The Misplaced Mandate for Truth
A few years ago I wrote a book entitled This Little Church Went to Market: The Church in the Age of Entertainment. There I explored in detail areas in which I believe the “seeker-sensitive” church model is missing the mark biblically, especially in regard to its gospel and doctrinal messages. That book was followed by This Little Church Stayed Home: A Faithful Church in Deceptive Times. The original intent was to identify the marks of a truly biblical church standing firm in the face of wide-scale assaults by the forces of deception. While a portion of that volume was in fact dedicated to this objective, I also felt compelled specifically to address the areas of deception surrounding the rapidly growing emergent church movement.
In this, the third book in the Little Church series, I want to talk about “a church in search of truth.” My contention is that the great need of the moment is for Christ’s church to rediscover the truth that it has either lost or minimized, to understand the inestimable value of the truth in the lives of God’s people and to recognize its role as the supporter and dispenser of that truth (1 Tm 3:15). I have entitled this book This Little Church Had None: A Church in Search of the Truth because I believe that the majority of so-called evangelical churches and Christians have lost, or at least misplaced, this important mandate. Truth has been sacrificed on the altars of pragmatism, church growth, postmodern ideologies, paganism, and hedonism, to name a few. In many cases this defection from truth is not so much by design as the result of ignorance and neglect. A whole generation of believers has grown up in churches in which the Word of God has not been systematically taught and appreciated. While there are notable and happy exceptions to this, nevertheless we should not be surprised to find that the people of this generation have marginalized the place of the Scriptures in their lives.
To be sure, in many evangelical circles you hear a little more about Jesus; an occasional prayer is offered; a few choruses are sung, and popular verses of Scripture and slogans thrown around—but little more. The average Christian is marching to the same beat as his unbelieving counterpart, both living out their own patchwork philosophies of life based upon a mix of pragmatism, social standards and faddish ideologies, with a dash of Scripture added....
Sadly, this is how many children of God have been raised by their leaders. They have no idea that Christ has called them to something more—lives truly based upon the truth of his Word. And if they have a vague suspicion that there is something more, something deeper, something better, than the life they are experiencing, they have no concept where to search for it. These deficiencies are increasingly being recognized by the mainstream evangelical church, but the remedy is not. What is needed is a return to full confidence in the power and the authority of the Word of God, which in turn will cause church leaders to teach once again the full counsel of the Lord.
The Constant Flux Concerning “Truth”
Ever since my college days I have enjoyed the study of philosophy. It is fascinating to delve into the reasoning of thinkers like Plato, Descartes, or Kant and study how they pieced life together. However, I have always deliberated on these philosophies from a biblical vantage point. That is, I have found their ideas interesting, yet largely flawed in the light of the teachings of Scripture. But, as I examined the writings of such philosophers, I have often thought about the reaction of unbelievers to the same concepts. For one thing is very noticeable about philosophies—they are constantly changing. As each new philosopher comes along, he rejects the views of the previous one. Each generation considers the last generation, with its set of ideas, systems of thought, and social structures, as passé, apparently not recognizing that the next generation will cast the same censorious comments on the current one.
This constant flux concerning truth must be most frustrating to those without Christ as they observe historically the changing views of thinking people. Even within our own lifetimes the rapid presentation of new worldviews that promised to solve the “mysteries of life”—only to be soon relegated to the philosophical rubbish heap and replaced with the newest idea on the block—has to be unsettling. It is no wonder that postmodernism has taken root in Western thinking. After all, if Plato, Descartes, Kant, and a whole train-load of others have presented unique systems of truth, only to be rejected and contradicted by the next set of thinkers, after a while one begins to assume that maybe there is no such thing as objective, universal truth. Perhaps what remains is selective truth, temporary truth, individual truth (truth for you, but not for me).
If the “truth claims” of the best and brightest from the past have not proved true, then what hope do we have that the next philosophy will offer the key to life’s issues? In a real sense, after thousands of years riding the merry-go-round of philosophical thought, people have grown tired and want to get off the ride. There apparently is no absolute truth. There is no final authority. There is no one whose ideas are superior to anyone else’s. We are left with relativism—let each of us do his own thing and believe his own way and let’s just accept one another’s ideas as equal. Eventually all of this rings hollow. Postmodernism, which challenges absolute truth and embraces relativism, has been birthed from the ashes of disillusionment.
Popular film star Brad Pitt, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, expressed well the disillusionment that many face today. Pitt was discussing a character (Tyler) whom he played in the movie Fight Club:
PITT: The point is, the question has to be asked: “What track are we on?” Tyler starts out in the movie saying, “Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us—the car, the condo, our versions of success—but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness?” If you ask me, I say, “Toss all this, we gotta find something else.” Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don’t want that.
RS: So if we’re heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen?
PITT: Hey, man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. [Smiles] I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it.
RS: But, and I’m glad you said it first, people will read your saying that and think...
PITT: I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know. But I’m telling you, once you get everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it. Now, no one’s going to want to hear that. I understand it. I’m sorry I’m the guy who’s got to say it. But I’m telling you.
Of course postmodernism did not invent disillusionment; it is the ultimate trademark of any philosophical or religious system that denies [a] biblical understanding of the reality of life. In T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” we find the same struggle:
There is something within the nature of man that rejects this type of existence and end. There has to be more to our life than what many experience. Something has gone wrong but, having already factored out the biblical view of reality, people are forced to turn to false sources for a handle on life. Having missed the fountain of life, they must dig other wells (Jer:2:13).
The Scripture has a different story to tell. Paul informs us in Romans:1:19-23 that man’s problem is that he has suppressed the truth about God which has been revealed in the creation around him. This suppression has led to darkened hearts and imaginations that are empty of spiritual reality. Man tries to fill in the blanks with whatever might be in vogue at the moment—in biblical times it was idols and the direct, conscious worship of creation. Today it might be New Age philosophy, Eastern religions, human achievement, humanistic theory, modernistic certainty, postmodern uncertainty, or any number of other ideas.
The bottom line is that mankind has rejected God and His truth and suffers the consequences of that choice as God hands him over to enslavement by his own worldview, with its resulting sins (Rom:1:24-32). It is no wonder people are disillusioned with life; sin and false beliefs ultimately have that effect. As the world system propagates its various views and philosophies we should expect nothing less than minds scratching about in empty speculation and foolish hearts wandering around in darkness (Rom:1:21).
The Providential Pillar of Truth
Enter the church. One of the things that separates the church from all other organizations is that it is to be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tm 3:15). The congregation which is not functioning as the support and dispenser of truth falls short of the biblical criteria for a local church; therefore the assembly which does not major on truth does not fit the definition of a New Testament church. Its attendance may be “mega,” its programs prolific, its enthusiasm contagious, and its motives honourable, but if it is not the pillar and support of truth it fails in its job description as a church. Call it a club, a social gathering, a political-awareness group, a socially concerned assembly, or an entertainment centre, but don’t call it a church.
The church that has God’s understanding of truth will begin thinking biblically. This is often called a “biblical worldview.” In attempting to discern how widespread a biblical worldview is today (or how similar the beliefs of people are to the teaching of Scripture) pollster George Barna developed a rather minimalist list of required beliefs. They were as follows:
As stated above, this is a barebones list. With the addition of even a few other essentials of the Christian faith (e.g., the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of people, the actual existence of heaven and hell, eternal judgment, the virgin birth, the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, etc.), the numbers heralded as having a biblical worldview would plummet drastically. As it is, the statistics are startling. In 2007 Barna identified 40 percent of Americans as born again (this statistic is highly suspect to me, but we will go with it for now) and 7 percent as evangelical Christians. The results of the study indicated that “most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs, largely because they do not possess a coherent biblical worldview....Most Americans have one foot in the biblical camp, and one foot outside it.”
In Barna’s most recent study it was discovered that only 9 percent of those who he claims are born again have a biblical worldview. In a later survey of the clergy it was found that only 51 percent of Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview, even by Barna’s minimalist definition. He states, “The low percentage of Christians who have a biblical worldview is a direct reflection of the fact that half of our primary religious teachers and leaders do not have one.” But it gets worse: The research also points out that even in churches where the pastor has a biblical worldview, most of the congregants do not. More than six out of every seven congregants in the typical church do not share the biblical worldview of their pastor even when he or she has one. [According to Barna], developing a biblical worldview in a congregation requires:
...a lot of purposeful activity: teaching, prayer, conversation, accountability, and so forth. [However] if the 51% of pastors who have a biblical worldview were to strategically and relentlessly assist their congregants in adopting such a way of interpreting and responding to life, the impact on our churches, families, and society at-large would be enormous.
To this end this book is dedicated. We shall seek to understand the opposition to having and living a biblical worldview, identify what steps we must take to implement the same in our churches, and then consider how to evangelize people from the framework of a biblical worldview.