Most homiletical sermonizing is fitted to a standard fare address of moralizing and "pop" messages as pabulum for the soul - rewarmed left-overs to say the least.
To illustrate the following survey is quoted:
COMMON CHRISTIAN TERMS
A new survey conducted by the Barna Research Group reveals widespread ignorance of common Christian terms. Researchers asked a sample group of 1,210 adults to define Great Commission, evangelical, John 3:16, and gospel. In each case, only a small minority gave accurate answers. Even "born-again Christians" had trouble answering.
* Only nine percent of the respondents accurately defined Great Commission. About 75 percent of born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
* Eighteen percent of the respondents correctly defined evangelical, with 57 percent of born-again Christians unable to give a definition.
* Twenty-five percent of the respondents gave accurate or partially accurate descriptions of John 3:16, and half of the born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
* Thirty-seven percent of the respondents correctly defined gospel, and 16 percent of born-again Christians could not offer a definition.
* These terms "clearly do not convey the intended meaning to the masses," concluded George Barna, president of Barna Research Group. "The fact that so few of the insiders understand the meaning of these terms also suggests that the Christian church in this country would be wise to invest in training people about the basic principles and concepts of the Christian faith."
Moody Monthly, April, 1994, p. 60
"Why is it that the vast majority of Christian believers remain largely unexposed to Christian learning - to historical-critical studies of the Bible, the content and structure of the great doctrines, to two thousand years of classic works on the Christian life, to basic disciplines of theology, biblical languages and ethics?
Why do bankers, lawyers, farmers, physicians, homemakers, scientists, salespeople, managers of all sorts, people who carry out all kinds of complicated tasks in their work and home, remain in a literalist, elementary school level in their religious understanding?
How is it that high school age church members move easily and quickly into the complex world of computers, foreign languages, DNA and calculus, and cannot even make a beginning in historical-critical interpretation of a single text of Scripture?
How is it possible one can attend or even teach Sunday School for decades and at the end of that lack the interpretive skills of someone who has taken three or four weeks in an introductory course in the Bible at a university or seminary?"
"Can Church Education Be Theological Education," Theology Today, by Edward Farley, July 1985.
Michael Vlach recently published a report called “Crisis in America’s Churches: Bible Knowledge at All-Time Low. Polling data from researcher George Barna shows a widespread lack of biblical and theological knowledge in the US among people who claim to be Christians. So complete is that ignorance that one can justly call it widespread apostasy from Christian orthodoxy. It’s not misunderstanding, it’s heresy. I say that not merely from a narrow denominational perspective, but from the standpoint of classical Christian orthodoxy. People calling themselves “Christians” literally have no idea what that means. Instead, they follow another, invented, gospel, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Legalism has replaced grace.
Barna’s questions themselves are hardly satisfactory. They slant toward a particular narrow segment of modern Protestantism, excluding ancient and classical tests of orthodoxy. Still, his research shows an astonishing ignorance of the doctrines of Christianity and the Bible. Reading it, you wonder why these folks hang around? Why bother calling themselves Christians, since they reject most of what Christianity believes and the Bible teaches? Beats me – F. Sanders
“The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy,” warns researcher George Barna. “How else can you describe matters when most churchgoing adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelise, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?” Other disturbing findings that document an overall lack of knowledge among churchgoing Christians include the following:
The most widely known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is “God helps those who help themselves” -- which is not actually in the Bible and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture. [If this doesn’t make you laugh, nothing will – with tears, I admit, but laugh anyway– FS]
* Less than one out of every ten believers possess a biblical worldview as the basis for decision-making or behaviour.
* When given thirteen basic teachings from the Bible, only 1% of adult believers firmly embraced all thirteen as being biblical perspectives.
Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, asserts that biblical illiteracy is at a crisis level not just in our culture in general but in America’s churches. “If it is true that biblical illiteracy is commonplace in secular culture at large, there is ample evidence that points to similar trends in our churches,” he says. Burge points to research at Wheaton College in which the biblical and theological literacy of incoming freshmen have been monitored. These students, who represent almost every Protestant denomination in the United States from every state in the country, have returned some “surprising results”:
* One-third could not put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost.
* Half could not sequence the following: Moses in Egypt, Isaac’s birth, Saul’s death, and Judah’s exile.
* One-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names.
* When asked to locate the biblical book supplying a given story, one-third could not find Paul’s travels in Acts, half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew, half did not know that the Passover story was in Exodus.
[Remember that these were incoming freshman at Wheaton College, a supposed bastion of Christian thought. – FS]
THEOLOGICAL ILLITERACY IN CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS
The results of researching the beliefs of churchgoing denominational members in America are shocking: [they don’t believe essential Christian doctrines, and these are not just the so-called “liberal” denominations, but “conservative” as well. - FS]
In his study of the beliefs of mainline Protestants (including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians), Barna documented a rejection of key Christian doctrines.
* Only 35% of mainline Protestant church members believe Christ was sinless;
* 34% believe the Bible is totally accurate;
* 27% agree that works don’t earn heaven; and 20% believe Satan is real.
Denominations which are more evangelical [sic] report higher levels of commitment to key theological truths than their mainline counterparts, but large percentages of people in these more theologically conservative churches still deny essential Christian doctrines.
Of Baptists (any type) in America,
* only 34% believe Satan is real.
* Only 43% believe that works don’t earn heaven.
* Although most Baptists affirm that Christ was sinless and that the Bible is totally accurate, the majority is not strong. Only 55% affirm that Christ was sinless, and 66% hold that the Bible is totally accurate.
Of nondenominational Christian churches, Barna reports that 48% believe Satan is real; 60% say works don’t earn heaven; 63% affirm the sinlessness of Christ; and 70% believe the Bible is totally accurate.
According to Barna, the denomination with the highest commitment to essential Christian doctrines is the Assembly of God denomination. In the AOG, 77% believe the Bible is accurate; 70% believe Christ was sinless. Yet only two-thirds (64%) affirm that works don’t earn heaven. Only 56% believe Satan is real. So even in the most theologically committed denomination, large percentages of people still deny essential Christian doctrines.
Barna is particularly concerned with the number of people in Christian churches who deny one of the most essential of all Christian doctrines -- the sinlessness of Christ.
“Literally millions of Americans who declare themselves to be Christians contend that Jesus was just like the rest of us when it comes to temptation -- fallen, guilty, impure, and Himself in need of a saviour.”
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THEOLOGY?
Why is belief in important Christian truths and doctrines at such a crisis level? First, as Burge has explained, there is a general failing of the church to transmit our religious culture to the next generation. This includes an overemphasis on personal experience to the exclusion of serious Christian education. [emphasis added - FS]
“In short, the spiritual life has become less a matter of learning than it is a matter of experiencing,” he says. “This has resulted in Christian ministries that put less premium on education than they do on personal development and therapeutic wholeness.”
This emphasis on personal development has affected what is coming from our pulpits, according to Burge. “Thus sermons become more therapeutic and less instructional; and the validity of what we do on Sunday morning is grounded in what we feel, not in what we think.” [emphasis added]
Second, many Christian churches have abandoned serious Bible exposition and theological teaching. Burge points out that historical exegesis is becoming a “lost art” in the pulpit.
“Rather than explaining the historical setting of a passage, texts become springboards for devotional reflection,” he notes. “Biblical passages are taken out of context as the preacher searches for those stories that evoke the responses or attitudes desired.” As a result, “The heart of a ‘good’ sermon is fast becoming the ‘emotional work’ that can be done in 20 minutes preaching time.”
Burge also found that church leaders often find it difficult to find time for serious discussion of theology and the Bible. When asking several youth leaders about whether they addressed solid theological categories or Bible stories, the typical response according to Burge was, “It is hard to find time. But I can say that these kids are truly learning to love God.”
Burge sees this attitude as part of the problem.
“That is it in a nutshell,” he says. “Christian faith is not being built on the firm foundation of hard-won thoughts, ideas, history, or theology. Spirituality is being built on private emotional attachments.”
A third reason for biblical and theological illiteracy today is the tremendous influence unbiblical philosophies and worldviews are having on churchgoers. Liberalism promotes that the Bible is a human construct and not a divine document. In doing so, it continues to assail the traditional Christian views … Existentialism with its emphasis on human experience has people looking to themselves for truth, not God or Scripture. Postmodernism has convinced many that there are no universal truths. According to Barna, “A minority of adult and teen believers contends that absolute moral truth exists.” Only 32% of born-again Christians still believe in the existence of absolute moral truth.
Many Christians accept elements of these unbiblical worldviews without even knowing it. Because of this, Barna and Mark Hatch have noted that “we cannot really call the faith of American Christians a Bible-based faith. It is a synthetic, syncretic faith.” According to Barna and Hatch, Christians today have accepted and combined so many ideas from other worldviews and religions that they have created their own faith system.
“The average born-again, baptised, churchgoing person has embraced elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, Unitarianism and Christian Science -- without any idea they have just created their own faith.”
What Is the Solution? “In many ways, we are living in an age of theological anarchy,” says Barna. “The church is rotting from the inside out, crippled by abiblical theology.” Ω