The central motivating factor in my ministry over the last ten years has been the need for Christians to engage the intellectual side of the faith with more confidence, hope, and joy. I began The Theology Program in 2001 which now is in hundreds of churches and has effected tens of thousands of people. I can barely keep up with the demands of this ministry as its need and potential becomes more evident each and every day.
The intellectual side of Christianity.
With all of this success, one inevitably finds those who continue to place much needed anchors in my mission. While I believe what I am doing has been given to me by God, I also understand that the intellect is not all there is. In fact, while I want to produce more confidence, hope, and joy in the lives of believers, I also want to instill a deep sense of humility. Theology done right should always produce a confident humility. Theology done wrong produces an ironically insecure emotional confidence that is made up of what I call “cut-and-paste” theology and apologetics (“just give me the answers, I don’t care how we get them”).
Anchored as I am in the reality that the intellectual side of our faith is not necessarily the end, but a foundation to all that is being built, I am more confident than ever that the church today continues to face a major crisis in its philosophy of faith and education. The majority of churches simply do not stimulate serious discussion concerning matters of theology. Most people do not find the church as a safe place to ask serious questions. In fact, most people are trained to fear any doubt, reserve questions, or to put away any sinful antagonistic feeling concerning any challenge that comes to the table.
The church, unfortunately, more often than not, is in the obscuring business. No, not intentionally, but it is true. We protect ourselves and those we love from any “false doctrine” that leads away from Christ by hiding the issue or give a quick sound-bite apologetic which obscures and belittles the arguments of any opposition.
But here is the problem (and don’t miss this): one day the opponent will find an audience. Someway, somehow, whether it be in college or through a New York Times best seller, the opposition that we have dedicated ourselves so much to hide will be found. When this happens, a different tale is told, and this tale is much more convincing coming from an educated adherent than it was coming from us.
Those who trusted us then feel betrayed. They begin to feel that their intellect was being molested for many years without their realization. Then they move into recovery without us. This recovery often finds a line of many other people on a trail called “apostasy.” It is not a happy trail, but more of a trail of tears, evidencing the emotions of those who feel they have been betrayed by those who were supposed to love them most.
This describes the intellectual epidemic that Christianity is facing today. Of course, it does not have to be such. The future of theological education need not repeat the sins of the fathers. But we need to change.
This change involves risk. We don’t like risk. That is why we lock our doors every night and set the alarm. That is why we purchase cars with anti-lock brakes and airbags. We are trained to prevent any problems. But in this case, we cannot take the chance that intellectual isolation will birth true committment. Its track record is simply not very good.
We need to turn the air-bag off for a while.
This risk has to do with opening the curtain that hides the wizard. People need to be educated, not indoctrinated. Most certainly there is a time when indoctrination is necessary since early in our lives we don’t have the capability to think critically. But some time between the ages of 5-10 we need to transition to a point of critical engagement. This includes critical engagement of what we already believe. The church should be facilitating this. This is simply discipleship 101. But the problem is, most of us don’t know how to critically engage issues ourselves. We have been trained to be scared.
The church needs to begin to expose those in the church to alternative explanations, showing that we don’t live in fear of “those of whom we do not speak.” We need to welcome doubt and questions even at the deepest level. The church should be a safe place that people feel welcome when they are going through intellectual trials, not a place they run from.
Recently, a lady wrote this about de-conversion on Scot McKnight’s excellent blog:
“A common feature of deconversion for many is the overarching role played by a search for intellectual coherence. Reason alone brings few if any into the faith – but reason alone drives many away despite significant social and personal cost. Those who walk away find not faith and fellowship but freedom and intellectual coherence. I cannot overemphasize this point. The intellectual questions and struggles are painfully real. In many of the cases – especially for those with clearly developed commitment to the faith before being swamped by doubt – the issue is not sin, rebellion and self. . . .
The shame is that the church – rather than dealing with the problem at its core, rather than providing a forum for Christians to question and grow – has often responded in a reactionary and destructive fashion. It is easy (incredibly easy in fact) to find an advocate to lead one to reject the church and join the freedom of the secular world; it is hard, often well nigh impossible, to find an advocate to help one explore the hard questions of the faith.”
We would do well to listen to this women. Sadly, I believe her statements are to the point and insightful.
Folks, this is not an advertisement for The Theology Program, but it does communicate the need for discipleship in the church that moves beyond a simple teaching of right doctrine, rather it walks people through the issues, teaching them how to think without an absolute predetermined end. God ultimately provides true and lasting faith. But from the human perspective, we must be responsible not only in the discharge of the Gospel, but how we discharge it.
In the end, wouldn’t it be better to have someone reject the faith under your informed and intellectually honest education process, than to accept an obscured version of the faith that is predisposed to collapse?
I believe that Christianity is ultimately persuasive. Christ has risen indeed! In fact, the more I am challenged, the more convinced I become.
Folks, it is worth the risk. The future of the church, from a human perspective, is not in how many converts we make, but in how many true disciples we lead. Things have to change now.
Join with me.