I almost hate to mention those words in this brief article…first of all, for some they would interpret the phrase oxymoronically…like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence”, you know what I mean. Others, will automatically “switch the channel” and decide to stop reading because of the inevitable irrelevance of such a piece. Whatever your first “impression”, don’t sign off too quickly…stick with me. What I want to briefly share is important and are thoughts that have been hanging around my brain and have embedded themselves in my conversations over the past months.
There is a glaring issue in today’s faith communities (otherwise known as local churches) that needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed primarily because it is an offshoot of the secularization that has occurred within our culture as well as the selling out of the church to “pragmatism”. What I’ve casually noticed in my years as a local faith community leader and participant is an increasing theological de-sophistication that is plaguing many gatherings of Christ-followers. I don’t necessarily know all the facts, but I have done a bit of research on the subject. Christian pollster and Gallup Organization trained author, George Barna, has been bringing this up over the past several years primarily through his research within local churches as well as in his books (primarily, Thinking like Jesus)…but I can say this, for most followers of Jesus, the most significant time of theological discourse, thinking, processing and investigation occurred (if ever) years ago. In our specific denomination, that would have occurred in something we Lutheran Christians call, Confirmation, you know, that two year process (the word here is “catechesis”…training, teaching, in most instances using Martin Luther’s Small Catechism as a foundational text) of deep investigation into the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, issues having to do with Sacraments and the Church as well as scriptural truths. Unfortunately, as consumerism and materialism has gripped our culture, many local churches have opted for “building a crowd” by primarily projecting a message aimed at speaking to “felt needs” within people rather than training and equipping followers of Jesus for mission and for active life of growth and maturity. Trust me, you can build a crowd if all you are talking about is what God can do for you and me…you can build a crowd with the messages filled with direct felt need application in ways to have better marriages, more well-behaved kids, bigger bank accounts, and more happiness. Now, don’t take me wrong…the scriptures do speak to some of these issues and put these issues in perspective and it is important to take the application leap in helping people to understand that truth best experienced is that which is best lived. BUT unfortunately, a steady diet of felt needs based teaching and encouragement only shoots ourselves in the foot over time…just like feeding yourself junk food overtime helps you only gain weight and yearn for more…so exclusivity in felt needs, application only teaching exposure just encourages that which has been a bane to our culture – that being increasing amounts of consumeristically driven lives and praxis.
I believe with all my heart that followers of Jesus need to have a vital intellectual and spiritual formation component alive and well within their lives in order to be the people “on a mission from God” that God has called us to live and embrace. We need to be theologically sophisticated enough to be able to process and assimilate truth into our souls in a transformational manner…for it transitions into mission are going to occur in faith communities, theological awareness needs to increase…and we must roll up our sleeves and discover and innovate ways that that can occur. FOR EXAMPLE, I don’t know if you and me really realize that the essential components of our lives as disciples (and disciple-makers) primarily is a reflection of the very nature and character of God Himself – that the Trinity is actually part of the image of God that He gives us as a people to become one not only with God but with each other with a specified, mission/worship/community-relational context (see images below). In other words, when you “mess with” the Trinity, you get heresy…when you mess with the essential nature of the Body of Christ and call of Jesus to worship, be in relationship and then be a disciple-maker, you get a skewed picture of a faithful life. Or how about a deeper investigation into our identity as followers of Jesus – are we sinners or saints? How do we live out that reality on a day to day basis? Or how about worldview…do we really understand the depths of what it means to be a God-centered, biblically oriented person versus that which is secular, humanistic or pure materialistic (and the implications of those world views)? Do we understand the teachings of Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit? Do we understand the difference between having Jesus as Savior AND Lord? Do we understand the significance of the scriptures teaching on the Kingdom of God? You see, our time is demanding that we have MORE thinking people than less…our time is demanding that we ask people NOT to check their brain at the door but to wrestle with the profound issues of the faith (and not be frightened or discouraged in doing so).
So, that’s my brief “case” for theological sophistication…it really is more of an idea for a book…maybe that’s what you were feeling like you were doing when you were reading this post…but think about…when was the last time you significantly wrestled with deeper issues of the faith? Why aren’t you doing more now? And for those of you “teachers/encouragers/equippers” in the Body, why are you not rolling up your sleeves and helping people understand those issues that will help them in their confidence as a growing and faithful disciple? That’s for you to ponder…more to come…