Many Christians, including university professors at Christian universities, confuse popular culture with the Christian story.
When I taught Christian theology (mostly historical theology) at an evangelical Christian liberal arts college, there was a strong emphasis on “integration of faith and learning.”
And yet some of my faculty colleagues resisted the idea. Some ridiculed it. And some responded with benign neglect.
I will never forget being taught in a faculty workshop led by a communications professor that “if they haven’t learned, you haven’t taught.”
Besides being simply stupid, that maxim is biblically false, as it falls into conflict with the biblical-Christian doctrine of sin.
I’m not talking about any specific doctrine of sin; I’m talking about the Bible’s teaching that we are all prone to willful ignorance – especially in spiritual matters.
What I wanted to stand up and ask my colleague and the others in that workshop was, “What about Jesus?”
Nothing could possibly be clearer than that Jesus taught yet many of his listeners didn’t learn.
I’m not pointing the finger at one person or discipline; I’m using that as one example out of numerous possible ones.
Another colleague, a computer science professor, told me he views God as a great “cosmic computer.” A social scientist admitted that he does not believe in miracles or anything supernatural. An anthropology professor told me there is no trans-cultural gospel. I could go on and on.
We live in a Christian subculture in the U.S. that has fallen into gross ignorance of basic Christian philosophy, metaphysics and worldview.
We do not train ourselves or our young people to “see” the world “as” God’s good but broken creation.
Most Christians’ minds are a confused mess of ideas drawn more from popular culture than Scripture or Christian tradition.
The evidence is near total lack of critical discernment with regard to popular culture and messages labeled “spiritual,” “moral,” even “Christian.”
For the most part, unfortunately, only fundamentalists care about clear-cut Christian ideas and critical discernment toward popular culture and messages labeled “religious” or “spiritual.”
Moderates care about ethics and spirituality, but not doctrine or worldview. Christianity, we say, is a “way of life” but not a way of thinking.
Is it any wonder we adopt naturalism and New Age ideas? Some of us are more interested in the Enneagram than the Nicene Creed.
Recently, I was told in public that the problem I point to is the result of deviation from biblical inerrancy. This is nonsense and balderdash.
For a counter example, one could cite the Scottish theologian James Orr’s outstanding classic, “The Christian View of God and the World.”
Orr did not believe in biblical inerrancy but was a great Christian thinker nonetheless. Unless “biblical inerrancy” just means belief that the Bible is the unique, inspired and authoritative Word of God.
But I know many Christians who would gladly confess belief in even the strictest sense of “biblical inerrancy” and still revel in willful ignorance, anti-intellectualism, gullibility and rejection of clear Christian thinking.
The underlying problem is cultural populism and anti-intellectualism invading the churches.
We have, as A.W. Tozer suggested, dumbed down Christianity to near emptiness.
The solution is simple. Go back and start over. Wipe away the last quarter- to half-century of sole emphasis on “practical Christianity” to the exclusion of Christian discernment.
Start teaching children the Bible, not just “Bible stories.” Return to memorizing key portions of the Bible and singing songs and hymns with meaningful lyrics.
Teach everyone that God expects us to worship him with our minds, not just our feelings.
Institute catechism classes. Gently but firmly correct church members who protest, “All our ideas about God are equal.”
Reinvigorate the ideas that biblical-theological education is a must for pastoral leaders and that sermons ought to teach as well as inspire.
Encourage “life groups” to study Christian books that teach and stretch the mind. Invite theologians and biblical scholars to speak in the church and have pastors urge the people to attend.
A few years ago, I visited a church where the pastor routinely devoted 10 to 15 minutes of the Sunday morning worship service to a mini-talk by a visiting and invited Christian scholar. It’s a beginning.
Christianity in America has by and large been reduced to folk religion – a spirituality divorced from tradition and critical thinking.
It thrives on clichÃ©s, “evangelegends” and feelings (mostly of comfort). It lacks intellectual rigor, concern for coherence (among beliefs), thrives on spiritual stimulation devoid of discernment and regards everyone as an “expert” in his or her own spirituality.
The result is a loss of credibility and influence and, tragically, eventually of the gospel itself.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Against Calvinism” and “The Story of Christian Theology.” This article is edited from a longer version that first appeared on his blog. It is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Counterfeit Christianity” and “The Story of Christian Theology.”