Tom Pittman's WebLog

2011 December 19 -- What Christians Believe

My friend at church asked help for dealing with an atheist email correspondent. It seems she offered the lack of contradictions in the Bible as evidence for Christianity, and was unprepared for the usual atheist list of same. It's not like there are no answers here, but the problem was making the claim in the first place. That's not what convinced any of us to become Christians, nor is it likely to convince her friend. At my suggestion, she asked, and my suspicion was confirmed.

Many -- perhaps most -- of us in the church became Christians at an early age for social reasons. It's what everybody in your peer group was doing, so you did it. Then when we get older and start hearing what the atheists say about our faith, most college students abandon it as indefensible. They're right, it is. Fortunately, I got a late start on that criticism, and came under the influence of a Christian rationalist before the atheists won me over. The result is that my belief system morphed into something different than I grew up with. Some of the new version you can see in my essay "What Really Matters" and some you can see in my still-evolving new understanding of "Relationshipism" vs "The God of Truth" (see also links on my home page). The religion taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul, and all through the Bible is a religion of obeying God's commands, which I call "1+2C". God graciously forgives the karma of our past mistakes (when we repent), so that the future is perfect.

So here now is the current issue of ChristianityToday, where Editor Mark Galli is explaining their new 5-year Plan for teaching what Evangelicals believe, and justifying it on the basis of our poor showing to date:

In a 2004 Gallup study of 1,000 American teens, nearly 60 percent of those who self-identified as evangelical were not able to correctly identify Cain as the one who said "Am I my brother's keeper?" Over half could not identify either "Blessed are the poor in spirit" as a quote from the Sermon on the Mount, or the road to Damascus as a place where Paul received his blinding vision.
Considering that comparable percentages of American teens typically cannot identify places of world geography nor American political leaders, this is hardly surprising, nor overly distressing. People -- including teens -- learn facts that are important to themselves, and neither history nor geography nor religion tend to make it above sports stats and celebrity trivia in their priorities. I could wish that people cared more about what they say they believe, but what they say and what they do are so often at odds. The shocker, however, Galli goes on to say,
Summarizing a 2009 study on spiritual maturity, Barna Group reported that "one of the widely embraced notions about spiritual health is that it means 'trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible.'" Barna also found that four out of five self-described born-again Christians concurred that spiritual maturity is "trying hard to follow the rules."
He didn't say what alternatives were offered, but I suspect the lay people might be onto something.

The accepted dogma among evangelical leadership is that you don't get to Heaven by following rules, which is very curious, considering that Jesus said quite the opposite. The Apostle Paul devoted a significant part of his letter to Galatia telling them that Jewish ceremonial laws did not purchase their salvation, then the rest of the book explaining that they still are expected to follow God's 1+2C commands. He even included substantial lists of Do's and Don'ts. The Protestant theologians -- perhaps including Galli -- tend to get stuck in the first half.


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