Does it matter what Americans really believe about God?

68451_LandingPageArt

You might recall last fall a big hubbub about a research project LifeWay conducted, which was commissioned by Ligonier Ministries. If you read the study, I’m sure you were as surprised—and in some ways unsurprised—as I was.

But I will say, I was delighted when I learned The Gospel Project and Ligonier Ministries were releasing it as a new, free eBook, The State of American Theology: Knowing the Truth, Loving the Church, Reaching Our Neighbors. This book collects the research and thoughtful essays from the likes of R. C. Sproul, Ed Stetzer, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Thabiti Anyabwile, Trevin Wax, and many more.

And it couldn’t be more timely.

Confused beliefs about God and the faith

Let’s face it: Americans are confused about what Christianity actually teaches. All you have to do is get into a discussion on… well pretty much anything really, and you’ll see what I mean. This confusion is everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, books, podcasts, and sadly even the pulpit.

  • Does it surprise you that more than six in ten Americans believe the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force?
  • What about a slight majority (58 percent) believing that the creeds—the ancient formulations of the Christian faith such as the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds—have little value for us in our day?
  • Or a large minority (37 per cent)—and yes, I’m aware of the contradiction of a large minority—being unsure if it’s possible or actually believing that God is capable of making mistakes?

Download the ebook for more.

Why it matters

In some ways, none of this should surprise us at all. In fact, it should encourage us. Knowing what Americans (and I’d argue by extension, westerners in general) believe about God, the Bible and key doctrines of the faith is good for us. In fact, it helps us in a couple of important ways:

1. It helps us to know where we are weak in our discipleship of believers. Remember, these statistics include Christians of various traditions—evangelicals, mainline protestants and Roman Catholics—as well as those unaffiliated with Christianity or any particular religious belief. So for us to know that there is a great deal of confusion even in our own churches is a good thing.

We need to know this stuff because we need to know how to help Christians grow in their faith—how to be the sorts of Christians who think and believe as Christians. Teaching seven steps to a better whatever isn’t going to do that. But teaching them to read, study and apply their Bibles, with the Holy Spirit’s help and through his power, just might.

2. It also helps us to remember who theology is for. One of the things that always makes me uncomfortable is hearing a Christian say we should leave theology to the theologians. Now, this is true—if we understand that everyone is a theologian. As Jared Wilson puts it in his essay, “Laypeople have no biblical warrant to leave the duty of doctrine up to pastors and professors alone.” If we take the greatest commandment seriously—to love the Lord our God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength—then we must diligently learn things about him.

3. It helps us answer the real questions of unbelievers. We often assume the questions unbelievers ask, or what we think they need to know. This is why so many gospel presentations default to “not religion, but a relationship,” or the four spiritual laws, or filling a Jesus-shaped hole in our hearts. This reminds us that we actually need to answer questions like, “Who is God?” because there is no culturally agreed upon understanding that can serve as our starting point. Once we know where to begin, we can start having really meaningful conversations.

There are more reasons, but I think these three sum it up pretty well. Do you care about discipling people? Do you care about theology have a right place in the life of believers? Do you care about reaching people for Christ? If you answered yes, you should care about this study. Be sure to head over to gospelproject.com and grab a copy. 

 

 

 

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Resist or accommodate evil

Jeffrey Ventrella argues against a “third way” in the US marriage debate. Regardless of your thoughts on this topic, the article is worth reading:

Today, religious liberty is again being suppressed. Business owners are increasingly coerced to participate in and contribute to same-sex ceremonies. King’s principled wisdom is once again needed. And yet, some people of faith like Russell Nieli tell us to express dissent but nevertheless comply with these coercive demands, arguing that this comprises a “third way.” But would this not functionally reduce King’s brilliant logic and historic analysis to being no more than a private expression, devoid of real-world traction, rather than a costly but principled call to action? Would this not wither these worthy writings?

While I am grateful for Nieli’s thoughtful and nuanced approach to this topic, his proposed solution for business owners facing legal pressure to contribute to same-sex ceremonies ultimately fails.

An Open Letter to LifeWay Trustees

Mike addresses a serious issue here.

When to Overlook A Fault

David Murray:

Yes, some offenses require repentance before granting forgiveness, but there are other offenses that must be overlooked if we are to survive in any relationship (1 Peter 4:8; Prov. 10:12; 12:16; 19:11). But when to do what?

Here are some questions to ask to help us decide if we are to “cover” or “overlook” an offense.

Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods

While I am inclined to believe the creation days were 24 hour periods, this argument from Justin Taylor is worth considering. I’d love to see a thoughtful response to this.

The Gospel Language

Erik Raymond:

It is said that author J.R.R. Tolkien created over 14 languages for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some have observed that for Tolkien language presupposed a story. The language he created served to communicate his story in a particularly compelling way. But it was the story that brought the language alive. It gave it texture.

In the Scriptures we also find that language paints the drama. Think about the early chapters of the Bible as if you have never read them before. You have themes and concepts like mercy, grace, covenant, blessing, inheritance, promise, rest, etc. It is here, early on in the story, that God begins to show us the budding flowers redemption and restoration. This is the gospel language. God created it to serve his ends in communicating the most fascinating, soul-arresting, hear-stirring, joy-producing drama in history.

Links I like

The Hidden Work and Power of God’s Word

Mark Altrogge:

When I’m preaching on Sundays I can’t see what’s happening in people’s hearts. I can’t see if any are born again, or encouraged or sustained or convicted. Some people may be smiling or nodding, but many have unreadable expressions.  If I were to judge by some peoples’ faces I’d guess nothing was happening in their hearts.  When we’d have family devotions when the kids were young, most days they were sleepy, distracted and squirmy.  I couldn’t tell if God’s word was having any effect on my kids.  Often when I share the gospel with someone I’m met with a blank stare or “Oh yeah I believe in Jesus. I go to church.”  They don’t cry out “Brother, what should I do?” like on the day of Pentecost.  And even when I read God’s word myself, I don’t experience fireworks or goosebumps. At times I’m convicted or challenged or encouraged by a Scripture, but many mornings my devotions feel rather routine and unremarkable.

But our lack of seeing immediate fruit in our children when we read the Bible to them or in fellow believers when we encourage them with Scripture or unbelievers when we share the good news of Jesus or even in ourselves when we read God’s word, doesn’t mean that something isn’t happening. God’s word is at work.

The State of Theology

This is fascinating stuff. On a related note…

Does my local church have the authority to say I’m not a Christian?

Nine out of ten evangelicals say no, but what do church leaders say?

Are Millennials Leaving the Church Because of Homosexuality?

Aaron Earls:

While many of the specific reasons for an individual church’s or denomination’s decline are complicated, there are two over-arching reasons for extended drops in membership and attendance – the lack of orthodoxy (right beliefs) or orthopraxy (right actions).

To ignore one or the other will undoubtably lead to decline, regardless of how well we think we have the other handled. That is of particular importance because of the way both sides have treated the issue of homosexuality.

Evangelism is Fueled by Knowing God is at Work

Erik Raymond:

Nearly 20 years ago I was an unbelieving, angry guy. I hadn’t previously been exposed to “Bible-thumping” guys but, now that I was, I utterly despised them. I hated their smiles, humility, hopefulness, charity, and confidence. Oh, how I hated their confidence. I would mock, insult, and try to get them to “sin” or blush. They just kept on like they understood me better than I understood myself.

I didn’t listen to them. I don’t even think I ever really heard them–but, they got to me. They were different. I knew it and so did they.

If sin has to be whispered…

“If there’s a sin that has to be whispered in our congregation then we are not truly Christian.”—Russell Moore at ERLC 2014 (HT: Todd Adkins)

Moore-ERLC-quote

Links I like

7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind

David Murray:

The worst kind of poison is the kind that poisons you without you realizing it. There’s no bitter taste, no pain, no sudden weakness, nothing to alarm; yet, the poison is slowly and steadily doing its deadly work.

In such a dangerous condition, our only hope is some kind of test that shows what is undetectable to normal human senses, maybe a scan of sorts that shows up the extent of the poison in our systems? Only then can the antidote be found, prescribed, and taken.

Discipleship in Canada: Sharing Faith and Making Relationships at Church

Ed Stetzer shares some findings from Lifeway’s recent research on the state of discipleship in Canada.

Faking Cultural Literacy

Karl Greenfeld:

There was a time when we knew where we were getting our ideas. In my eighth grade English class, we were assigned “A Tale of Two Cities,” and lest we enjoy the novel, we were instructed to read Charles Dickens’s classic with an eye toward tracking the symbolism in the text. One afternoon while I was in the library, struggling to find symbols, I ran into a few of my classmates, who removed from their pockets folded yellow and black pamphlets that read “Cliffs Notes” and beneath that the title of Dickens’s novel in block letters. That “study guide” was a revelation.

Here were the plot, the characters, even the symbols, all laid out in paragraphs and bullet points. I read the Cliffs Notes in one night, and wrote my B paper without finishing the novel. The lesson was not to immerse and get lost in the actual cultural document itself but to mine it for any valuable ore and minerals — data, factoids, what you need to know — and then trade them on the open market.

With the advent of each new technology — movable type, radio, television, the Internet — there have been laments that the end is nigh for illuminated manuscripts, for books, magazines and newspapers. What is different now is the ubiquity of the technology that is replacing every old medium.

HT: Zach

How To Handle Controversy

Jeff Medders shares some terrific advice from John Newton:

John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, is also well known for being a prolific letter writer. Volumes of letters.

Newton once wrote to another minister who was about to publish a very critical piece on another pastor. It was destined to spark controversy. And given what has gone on in the internet and the evangelical world—and what will come in the future—Newton’s counsel is wisdom crying aloud in the street for us all.

Too Scared to Cry: Social Media Outrage and the Gospel

Russell Moore:

If mere outrage were a sign of godliness, then the devil would be the godliest soul in the cosmos. He, after all, rages and roars, “because he knows his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). Contrast that with the Lord Jesus who does not “quarrel or cry aloud” (Matthew 12:19).

Why is this so? It’s because the devil has no mission, apart from killing and destroying and accusing and slandering. And it’s because the devil is on the losing side of history.