My Top Ten of the Most Damaging Theological Problems Facing the Evangelical Church
I’ve been dealing with lots of problems theologically as I’ve been interacting with other Christians on the web lately, and I figured that I would identify what I see to be the most damaging and problematic issues that we are dealing with currently. (These do not represent a specific order, only that there are ten of them, and that they are the top).
- The open denial or ignorance of Nicene and Chalcedonian Orthodoxy: Some Christians understand what was said at these very important councils, and flat-out reject it. Some people don’t understand it, and others are completely unaware of it. I commonly interact with people who have no problem saying that the immaterial aspect of Christ’s existence was Divine, while only the physical was human (Apollinarianism). I also run into people who treat the persons of the Trinity as though they were simply representations or manifestations of the one true God (Modalism).
- A complete misunderstanding of what Sola Scriptura is: “By Scripture Alone” does not mean that we do not need or recognize other authoritative statements as existing. Rather, it means that only Scripture is necessary and that ultimately Scripture is not normed by these other statements, but rather norms them. (I.E. the Nicene Creed is subordinate to Scripture, such that the Scriptures inform the Nicene Creed, not the other way around). This denial of subordinate standards in favor of Bible-Onlyism is one of the roots of many of the other problems.
- Anti-Education/Anti-Intellectualism: Often times after making an argument from the particularities of a Greek word, a unique historical fact that sheds light on a passage or thought, I am faced with “Well, we don’t need any special education to understand the Bible.” This is usually rooted in some kind of misunderstanding about the perspicuity of the Bible. That is, people think that because Scripture is clear and sufficient, that they somehow are capable of understanding it. At times, I try to help people understand that they need to be educated to read at all in order to glean information from the Bible (without the assistance of someone else), so they are implicitly acknowledging that some level of education is required and that being able to read the Greek or Hebrew is simply another degree of education that allows us to fully understand it. This again is a problem under-girding many of the other problems.
- Mere Christianity: Now, don’t get me wrong. The concept of Mere Christianity is that we should not set the bar higher for acceptance into Christianity than it ought to be set. We should expect uniformity on the fundamentals, and allow for diversity on the auxiliary doctrines. However, the definition of Mere Christianity is usually radically different than what the Church’s historical definition would be, and it almost always is reduced to “My unique idiosyncratic belief is admittedly different than the norm, but that’s okay because… mere Christianity.” Sadly, the things that have historically defined Christianity (Trinitarianism, Hypostatic Christology, etc) are the things that are typically not considered fundamental.
- An ongoing shift away from Sunday morning being the culmination of the Church’s weekly worship: This is particularly prevalent in Non-Denominational Church’s who see the Lord’s Supper as exclusively symbolic. You commonly hear sentiments that say “What happens between Sunday and Sunday is where the real worship happens,” or “What we do on Sunday is just preparation for Church, which happens during the week.” Now, I understand and appreciate that this is an Evangelical reaction to the sometimes extreme opposite (that Church is only on Sundays, and that what happens between is discrete and separate), and both must be avoided. However, we must not neglect the gathering together of the saints, as some are apt to do. Sunday morning worship is the culmination and pinnacle of the celebratory life of a Christian who is a member of Christ’s Body. That is not to minimize the need for small groups, midweek activities, and personal devotion, however, those things must be preparation for participation. We do those things to prepare ourselves for participation in the Body of Christ, and the culmination of that participation is when we gather together on the Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and proclaim the good news that we are swept up into his life by our ingrafting into him.
- Utter ignorance or dismissal of Church History: It is far too common for me to cite or quote a famous giant of the faith and to have someone say “Who is that?” Sometimes this takes the form of arguing that the whole of Christendom has been wrong about a particular point of doctrine and that somehow we (or more often… a particular individual) has gotten it right. I don’t care if you are able to dismantle every atheistic argument there is without blinking… or if you studied under Wolfhart Pannenberg… Athanasius and Augustine are smarter, godlier, and better versed in theology than you ever will be. I’m going to take their word over yours 10 times out of 10.
- The shift from Theology to Philosophy. Philosophy isn’t bad, but it isn’t theology. It is the love of wisdom (a good thing) not the study of God (also a good thing). However, when we are trying to understand a God who is radically other than we are… reasoning simply can’t get the job done. The more our understanding of God is driven by purely philosophical factors, the less our God looks like the revealed God of the Bible.
- The reduction of Evangelism to Apologetics, and the reduction of Theology to both: The fact is that Apologetics and Evangelism are not the same things. When we convince someone that there must be an unmoved Mover, that is not the same thing as proclaiming that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and was raised, to reconcile sinners to himself. Too often I see people mistake the two, to ultimately destructive ends. Even the world famous Ravi Zacharias will tell you that very rarely does the intellectual argument bring someone into the kingdom. More often than not, the intellectual argument is simply a scab that covers the much more important wound of a fallen and sinful nature. Yes, you sometimes need to remove the scab to clean out the wound, but we must never allow ourselves to confuse the two things.
- The utter breakdown of ecclesiology in most Protestant contexts: It used to be that if you did something sinful, or held a heretical belief, that you would be excommunicated. You couldn’t simply go across the street to Next-Door Non-Denom and vanish into the crowd. Then, the Protestant Reformation happened, and even though excommunication didn’t happen, if you sought to join a new congregation you would be expected to bring references with you, specifically because you shouldn’t be able to leave one congregation on bad terms and simply join another. However, with the advent of the seeker sensitive movement, anyone can join anywhere for any or no reason. This has led to the utter ineffectiveness or absence of any kind of church discipline structure, the lack of doctrinal convictions or necessity of orthodox confession in many churches, and ultimately a Church that cannot serve as a sanctifying agent in God’s hands.
- The consumerization of the Church: It is not uncommon to hear the phrase “church shopping.” Heck, I’ve used it myself. The fact is that Christians increasingly see the Church as something that is there to serve them, and they speak with their wallets and opinions just like they do in the market place. Rather than see Church as an opportunity to submit to one another in reverence for Christ, we come to it and make demands. We expect the Pastor to do everything, and we expect to be spoon fed sermons that make us feel good and make us fat like so many fast food french fries. When something is done or said that we don’t like, we simply take our money elsewhere (See number 9). When the Youth Pastor says or does something we don’t like, we call the head pastor just like we might ask to speak to a manager when our Computer isn’t fixed as fast as we want it to by the local repair shop. We have stopped treating our Pastors like people and instead have started treating them like employees.