Passing the torch: Overcoming spiritual superficiality.

Evangelical leaders of previous generations are in the process of passing the torch to younger leaders, for whom there are at least 10 fresh challenges. We’ve considered the challenges of  Navigating Newfound Authority and Waging a Bloodless Revolution ; now a third challenge:

Overcoming Spiritual Superficiality

In the wake of megachurch-building success and a new ability to be culture-cool, the pews are filled with biblical illiterates who may be ill-equipped for the next personal or national crisis. In many cases spiritual depth has been sacrificed in the interest of growth and new church models are designed to multiply conversions but fall short in assuring spiritual growth and doctrinal understanding.”

The fear that theological lessons will bore and drive away new converts and a generation with a miniscule attention span, churches are not guiding their members through the fundamentals of the faith and the dangers of popular theological perversions such as:

  • universalism (that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved),
  • pluralism (the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption; that all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends), and
  •  modalism (a denial of the Trinity which states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes, or forms.  Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times.  At the incarnation, the mode was the Son.  After Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit.)

Scot McKnight of North Park University and the Jesus Creed blog told Margaret Feinberg:

The biggest challenge facing American evangelicals is Christian universalism– the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done….I think many young evangelical adults who have been reared in the church have imbibed pluralism and tolerance from their years in the public educational system.”

Norman Geisler, Christian apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary said:

“The evangelical church in America is about 3,000 miles wide and an inch deep. Doctrinally, we are very shallow. We have enough religion to makes us susceptible, but not enough doctrine to make us discerning. You can’t recognize error until you can recognize the truth. I’m told that when government experts want to train people to recognize counterfeit currency, they study genuine currency. The same is true with doctrine.”

Some are recognizing the weaknesses. Bill Hybels, pastor of megachurch granddaddy Willowcreek, said after a study of the church’s ministry:

“We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

And that’s a key charge for the new evangelical generation: pair great growth, engaging entertainment, and compassionate service with the teaching of theological truth. Build strong and knowledgeable believers who will have the ability to dismiss error and to maintain their faith through difficult days.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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