Saturday, December 03, 2005

Communication is Key

Despite the fact that this is the most hectic time of the semester, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading that does not necessarily pertain to my classwork. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that American Christianity is largely ineffective due to its inability to communicate the biblical narrative. The reason that we find ourselves unable to communicate the message is because we really don't understand it.

There are many in our local churches who have a vast array of knowledge of biblical topics and biblical passages that "address" certain situations or theological matters. However, even among those who have "good bible knowledge" there is clear sense that they do not understand what it is they know. Any basic Christian can state, "We are saved by faith, through the grace of God, by the work of Jesus Christ." Yet very few (including the clergy) would be able to explain what is meant by this theologically loaded statement.

How many could explain the vast scope of salvation and all that redemption entails? How many could explain what is meant by "faith" and what exactly this "faith" is? How do ascertain "faith" and how does "faith" operate? How many could explain what grace is, and how it is communicated? How many could explain how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes the act of redemption and how we are to understand the atonement?

My fear is that not many, whether it be laity or clergy, would be able to explain these vastly important realities. I am not supposing that we require an absolute understanding of all that the Christian narrative purports, but if we do not possess a greater understanding of the meaning behind the truths we proclaim we will continue to be unintelligible to the persons around us.

Salvation has become to us, "Convert the hordes and get as many into heaven as possible!" Many have become disillusioned and confused because after they have been "saved" the reality that they do not understand what they believe becomes a tiresome burden. I have found that our misunderstanding has conceived in us an understanding of the biblical text that is at many times nothing less than a grand distortion. Academics twist my paradigms because the American church has not offered much beyond, "Jesus loves you. Get saved!" We are a community of confusion, confessing the right things but having virtually no understanding of what we actually mean.

The solution is that we respond to the demand of Jesus found often in John's Gospel. In John's Gospel (see previous post) we find Jesus repeatedly calling his people to a deeper understanding about both his identity and his mission. Faith built upon an erroneous foundation is presented as unacceptable in John's Gospel. For us, perhaps it means that we put aside Max Lucado for a volume of systematic theology by Thomas Oden. Or perhaps we need to close the pages of an Erwin McManus book and read the Apologies of Justin Martyr. Perhaps we should lay down Joel Osteen and John Elderidge and pick up the rich writings of Athanasius. For if we do not seek to understand what we believe those who are not part of the Christian community will never seek to become part.


Brandon M. Brown said...

I agree. People are blissfully ignorant, and, in entirely too many cases, they aren't being challenged beyond their current levels of understanding.

However, I wonder if the challenge should be that everyoneneeds to read Oden to reach new depths in their Christianity, or if John Elderidge might be the extent to which some people need to stretch.

I think we need to be careful in our pursuit of understanding that we don't over-intellecualize Christianity in the area into which we find ourselves being called. Perhaps that is obvious. I simply mean that I don't want to overthink things for my jr. high students, or even for my 30 year old couple that simply isn't able to comprehend quite as much as me.

I do agree that the message needs to be understood with depth in the entirety of the truth of the gospel. I'm not gonna name any names, but there are entirely too many modern teachings that infuriate me. And some of them have made their way into popularity in school newspapers.'s my thought for the evening. :)

Sniper said...

Some people can not handle the depth that you can and we have to keep that in perspective. What do you say to the philospher/theolgian who fell off the deep after be confronted with the great mystery? (Mysteries that yes, even the early church cannot explain, nor can we now)

Challenge is great...but it has to be done very carefully. Which is why I say small groups, or better yet, even mentoring relationships are the proper place for real in depth study. The pulpit Athanasius just won't work a lot of the times and might actually hurt some people. It's a fine line my brother.

Ben Robinson said...

Brandon and Sniper,

Your concerns are valid and well stated. Not all people are able to understand the depth of some of the mentioned theologians. I am not, either, supposing some elitism between those who can and cannot understand deep theology.

Yet I still feel my point is valid and crucial. Perhaps the application of my point could use some revision. But the reality is that much of mainstream evangelicalism does not understand what it proclaims and, as aforementioned, the result is that those outside of the Christian community find our message unintelligible.

The WU could be an excellent case study of how a shallow connection to the Christian narrative produces very little that is applicable to our surrounding society.

Sure, not everyone can understand Athanasius, but can we not at the very least bring them along further? Is it possible, that those whom we think could never understand "deeper thelogical issues," might be able to if they just took the steps to get there? Can we provide for them the steps?

My fear is that we are perpetuating misunderstanding not only in our evangelical efforst, but within our own Christian community. If we cannot understand what we believe, we cannot understand who we are or what our purpose is as a community.


Nathan Hart said...

hey, i'm going to post this on fyi.

Ben Robinson said...

Wow, my traffic suddenly increased exponentially. Thanks Nate. :)

Nathan Hart said...