians have been subjected to indigestible junk food, as in, “Gag me with a fable.” Look, we are running out of time. Let’s make “Hey!” (as in, “Hey you, come to Christ!”) while the Son shines. The Devil is not shy about loudly and relentlessly proclaiming his lies and we should be no less bold in declaring what we know to be God’s truth. People’s lives depend on it. We dare not mistake “tolerance” for spiritual blindness, an inordinate desire to have man’s favor, or cowardice.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. In a period of history where image is reality, and life-changing decisions are made on the basis of such images, the Christian Church is in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image. The primary obstacle is not the substance of the principles on which Christianity is based. The most influential aspect of Christianity in America is how believers do -or do not- implement their faith in public and private.
It is people’s observations of the integration of a believer’s faith into how he/she responds to life’s opportunities and challenges that most substantially shape people’s impressions of and interest in Christianity. In a society in which there are no absolutes, every individual is a free agent, we are taught to be self-reliant and independent, and Christianity is no longer the automatic, default faith of young adults, new ways of relating to Americans and exposing the heart and soul of the Christian faith are required.
Culture is shaped by people, and people are influenced by other people, either for good or for bad. I agree that the primary obstacle is “not the substance of the principles on which Christianity is based.” The problem is that those truths are not being taught. It is not that we need “new ways of exposing the heart and soul of the Christian faith.” What we need to do is teach the heart and soul of Christianity, and that is JESUS CHRIST, the living truth, who is not a “God-man” or an “all God and all man” being with whom we cannot possibly identify, but a human being who perfectly trusted the same heavenly Father he encourages you and me to trust.
Only the Lord Jesus can really touch your heart to the degree that your love for him makes you a “slave” to him, and one who can articulate his faith such that others can believe. Let’s truth it!
By John Lynn
The Living Truth Fellowship
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