Theology on Fire

20 04 2009

In the 24-page summary of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, one reads that in the past two decades the percentage of identified Christians in America has dropped 10 points.  The number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.  Al Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary takes note, “A remarkable culture shift has taken place around us.  The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered.  The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

Christians in America are morally exhausted.  After one political and cultural fight after another has ended in defeat, the church is tired.  With a family structure that is not just crumbling, but is in a moral free fall (this year over 40% of the babies born will be out-of-wedlock).  With a constant emphasis on trying to change the culture through political change, and with many evangelical presidents for the past 25 years, it is increasingly obvious that the occupier of the oval office has little power to change the hearts and minds of the American populace.  Don’t get me wrong, I still believe very strongly in trying to influence the culture through the political arena.  But there’s more to the story than politics.

It seems that the pulpit in America is theologically exhausted.  With an increased ambiguity among pastors about what exactly they believe and adhere their convictions toward, the evangelical church is battling for her very spiritual soul.  Just last week, one of the most prominent evangelical pastors in America, Rick Warren, made a public apology for his involvement in Proposition 8, a California bill last November that defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.  If we as pastors are now feeling compelled to apologize for the most basic of our biblical beliefs, we are in big trouble.

But do we even know our basic core beliefs anymore?  George Orwell wrote in 1939, “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”  This might well be written to the evangelical church in America.  As Chuck Colson has recently written in a column entitled, “Doctrine bears repeating,” he concludes, “The greatest challenge for serious Christians today is not reinventing Christianity, but rediscovering its core teaching.” (CT April 2009, p. 72) I believe the church is entering a time in which we must really know what we believe, not just how we should vote in elections. 

If there was ever a time in the history of the Western Church to know what our foundations of faith are, and why, it is now!  J.I. Packer on his 80th birthday said that the greatest challenge facing evangelicalism is to re-catechize our churches.  More than ever, Christ followers must be able to speak intelligently and with passion about what they believe.  We must have hearts and heads on fire for God!  The Dogma is the Drama!

We quite simply must have a theology on fire.  John D. Woodbridge and Thomas McComisky writes, “A church that neither is interested in theology nor has the capacity to think theologically is a church that will be rapidly submerged beneath the waves of modernity.” Doctrine and Theology is the “study of God” and it’s this endeavor that separates us, the church, from all other institutions.

Last June, the Pew Foundation on Religion and Public Life survey discovered that American Christians don’t really know what they believe.  Fifty seven percent of evangelicals believed people who follow other religions other than Christianity can enjoy eternal life!  Almost half believed that everyone, including atheists will go to heaven when they die.  Hello?

The prophet Jeremiah in his ministry of calling the Israelites back from their apostacy wrote,

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
(Jeremiah 6:16)

The old ways are still the new ways if they are God’s ways.  God has shown us The Way.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  (John 14:6)  His way is still the right way, even when all the other ways oppose it.  The early church grasped this at the risk of their own lives.  As they proclaimed a “One Way God” to a many ways culture, they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and rocked the religious, political, and social culture of the Roman Empire.  It is interesting that Luke, in compiling his history of the early church, chose to mention first in his list of the characteristics of the early church, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine…” (Acts 2:42a).  Foremost to the historian Luke was the doctrine they taught.

So, I am compelled to repeat the obvious.  It is a time in our history to return to the fundamentals and deep theological truths that have laid the foundations of our Faith. We have foundations laid and it’s the cornerstone, Jesus, that holds it all together.  A return to Jesus and His ways is the answer for the 21st century.  The ways of Jesus are the great theological truths found in the Scriptures. 

I certainly can’t speak for other pastors, but I want to be a pastor whose heart and head are on fire for Jesus.  I want to continue to build a church of heart en-fired and head en-fired people. I am feeling compelled these days to restudy Luke and Acts to observe the truths and actions of Jesus and the early church found there.  Simultaneously, I’m restudying the great doctrines of Christianity.  Join me as we retool and reinvigorate our head and hearts for the kingdom of God.  We can certainly do less, but we can’t do more than have a theology on fire for Jesus!

If you are a member of Mountain Springs, join us over the next two months as we study the great doctrines of our Faith.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,
Pastor Steve