One of the disturbing things we are hearing is that Christians do not understand what they believe and why. The Bible tells us (1 Pet 3:15) that we are to be able to give a reason for our hope but several major surveys have concluded that Christians do not know enough about their beliefs to do that. For example: George Gallup Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay conclude in their Surveying the American Landscape that “there is a glaring lack of knowledge about the Bible, basic doctrines, and the traditions of one’s church. That there is great superficiality of faith, with many people not knowing what they believe, or why.” George Barna echoes the same message that “less than 10% of the professing Christians have a biblical world and life view.” “People are desperate for spiritual truth-but they can’t find the answers they need in Christian churches.” He goes on to sayin The Second Coming of the Church, “In short, the spirituality in America is Christian in name only. We desire more experience than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths.”
I am concerned that while we are seeing greater interest in religion and spirituality, especially in the two younger generations, it is not directed toward Christianity. Gallup’s polls indicate that more and more evangelical Christians are embracing some of the doctrines of the New Age Movement, such as communicating with the dead, visitation of extraterrestrials, witches, ghosts, etc.
One way the disciple making process is breaking down is our failure to ground believers, young and old, in solid, sound doctrine. Faith often becomes very shallow and superficial. It does not really alter our lifestyle and it doesn’t give us opportunities to respond to questions asked regarding our faith in Christ. When I think of Peter’s words quoted above, I am reminded of two things: 1. Although we are called to give a reason for what we believe and the hope we have in Christ, trends indicate that most cannot do that. 2. That may not pose the problem that it should because if people do not see that hope operating in our lives, they will not ask us about our faith.
‘In case you’re asked’, can you give a reason or explanation for the hope within you? We need to study our faith. All the other things we study, says the Apostle Paul, are to be in accord with sound doctrine. Another concern is that trends indicate that pastors experience a “halo effect” and believe their people are more equipped and trained to do 1 Pet 3:15 than is actually the case.
A word to parents and to the church community in this regard: we must see the challenge that our children and youth face today. We are not living in a friendly world, where Christianity is concerned. We are not taught or encouraged to teach the Bible in a life-changing way. Truths are uncertain or up for grabs. In response, we give our children and youth a moralistic version of Christianity, which accomplishes nothing strategically and is terribly misleading. Even when we do try through our Sunday schools, Bible studies, youth activities, and the preaching and teaching ministry, they do not see the connection between what they are hearing and their own lives.
Every Christian family and church should have a plan of discipleship aimed at equipping the people of all ages to know what they believe and why, and how to articulate those beliefs. We must also aim for life transformation as a result of those truths. Truths, doctrines, theology, philosophy, and all the basic foundational areas, must be taught, learned, and applied in a way that will transform people’s lives. It must impact what they believe, how they think and live, the choices they make, and relationships they develop. Disciple making is not a fluff and stuff kind of activity with no real substance; neither is it an academic exercise. It is life oriented.
In this issue we reviewed a book by Roger Nicole that deals with the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Those doctrines are to be a part of the warp and woof of our lives. They ought to be as much a part of us as the air we breathe. While there is nothing wrong with admitting that I do not know something, God told us to be able to explain why we do believe something to be true.
I am often asked how we can know whether our attempts at discipling are working? My response: 1. Is there a life change taking place and an awareness of Christ’s Lordship in all of life? 2. Are people seeing a difference in us because of our faith in Christ? One way we know is by the opportunities we are given to talk about our faith with them. George Gallup, Jr. wrote, “Sensation and subjective experience is so prized that what a person actually believes recedes in importance (The Next American Spirituality).” He further writes, “Many Americans do not know what they believe, or why. Many do not know what it means to belong to the faith or denomination to which they subscribe. They would be hard pressed to defend the faith, if called on,”(ibid). May that not be the case with us. In case you’re asked, be able to tell those who ask with passion and understanding what you believe and why.