Last night, I was caught between two worlds--Theology and Cultur-ology. Some might say you can't compartmentalize such things, insisting perhaps that theology cannot be removed from culture or the other way around. Last night the two worlds seemed "worlds" apart (no pun intended!). One one hand, I am reading C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, which, if you haven't read it, should be on your "to read" list; and on the other hand I follow Facebook. Facebook intrigues me, as it is a seemingly limitless window into the the diverse worldviews of culture. After all Facebook isn't just an "American" thing, is it? It is global. There are a variety of perspectives that convene on one social network--pretty remarkable, actually. As I casually read the instructions of Uncle Screwtape, a upper-echelon demon, to his newly apprenticed demon nephew, Wormwood, regarding handling his "clientele" (the humans--in particular a newly converted Christian), I was interested to see a correlation between Screwtapes instructions on "diverting the attention of the client" and Facebook. After all I was epitomizing the power of FB to distract me from the very book that was telling me about the enemies effectiveness at distraction! Then I came across a post that chilled my blood.
A FB friend posted an article from Barna Group, regarding the state of the church in 2010. The news is not good. A few blogs ago I posted about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--a rather insidious religious distraction in itself. What is evident is that MTD has been around for some time, and in fact, I likely participated in it to some degree when I first became a Christian. For some time, my greatest desire in ministry is to help children, teenagers or adults articulate what they believe, which means that they need to be able to speak on theology. Barna's #1 research revelation about the church? The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. As I read the words, I found myself nodding, affirming the research results. I teach teenagers in a little Sunday school room, passionately striving to help them know what they believe and why. The only way to do this is to teach basic theological fundamentals of the Christian faith. I am surprised when high school seniors, who have been in church for years, cannot simply state what they believe beyond "I believe in Jesus". There is a great book that came out some years ago that talks about teenagers and faith in a real, explicit way, and the research is humbling (Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is telling the American Church by K. Dean). It would be easy to condemn, or point the finger, but that will not get the Church back on her feet. I want to find a way out of this mess, and into a future that leads us towards a younger generation that knows the God they serve in an intimate, meaningful, authentic way. I am not talking about making religion more religious (we sure don't need that!) , but I am talking about adding some more "meat" to the plate of our Americanized Christianity by taking our religion seriously.
What can we do this new year to bring about a new way of thinking? As our world continues to become more and more crowded with stuff (distractions, might Screwtape say?), how can we incorporate a new way of living that involves a deeper reflection on the meaning of faith, as a Christian? Theology is not as difficult or as complex as one might think, but it does require commitment. In a pluralistic culture like the U.S. and Europe, Barna is correct in saying that the theological gap will only broaden, if we don't deal with it now. The roots of Christianity are in danger, if not already compromised some would say.
So there I sat, reading C.S. Lewis, Facebook and a Barna Group letter, and I felt paralyzed. What in the world are we supposed to do with this? "There must be something we can do!" I screamed inside (the house was asleep!). My passion, my heart, is to teach people about the deeper things of faith. Yes, faith can be exceedingly overcomplicated, which only distances people from it. I do not desire to make it harder to enter into an intimate relationship with Christ. But once in the fold, fruits of the spirit like obedience, discipline, self-control are a desired outcome for God's people. Have we exchanged the hard-rock truth of the gospel (which has nothing to do with getting blessed) for a moralistic therapeutic deism, a faith that is rooted in sand? Let us choose the former! Let us look at the gospel. Read the gospel. Dialogue about the gospel. Dig deeper into the trenches of the faith by joining together as a community in order to grow in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Someone asked me sometime ago about a teaching a series on prayer to the youth, and my response was this: "How can we teach them to pray if they don't know who they're praying to?" The question was not answered.
As I read these words from Screwtape to Wormwood, I couldn't help but consider the implications of these words in the context of our American Church. "It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out".