Faith in some experience devoid of theological or biblical content–no matter how powerful–is not New Testament Christianity. Those called to Christianity in general may believe nothing in particular. But faith resides in particulars. Some churches seem to think that doctrine is a concern for those of a certain intellectual bent, but unnecessary for most Christians. Interest in doctrine amounts to something like an intellectual hobby. Others steer clear of doctrine for fear of argument or division in the church. Both factors indicate a lack of respect for the Christian believer and an abdication of the teaching function of the church.
– Albert Mohler –
I was recently sitting in a coffee shop when I picked up on a conversation between two women, presumably Christian due to the nature of their conversation. As the conversation progressed the topic moved towards Christian movies and how certain movies influenced them individually. I was astounded as they stated how certain concepts from the movies had shaped some of the ways they understood Scripture and how the movies had impacted their beliefs. What?
To be sure, media has enhanced ministry in the last twenty years. Never before has the church had the ability to spread the Gospel in such a rapid and effective manner as it enjoys today. Media has become an indispensable aid to the church; even to the point that mission agencies have sought ways in which to provide the same media material to missionaries and churches around the world. (i.e. Jesus: He Lived Among Us and The JESUS Film Project) What great tools have been afforded the church in our day!
However, have these aids become hindrances?
I have noticed a disturbing tendency in the church of America as of late in which Christians rely on slogans picked up from books and videos to form their theology rather than dedicating themselves to the earnest study of Scripture. As stated above by Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, many churches believe that the work of developing and studying theology is for certain intellectuals, such as the professor and pastor, but certainly not for the average Christian. This view of theology is detrimental because it falsely asserts that theology is a secondary aspect to the Christians walk and thereby believes that theology is not necessary for the ‘normal Christian walk’. What is missed in this assumption is that the Christian life cannot be lived without some form of theology driving it. Therefore when the theology behind their walk is not based on Scripture, other things will take its place. This proves detrimental because what comprises their theology is a melting pot of random existential experiences and insight from a myriad of authors who may or may not agree with one another.
This is where media comes into the argument. Media has vastly changed how Americans process information. Due to the sheer volume of media that people are exposed to in a given day, much of their thought processes are formed by tidbits of information rather than a complete, well thought-out argument. Anymore, communication is merely about what is said, rather than what is said and how it is said. As a result, we substitute how something is said with how it is interpreted by the hearer which leads to a plethora of various understandings. Finally, this reliance on tidbits of information in order to form our thoughts has resulted in lazy research. Many people no longer study for themselves. They leave the task of understanding and articulating complete arguments to the academic.
In the church, the problem is the same. The average Christian has no interest in theology or deep study of Scripture. Many arrive to church merely wanting the ‘take-away’ value and want little to do with the details of Scripture. As a result, churches use media as succinct ways to give the congregation brief theological insights and to spur deeper individual study. While this seemed like a good tactic since those in the congregation were accustomed to media, is appears that it has created a further problem. Many Christians rely on the short media presentations to form their theological beliefs.
Unfortunately, many within the industry that create these resources are not orthodox believers. Take for example The Passion of the Christ, which was a blockbuster for Christians and has been treasured by Christians around the world. What is totally overlooked by Christians is the fact that the film is infused with Roman Catholic Tradition, and many Christians now believe that some of the aspects of the film (i.e. Satan bearing a child, God shedding a tear, Judas being harassed by Demons, and Claudia providing linens to Mary the mother of Jesus to clean the blood from the scourging) are found in Scripture.
Christians have become incredibly lazy in their understanding of Scripture. We have settled for the path of least resistance and accepted all too easily what we find in ‘Christian’ Media. Many Christians have settled for the little pieces of information they receive, labeled biblical despite how unbiblical it may very well be, not realizing how detrimental and contradictory their ‘theological’ system has become. For this adoption, they pay a dear price in not understanding the Gospel they claim to believe as well as not being able to articulate that Gospel to those who ask. What tragedy has gripped the church and robbed it of precious understanding of its God and Gospel.
I pray that Christians will realize how they have crippled themselves and will seek to intimately know and understand God. Second, I pray that churches will begin to teach their congregations theology, not from a video or curriculum, but from Scripture alone. Third, I pray that Christians will learn the Gospel in order that they can provide an answer for the hope that lies within them. Finally, I pray that Christians will begin to carry out discernment when deciding what media to absorb because the mere title ‘Christian’ defines so little anymore.
So what about you? Do you turn to Scripture when trying to understand theology, or have you relied upon what Hollywood and publishing houses have produced? Can you articulate the Gospel you claim to cling to? Has your Christian walk become a melting pot of conflicting ideas and opinions not derived from Scripture?
What will you do to change?
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature – for those whose sense have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
– Hebrews 5:12-6:2 –