The Dumbing Down of Christianity

When did it become shameful to be intelligent or well-educated? Over the past 40 years or so it seems the body of Christ has lost about 20 IQ points. To be clear I’m not talking about caricatures of intelligence like Frasier Crane and his brother Niles looking down their noses at the poor masses. When did milk instead of meat become the pinnacle of our bible study?

A few years ago when I lived in Tulsa, OK I was looking for a new church and was invited to try out a place called The Gathering.  In the foyer area I was offered a choice of sweet iced tea or Starbucks’ coffee.  The “service” consisted of a band playing rock style music on a stage with colored lights singing songs I had never heard of (I did know most popular worship songs at the time). The “pastor” (for lack of a better term) got up and sat on a stool and shared a rambling motivational speech which quoted one (I kid you not) one bible verse.

After perusing the bulletin, I could find no bible studies listed as being offered for the church.  We were invited to join “life groups” whose purpose was to help us make friends not specifically to study the bible. One motivational speech and one life group meeting and you were good to go. Needless to say I didn’t return.

During that time I visited over 20 churches in the Greater Tulsa area.  One of them had a pastor who was celebrated for being “deep.”  Sure enough, their bookstore had copies of Strong’s Concordance and Vine’s Dictionary which is a great start for new believers but hardly what I would consider deep.  Going into the service I eagerly awaited this pastor’s sermon which was in one sentence “if you’re happy let your face know it.”  I’m not kidding.  Dear God, I wish I was.

I realize not every bible study or sermon is going to be like a class in Systematic Theology at a seminary.  Where has the meat gone? Where’s the beef? (pardon the Wendy’s pun).  Where are the robust discussions of free will vs. election or the sovereignty of God? When was the last time you heard a good, lively debate that changed the way you thought previously?

When I was younger (high school, college, graduate school) I was hungry for bible study and good lively discussions. I wanted my worldview to be challenged and to stand firm in my faith against the onslaught of humanistic teaching.  My favorite thing about youth group wasn’t the pizza or the social games.  It was having a youth pastor who taught me how to study the bible for myself and started a lifelong journey of being a hungry bible student.

Let’s do this for the next generation – let’s teach them to love the bible and love it’s Author. Let’s challenge them with more than milk – if they can handle Calculus at high school then they can handle looking up Greek or Hebrew words. We owe it to them to create thinking, educated Christians who can defend their faith.

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Back at the writing desk

The last several years have been hectic and hard.  I’m hoping with the advent of a new year to begin blogging again. In this blog,  I will be commenting on news and trends in modern Christianity

Stay tuned!

Crystal

Church Study Reveals Deception Gripping Believers

 

This story from Charisma News:

spiritual maturity chart

Professing Christians progressing toward spiritual maturity will have a firmer grasp on important doctrinal positions.  However, plenty of churchgoers still struggle with basic truths about God, the Bible and salvation. So says a new study from LifeWay Research.

The LifeWay Research study on “Doctrinal Positions” shows that while 81 percent of churchgoers say “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have confessed your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior,” 26 percent agree “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity.” Fifty-seven percent disagree.

“Consumers in America are accustomed to having endless combinations of choices for every want in life,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “Biblical truth is radical because it teaches that eternal life is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ alone.”

Other responses given regarding beliefs about life after death include:

  • When you die, you will go to heaven because you have tried your best to be a good person and live a good life (selected by 7 percent of churchgoers).
  • You have no way of knowing what will happen when you die (5 percent of churchgoers).
    When you die, you will go to heaven because God loves everyone and we will all be in heaven with Him (4 percent).
  • When you die, you will go to heaven because you have read the Bible, been involved in church, and tried to live as God wants you to live (2 percent).
  • There is no life after death (1 percent).

Churchgoers strongly hold to the accuracy of the Scriptures, the survey reveals. Eighty-two percent agree with the statement: “The Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches.” Ten percent disagree and 8 percent neither agree nor disagree.

While the majority of churchgoers (75 percent) strongly hold the God of the Bible is not the same god worshiped in other world religions, 13 percent say the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Another 12 percent neither agree nor disagree with the uniqueness of the God of the Bible.

The study also shows nearly two-thirds (71 percent) agree with the statement: “God is just and sin has to be punished.” However, 13 percent of churchgoers disagree and 16 percent neither agree nor disagree with the statement.


I would love to see the details of this survey.  At first glance it would appear that we have about 80% saved and 20% goats in our churches.  I would also guess that people who answered biblically on one question did so on all and were probably older and lived in Southern states.

That someone could attend church on a regular basis and not know some of these most foundational doctrines is a sore indictment against the preaching in the church.  Perhaps a few more sermons on doctrine and a few less on “finding your destiny” might help.

What is extra biblical revelation?

It is common today to hear this term used to describe everything from someone who read their bible that morning and was really blessed by it to those who would start new cults by insisting their “revelations” were on par with Holy Writ. Let’s dissect these terms and come to an understanding that will help us rightly discern error from truth.

General Revelation

General revelation can be defined as what God has revealed to all men as is stated in:

Romans 1:19-20 ESV
(19)  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
(20)  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

God has revealed Himself to mankind in such a way that morally they are accountable to Him for their acts.

Special Revelation

Supernatural or special revelation is when God reveals something otherwise unknown to a man.  This is often accompanied by the inspiration to write that down to be preserved as Scripture.  Moses was given both revelation and was inspired to write the Torah.  Pharaoh was given revelation in coded form in a dream and Joseph was needed to interpret it while Moses was charged with writing it down.

In the sense that revelation and inspiration are used to write Scriptures and we know that the canon of Scripture is closed (Rev 22:18-19) there is no more special revelation or inspiration today.

Illumination

This is what happens when God makes His word “alive” to the reader through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Many times in Scriptures we are told that only those who are saved can rightly understand His Word.

1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
(18)  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For the vast majority of people, when they say God spoke to them or they heard God, what they mean is that the Holy Spirit illuminated a portion of Scripture to their spirit – in a sense making it come alive.

Extra Biblical Revelation

Any supernatural knowledge that cannot be directly attributed to Scripture may be called extra biblical revelation. This may range from someone who believes God lead him to take an alternate route to work only to find out his usual route had a bad car wreck to someone like Joseph Smith who started the Mormon religion who wrote an entire book that Mormons hold parallel to the Holy Bible.

Where do we as discerning Christians draw the line? We draw it right along with the Bereans:

Acts 17:11 ESV
(11)  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

 

Any teaching whether given by supernatural revelation or by man’s reasoning that does not line up with the full weight of Scripture must be rejected.

There are some of the cessationist camp, who believe that all spiritual gifts have ceased and that God does not reveal new information but rather illumines the bible to believers.  John MacArthur sums up this position well:

Contrary to the teaching of many, neither special revelation nor inspiration are occurring today. The Bible contains God’s final and complete written revelation to man (cf. Jude 3 and Rev. 22:18–19). Currently the Holy Spirit instructs and guides a believer, not by revealing newly inspired data, but by bringing illumination to God’s already revealed Word.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Rediscovering expository preaching (105–106). Dallas: Word Publishing.

To those in the charismatic camp who believe that God continues to operate through the agency of the Holy Spirit such gifts as word of knowledge and prophecy, what standards are given to judge such revelations?

1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV
(29)  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

Those who are spiritually mature should judge the words given as to whether they are given at the right time, the right place, in the right manner and to the right audience as well as whether or not it lines up doctrinally with Scripture.

Such prophecies or words of knowledge do not carry the authority of Scripture.  It would be more helpful to consider them in the same light as sermons.  No one claims when preaching that their words should be written down and considered Scripture.  Sermons can be judged as to whether the preacher was faithful to the biblical text and the bible’s overall message. So it should be with spiritual gifts – they should be judged and never accepted as being on par with Scripture.  Prophecy today is defined as:

1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV
(3)  On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

It would be helpful to realize that not everyone who believes in the gifts of the Spirit is a heretic. We should quit using that term so broadly and reserve it for those who are speaking outside of the bounds of solid biblical doctrine.  Judge all things by the Scriptures.

Isaiah 8:20 NKJV
(20)  To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Time for a retirement party?

Pat Robertson seems to be having some trouble lately getting his foot out of his mouth.  Am I alone in thinking he’s way past retirement?  The graceful thing to do when aging is to retire from public speaking once dementia kicks in and for Robertson, it has been kicking quite hard recently.

In this clip Robertson says God didn’t create the earth as stated in the bible in six thousand years and dinosaurs are the proof.

Earlier this year he offered some pretty weird marriage advice

Here he gives quite odd advice to parents of adopted children.

Retire Pat – now – before you embarrass yourself any further.

Heretical or not?

If you read “discernment blogs” you will soon discover that there are very few, if any, teachers of the word of God that meet all the standards that have been set up.  Sooner or later, someone you have watched on TV or have read their book will appear on the latest blog watch list as persons to avoid as heretical.  The only one untouched by criticism so far as I know is John MacArthur.

Some, I think, rightly deserve some criticism – such as Rick Warren for inviting three non-Christian doctors to teach his people about weight loss and his seeker-driven mentality.  T.D. Jakes is a known modalist and has never repented publicly of that heresy.  Mark Driscoll cusses and speaks in an incredibly vulgar manner.  These men have drawn criticism for what they themselves have done.

Others have been skewered on the fire for associating with those who are suspect.  James MacDonald comes to mind for hosting the Elephant Room 2 and refusing to challenge T.D. Jakes on his modalist beliefs.  John Piper drew criticism for hosting a Desiring God conference at Rick Warren’s church.

Let me offer my opinion on three popular ministers and why I don’t think they belong on any “heresy watch list.”

Beth Moore

 

beth mooreBeth Moore is a favorite target of Ken Silva and others for having the audacity to include women from different denominations in her ministry.  Their argument against it has to do with The Roman Catholic Church being heretical and thus every person who is Catholic must be heretical too. I would agree that Catholic doctrine needed Reformation (and Martin Luther addressed that) but I don’t see why women from Catholic churches can’t come to a ladies’ bible study.

The second criticism comes from statements that Beth Moore makes such as “I heard God say…” or “I felt God lead me to…”  This hardly rises to the level of heresy.  As far as I know, cessationism vs. continuationism is not a fundamental doctrine that would cause one to be shunned from orthodox Christianity.

A third criticism arises from Beth’s participation in the “Be Still” conference where contemplative prayer and lectio divina were endorsed.  I too have questions about this and certainly don’t endorse this teaching per se but don’t consider it a deal breaker.  After all, John Piper stood right beside her at Passion 2012 and gave his blessing to what she did.

In my experience of watching Living Proof Live meetings, and having done the Daniel, Jesus the One and Only, Inheritance, Revelation and James bible studies – I like Beth Moore and her style of teaching. Now that she has her daughter Melissa doing research and writing, the overall quality of the materials has gone way up.  Before you crucify Beth Moore for her lack of hermeneutics in earlier works, may I remind you that the SBC has recently decided that women don’t belong in hermeneutic classes.  I’m certainly glad I went to seminary before women were barred from attending!

Perry Stone

 

Perry StoneI have watched Perry Stone and attended his meetings for a dozen years or more.  In all that time I have never heard or read anything from him that even remotely rises to the level of heresy.  One complaint I have heard frequently is his use of extra biblical sources in presenting a theory.  The people complaining though don’t mention that Perry always states what source he is using and that it is not to be considered as authoritative as the bible.  When he talks about giants in Gen 6:4 he clearly says that he has a theory about that instead of issuing dogmatic assertions.

The other complaint I have heard is his association with TBN and in particular Rod Parsley.  In the case of TBN, I’m grateful they have at least one person I like to watch who hosts the program on a semi regular basis.  As far as Rod Parsley, I’ve known him for over twenty years.  I can see where Perry and Rod would hook up – both are revivalists.  I don’t think though that Perry endorses every word of faith teaching that Rod would but that doesn’t preclude them from being friends nor should it.

Jonathan Cahn

 

CahnI almost hesitate to address this one as the firestorm of controversy is still brewing.  Let me say that I have read The Harbinger and have read most of the criticisms of it from various discernment ministries. Having spent over thirty years with charismatics and having attending seminary, I can see where both sides are coming from.

I think Jonathan has ably addressed the criticisms of his work and others have as well so that I don’t need to elaborate here.  What I will offer are some of my observations.

First, not everyone is a theologian.  You cannot judge books marketed for general audiences in the same way you judge theology textbooks.  The message of The Harbinger is that America needs to repent and turn to God.  How Cahn delivers that message could have been polished up a bit but it is hardly heretical to suggest repentance.  Rather than denouncing the whole book, a word of encouragement and some editing tips would have been more appropriate.

Secondly, just because he appeared on television shows to promote his book doesn’t mean he agrees with everything that television host has ever said.  Just because John MacArthur appeared on Larry King Live doesn’t mean he is Jewish.  He was promoting a book and took the advice of his press agent on what programs to appear on.  Cahn is not a media savvy celebrity and I hope he doesn’t become one either.  A little bit of grace would be nice for someone who is new to all this attention.

Summary

 

Not everyone is a heretic.  Most of the people in the limelight who are criticized are simply not as educated in academic theology as some of us would like.  That doesn’t make them a heretic and it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them either.

Hold people accountable for what they do and say not for appearing on the same show or stage with someone.  This whole guilt by association to the 2nd and 3rd degree thing is getting old.  Every person should stand or fall on what they themselves have said or done.. Amen?

Most churchgoers don’t read bible daily

 

“Bible engagement has an impact in just about every area of spiritual growth,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “You can follow Christ and see Christianity as your source of truth, but if that truth does not permeate your thoughts, aspirations and actions, you are not fully engaging the truth.
“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on growth in this attribute of spiritual maturity,” Stetzer said. “As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who are not reading the Bible regularly. You simply won’t grow if you don’t know God and spend time in God’s Word.”

Where do I begin?

Maybe grief would be the best place to start.  Excuse me while I put on my sackcloth and ashes and cry before God concerning the state of His church. If these kind of statistics don’t break your heart I fear you may be in the 80% who say with their mouth that they want to honor Jesus but really don’t care enough to read what He wrote.

If we divide the survey into two groups – those that read more than once a week and those who read less – it’s roughly 45% vs. 46% (40% of whom read it less than once a month or never) – we can see that our churches may be the biggest mission field for discipleship.  I would even question whether someone who reads the bible less than once a month is even truly born again but that may be for another blog post.

Why?

The Scriptures are more available in more ways today than ever before in history. Our forefathers in the faith – Tyndale, Luther, Wycliffe – wrestled with empires and kings to bring us the bible in the language of the common man. Today most people with smartphones carry enough computing power to run study bible apps with commentaries, dictionaries and graphs that would fill a small library.

The recent trend in bible translations has been the dumbing down of the readership.  No longer are people expected to read a good translation such as the ESV, NKJV or NASB, instead we have bibles in story format, movie script format and even one that promises to only take one minute of your day (The One Minute Bible).  Yet no matter how childish and watered down they make it – people still refuse to read it! Can you imagine a professional musician who only practiced one minute per day? Or a professional football player who said “Ok coach, I’m here at practice but only for one minute.”

What can we conclude?

If it were up to me, I’d round up the 55% who aren’t reading the bible at least several times per week and start preaching salvation to them.  I honestly don’t think you can be truly born again and not love the Scriptures.

Next, I would start emphasizing the bible as the basis for everything.  Every political view, every sociological view, every business practice, every interpersonal dynamic should be held up to the bible as the standard by which we live.  Every time an opinion is expressed – we should be asking “what chapter and verse do you have for that?”

If we profess to be Christians, reading the bible is step one.  Until we accomplish that, there is no need for a second step.

Wycliffe still doesn’t get it

This from Charismanews: (my comments in blue brackets)

Medieval pastor John Wycliffe continues to cause a stir among churches—even in the 21st century—as his Bible translation ideas upset Christian leaders once again.

In the 14th century Wycliffe used indigenous language to convey Scripture. He angered church leaders with radical moves like replacing the Latin Deus with the English God.

Today’s Bible translators follow in his footsteps, using alternative terms for the Trinity and heavenly beings to reach new audiences—and they’re encountering the same resistance Wycliffe did.

[Wow.  Just wow.  Comparing yourself to Wycliffe and saying your opponents are the mean, nasty Catholics who oppose the truth. What happened was Wycliffe (the bible society not the man) got caught watering down the word of God to make it more acceptable and less threatening to Muslims.]

The most recent controversies surround an artistic retelling of the New Testament by Thomas Nelson,The Voice, and an Arabic Scripture linked to Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The two separate initiatives use different words to convey Scripture to their audiences.

Written in a screenplay format, Thomas Nelson’s version uses the Voice instead of the Word; sometimes Eternal One when it refers to God; and messenger of the Lord instead of angel. Meanwhile, the Arabic text uses Allah instead of Father and Messiah in place of Son of God, to connect with readers in Muslim cultures.

[Voice and Word are two totally different words in the English language.  This is not a matter of translation but of rewriting.  Allah is not the equivalent of Father nor should it appear in any translation of the bible because of its use by Muslims.]

Fierce opposition has come from the Assemblies of God USA and Presbyterian Church in America. The Presbyterian Church has condemned removing references to God as Father or Jesus as Son.

“Our colleagues in SIL are taking a brave step in suspending the publication of Scripture in parts of the world where controversy has been stirred up,” says Eddie Arthur, executive director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, noting that the headline-making translations are a “tiny fraction” of Wycliffe’s 1,400-plus programs. “We look forward to the outcome of their period of global consultation.”

In the meantime, scholars from both sides of the Atlantic have expressed concern about these controversies. They’re challenging Christians to grasp the issues and consider the challenges facing translation teams.

[The critics are telling Wycliffe not to desecrate scripture!]

“There are many issues in Bible translation,” says Nick Ellis, managing editor of BibleMesh Biblical Languages. “We are communicating an ancient text into a new culture. It’s not an easy job.”

[Culture has nothing to do with it.  Language is language and what Wycliffe has done is compromise the word of God in an attempt to appease Muslims.]

For example, the argument supporting the Arabic text is that father and son imply a sexual relationship with Jesus’ mother. Yet these tensions aren’t new; they reflect an old debate of how to describe the first and second Person of the Trinity.

“It’s not just a problem of translation, it’s a theological problem,” Ellis says. He encourages these questions to lead to “contemplation and medication” on key issues like the Trinity with a spirit of love. Ellis’ prayer is that fundraising for the translation community will spike in the wake of this type of debate.

[Read – we hope our source of income doesn’t dry up since we goofed big time.]

Jon Riding, leader of the linguistic computing team at U.K.-based Bible Society, agrees that the translation community is a set of people honestly trying to do their best—and they need prayer support.

[Repentance would be good too.]

Focusing on the general issues surrounding translation, Riding says the word Allah comes from the Semitic group of languages. Close to Hebrew and Syriac, it is the equivalent of theos in Greek.

[Allah is the name of a pagan moon god not the name of the Creator of the universe.  God’s proper name is YHVH]

“If you’re going to translate Scripture for a culture that has a strong Arabic influence, you need a really good reason to give God a different name from the one He has. Otherwise, you’re importing a foreign god,” Riding says. “And that’s potentially unhelpful.”

[Allah being the foreign god that is being imported into the bible here.]

Similar challenges can be seen in conveying Psalm 23 to Eskimos. “The Lord is my shepherd” has no meaning for a culture that better understands “the Lord is my husky team handler.”

The scholarly view is that there could be unnecessary alarm over particular issues taken in isolation. “People want a conspiracy,” warned Ellis. “They want a smoking gun. We need to be working together as a church.”

[Unnecessary alarm? Are you kidding me?  Conspiracy? (slapping my forehead here in amazement) The only conspiracy is that Wycliffe caved into fear of Muslims and perverted the scriptures in a weak attempt at appeasement.  The alarm was raised by bible believing Christians and now Wycliffe is whining.  End of story.]