Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research surveyed three thousand Americans on their theological beliefs. The results show a great need for godly churches to reach their communities with the gospel.
Many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.
You can browse the findings yourself on their website.
The same percentage of respondents (62 percent) agree or somewhat agree with the statement, “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven,” as well as “Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.” Slightly more of them (64) would say “everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature,” but 73 percent disagree or somewhat disagree that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”
That conviction is fundamentally a conviction about the character of God. If he is perfectly holy and just, he cannot let sin go unpunished. But God is no longer holy—in the minds of six out of ten Americans.
“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic, and what not,” Lewis wrote. “But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”
Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center shares some good thoughts from C. S. Lewis about Christians in the political world, but I think I may have strong disagreements.
Certainly, to create a specifically Christian political party could cause problems, because while the Bible has many applications to civil society, it does not give us a platform for twenty-first century governing. Wehner says Lewis “believed that theocracy was the worst form of government and detested the idea of a ‘Christian party,’ which risked blaspheming the name of Christ.”
I can see that danger, but who among us is even capable of establishing a theocracy? If God were to descend on Washington D.C. and declare his regulations from the Lincoln Memorial, if he were to charge his followers with discipling those who refuse to obey him and blessing them with divine gifts for carrying out his will, then we would have a theocracy. What are the Lord’s trade and immigration policies? How does the Lord want us to handle our crime-ridden cities? Let’s ask him directly.
No. We can’t get there from here. We could set up a “Christian” party. I’m pretty sure we have. And we have several Christian candidates for various offices, but none of them can reconstruct our government to submit to the direct decrees of God. What Wehner and Lewis, I suppose, are criticizing is a government ruled by priests who claim to speak for the Almighty–the Holy American Empire, in other words. Continue reading No One Can Set Up a Theocracy
One of the best things I’ve read in some time, from Tom Holland in NewStatesman:
The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.
Read it all here.
From our earthly perspective, it may not seem to us that the motley assortment of deeply flawed humanity that makes up the church has much to commend it. What kind of a reward is this for Christ’s suffering? Yet Jesus does not hesitate to call us beautiful!
Iain Duguid writes about the hope and security found in Daniel 6. “My salvation rests not on my ability to ‘Dare to be a Daniel,’ but solely on Christ’s perfect obedience in my place.”
How do you react to the claim that what a Christian does at church on Sunday morning is the most important thing he can do that week? I think some pastors have said this as a way of saying worshipping God is our most important act, but if that’s what they intend to say, they aren’t quite saying it. One could easily hear in such a claim that attending church that morning is the most important part of the week. Is that what worship is? Are we only able to worship the Lord in an organized service on one day or can we develop a lifestyle of worship for the whole week? Is the church’s mission to draw people into its organization or to declare the wonders of Christ Jesus?
Jared C. Wilson has experience in churches that put all of their creative energy into making the Sunday morning service exciting, unique, and attractive to the people of their city, and he believes those church leaders have lost the vision for Christ’s church on earth. The manner of the services and the theme of the sermons (or talks) point to good feelings and self-improvement. “But are they the real message of Jesus?” he asks.
Wilson’s argument in The Prodigal Church rests on his belief that what you win people with is what you win them to. “Pragmatic discipleship makes pragmatic Christians. The way the church wins its people shapes its people. So the most effective way to turn your church into a collection of consumers and customers is to treat them like that’s what they are.”
He urges church leaders to question their assumptions about what takes place in their services and programs. If their goal is make clear the claims of Christ or to help others make God of first importance in every part of their lives, then they are on mission regardless their presentation style.
You could walk away from the attractional church’s pattern of teaching and think you needed some more skills, some more enthusiasm, and some more advice, but you’d rarely walk away thinking you need more grace.
Wilson is careful not to overly criticize. He isn’t arguing for his preferred church style or saying that everyone has to agree with him on what makes for a good worship service. He admits we have different styles, but making consumerism a normal part of the American church does not lift up the name of Christ or apply his grace in healthy ways. That’s not a style choice. It’s a problem. It isn’t cultural sensitivity; it’s being co-opted by the culture.
The second part of the book offers many thoughts on how to do church well, including some stories of people who realized their manner of ministry didn’t accomplish their intentions. I heartily agree with and recommend this book.
Many attractional churches still preach that Jesus died for our sins, of course. But too often this message of Christ’s death has become assumed, the thing you build up to rather than focus on. Or, in too many other cases, this message is treated as the “add-on” to other messages, the proposition presented at the end of a message that is more about our personal success than Christ’s personal victory.
A cognitive dissonance can result for those who hear a message all about what they should do to be more successful or victorious or happy or what-have-you, only to then hear the proposition that Jesus died for our sins. To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash.
But the appeal is easy to see. Attractional is certainly attractive. These kinds of messages, over time, communicate to seeker and believer alike that Christianity is about themselves, making the faith more about self-improvement or life enhancement—which are things we all want deep down. But are they the real message of Jesus?
— From The Prodigal Church:A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, by Jared C. Wilson
Though I am in no position to challenge Wilson’s assessment here, I want to offer the suggestion that the spiritual whiplash may be negated quite a bit by presenting the gospel with a heavy emphasis on personal choice. These preachers could be summarized as saying that since Christ has done so much for our eternal lives, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of it. Don’t you see how your life would be improved by declaring yourself a follower of Christ Jesus?
That may be a way to make converts, but it isn’t a way to make actual disciples.
God in his grace also provides the solution: the God-man, the Word made flesh bore the sins of people of all nations in his body on the tree. We see him pinned there by our foolish pride. Our pride that thought it could build a tower bigger and better than God. That God that spoke us into existence with a word made his Word become flesh (Jn. 1:14) and that flesh was put to death on our behalf to save us from our wicked desire to be smarter than him.
Pastor Sean Nolan repents of his desire to be clever.
Doug Ponder describes the party that began at the beginning and will last forever.
The Trinity is so saturated with truth and beauty and goodness that their delight in each other spilled over the banks, like the Nile in flood season, creating life where there was no life so that others might come to share in God’s joy. Creation was God’s divine invitation to join the party of the ages.
Pastor Joe Thorn said he’s seen many small churches, some being the salt of the earth, some needing a smack upside the head. Last year, he wrote a four part series on what small churches can do in their communities.
- “As I have seen several churches in my area continue to dwindle in size I have watched the leadership of many of these churches settle into into one of three dangerous mentalities: elitism, defeatism, and survivalism. These are mentalities I know well as they have characterized my ministry at one time or another.”
- “Many smaller churches feel extremely limited by their size,” but they don’t have to compete with other churches for market share or apologize to anyone for their size.
- “Smaller churches are no less hindered from doing what God has called his people to do than are larger churches. Having more people does not maker it easier.”
- “My wife and I once attended a Reformed Baptist Church that fits my current definition of a “small” church. There was no worship leader. No choir. No instruments. No overhead projection. No cool lights. The building was plain-Jane. Yet their gathering was powerful. Why?”
Thorn has a “three-book series on the confession, nature, and expression of the Church” coming out this fall from Moody, which will likely cover these themes and much more.
Any man who seeks God’s calling should pray the way Moses prayed. We should ask God to give us intimate knowledge of him. The things we do will be successful only if God is in them. Whenever we do something that God has called us to do—whether it is serving in our singleness, learning how to be married, working at a job, or getting involved in ministry—we need to pray that God will show us his way to go about things.
Philip Ryken, “2 Audacious Demands We Are to Make of God“
Russell Moore on the church in America and our intersection with public policies in today’s New York Times. We are not a majority white church anymore more nor should we want to be.
The Bible calls on Christians to bear one another’s burdens. White American Christians who respond to cultural tumult with nostalgia fail to do this. They are blinding themselves to the injustices faced by their black and brown brothers and sisters in the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. That world was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.
Alan Noble talks about the politicization of our morals and how that has raised fences around our communities.
Politics do not (or at least should not) define us, but cultural values that are traditionally wrapped up in political movements impact our perception of our neighbor. If politicians and the pundits who support them regularly speak about immigrants as threats to our country or view poor minorities as drains on our economy, or if they mock Christian voters as backwards bigots and pro-life advocates as anti-woman, it shapes the way we envision one another. We grow skeptical of one another, hostile, and cynical. In a word, we become less neighborly.
Matt McCullough reviews Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, which focuses on a newly developed class of self-righteous Protestants who have redefined redemption in social terms.
These folks aren’t self-consciously religious, though they may consider themselves “spiritual.” They blame the Protestant Christianity of their parents for much of what’s worst in the world. But if they’ve cast off their parents’ theological and ecclesial commitments, they have inherited a robust confidence in their own “essential moral rightness” (13). In fact, without the work of Christ or the fellowship of the church to fall back on, their sense of moral enlightenment becomes all the more crucial. It’s how they know their lives are justified; it’s how they know they belong among those who “get it.”
… They’re set apart as a class by their ability to recognize and personally reject the forces of evil—especially bigotry, militarism, oppression, and (sexual) repression. And they enjoy calm assurance that they’re insiders to a better world coming just around the corner.
On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, intending to invite debate on the doctrine of indulgences and its implication. Next year is the 500th anniversary of that decision.
LUTHER Official Teaser Trailer from Stephen McCaskell on Vimeo.
Now, the makers of the film Through the Eyes of Spurgeon are raising money to fund their production of a documentary on Luther.
A remarkable book was released yesterday: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. Samuel James talks us through it.
September 11 may not have been have been Hitchens’s Damascus Road moment, but it did much to disarm his innate hostility to those outside his ideological family tree. By pivoting to the right on terror, Hitchens was forced to doubt the categorical identity politics that so often dominate American discourse. This doubt—this shaken faith in the inherited doctrines of the Left—created the space into which Christian friendship, and Taunton himself, entered.
Reviewing “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens”
Douglas Wilson praises the book as well. “And as far as the eyewitness testimony goes, I can say that his account rings completely true. The man he traveled with and debated is the same man that I traveled with and debated.”
Sociologist George Yancey asks, “When does Big Business call for a boycott?” He points to the MLB threatening to boycott Arizona over an immigration law and the threats made against Georgia this month over a religious freedom bill. He notes that no boycotts have been publically discussed in support of the social conflict in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Flint, Michigan.
So what motivates a call for pulling business out of an area? Perhaps it’s primarily an anti-Christian (not so much anti-religious) bias.
Given what we are seeing in this year’s presidential campaigns, there may soon be a breakup in the Republican Party — the party has politically united the interest of large corporations and conservative Christians over the last few decades. That “marriage” may have provided Christians the illusion that leaders of those businesses care about them. In most cases, they don’t.
In another story, a dean at Catholic university Marquette is demanding one of his professors apologize for his criticism of another professor who was recorded telling her student that a traditional Catholic position on marriage was not welcome in her class. (via Prufrock)