“Is it possible to be astonished and, at the same time, not surprised?” – Josiah Bartlett, Here Today (The West Wing)
I find that to be an apt way to react to most evangelicals profession of faith and simultaneously complete and total lack of interest in theology. Sure some have a few pop theology books that made the best seller list. Perhaps a copy of My Utmost for His Highest, maybe even a half forgotten copy of Knowing God gathering dust on a bookshelf. But if you talk to them they are more likely to quote from the films of Christopher Nolan than the writings of Francis Schaeffer. Which is only slightly more insulting than attributing to Jane Austen or J.R.R. Tolkien a quote from a cinematic adaptation that was never in their books. But I digress.
Christians have been known historically as “people of the book.” Knowledge of God has been the bedrock of our passion for Him. Theology is truly heavenly in it’s “further up and further in” propensity. We have the most infinitely interesting being to study and all of eternity to do so in. And that is merely if our theology were in a sterile environment. Yet theology deepens the affections so much so that one of the greatest cried out:
“Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections!” ~ John Owen
It would seem today that the average christian wants that feeling but with none of the structure that undergirds it. We are more disposed to be moved by a music minister’s half baked improvised sermonette about warm snuggly feelings than to be laid low like the prophets of old,
“And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:5
Feeling has surpassed knowledge, it has made for an impotent church in stark contrast to our history.
“All Puritans regarded religious feeling and pious emotion without knowledge as worse than useless. Only when truth was being felt was emotion in any way desirable” – J.I. Packer, Among God’s Giants
The problem is not an inability to develop expertise. The problem is that we are experts in dead and deformed things. Beer, sport, makeup, fashion, whiskey, comic books, Star Wars, food, travel, politics, fitness, the list could go on. And as good a gifts as these are from God, they are simply better assemblages of dust in their current form. And rather than being rolled up into praise of the giver they are instead objects of our devotion.
A symptom of this is our inability to praise God. Rather than knowing God so well that we can not help but praise Him we find ourselves awkwardly mumbling amens along with someone standing on a platform once a week who seems to be doing a better job than we could. However, in a damming inditement we have no problem praising, in excess, the movie we just saw and liked, the meal we just ate and enjoyed, our team in victory. In point of fact we are downright evangelical our praise is so effervescent.
We are capable of mastery and exaltation, and yet, for many, capability has not translated into beginning the actual work. Or worse the journey of mastering a subject is pursued to the detriment of the more important one. Often this is accompanied by a constant whine about not understanding God or that Pastors don’t explain it well enough. And it is childish. Doctrine is for adults, theology is a man’s arena, it is a rough and manly game. If a person insists on remaining a spiritual child they will go on not understanding. And it is no good crying over it, the problem is not with the doctrines it is with the person. Every man has the ability to study the faith and understand it; but the easier path is to stagnate and complain when a doctrine shows itself objectionable to the immature. It should not be forgotten that we are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Teachers are Lazy
One more level to this. As I sit writing this at the table across form me are two men arguing the deeper meaning of life. They perfectly fit who Lewis aimed his war time broadcasts (Which became Mere) at.
“Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going tell you… They all say ‘the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion’. I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means ‘the science of God’, and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?” C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality Chapter 1
The lost world does not know it but they are interested in theology. Their assigned teachers are lazy. Perhaps it is that most of us are too accustomed to ease, or that the effects revivalism or or seeker sensitive movement, a failing education system. Or perhaps the fault truly does not lie in our stars but ourselves. We gave into the temptation to be lazy, and thus sinned, and are reaping the consequences.
Feelings taking precedent over Scripture and doctrine is the fruit of intellectual and theological laziness. A willfully ignorant church is a sinful church.
“It follows then, in my estimation, that a person who is intellectually lazy is a sinful person. God had a reason for giving us heads with intellectual capacity for thinking and reasoning and considering. But what a great company of humans there are who refuse to use their heads and many of these are Christians, we must confess.” – A.W. Tozer, Twelve Sermons in Peter’s First Epistle
Therefore repent. Turn from your wicked ways and grow in the knowledge of God. Lewis’ statement should not strike us as overly optimistic but merely factual. The world would like the clearest and most accurate ideas about God that are available. We the church then should stop being children.
Yes, theology is hard. Reading takes time. Mastery of a subject takes 10,000 hours according to Malcolm Gladwell. But fellow christian, you have eternity! There is no such thing as time wasted on the knowledge of the glory of God. It is all further up and further in.
Often the objection raised is that a person is not smart enough, I reject that they are not disciplined enough. Or it is stated that they are not interested, I likewise reject that, every man is a theologian, they have an interest, they are merely a good or a bad one. Boredom is not an excuse for ignorance, good teachers know this. Catechisms are widely available. There has never been a day in the history of the world where good teaching is available, in so many formats, and so much for free. Early Christians who waited months for on book to be copied and shipped to them would be aghast at our professed boredom with the breadth of available theology.
I will no longer belabor the point. This entire article can be summed up by the great Puritan divine Ricard Baxter. Like a great standup building a rant up to his mic drop, Baxter teaches thus:
“(1) Every man that has a reasonable soul should know God that made him; and know the end for which he should live; and know the way to his eternal happiness, as well as the learned: have you not souls to save or loose as well as learned have? (2) God hath made plain His will to you in His word; He hath given you teachers and many other helps, so that you have no excuse if you are ignorant; you must know how to be christians if you are no scholars. You may hit the way to heaven in English, though you have no skill in Hebrew or Greek; but in the darkness of ignorance you can never hit it. (3) …If you think, therefore that you may be excused from knowledge , you may as well think that you may be excused from love and from all obedience; for there can be none without this knowledge… Were you but as willing to get the knowledge of God and heavenly things as you are to know how to work in your trade, you would have spared not cost or pains till you have got it. But you account seven years little enough to learn your trade, and will not bestow one day in seven in diligent learning the matters of salvation” – Richard Baxter, Works of Richard Baxter Vol. II