Christian Megathemes: Believers who don't know about Easter
The Barna Research Group recently released one of the most important studies I've seen in a while. Looking back over the past year of research on Christian behavior and belief, they've compiled what George Barna terms six megathemes—shifts in the way Christians believe and act—that have occurred within the last decade. In other words, these shifts are taking place right now, and they pose a significant risk to the health of Christians and the Christian church as a whole.
In reading these, I don't disagree with anything found here. In fact, many of them are fairly evident. But we need to do more than just spot them. Therefore, let's look at them carefully and ask ourselves if we are guilty of allowing these attitudes to creep into our lives. Over the next few days, I'll take each point from the study and examine it in a bit more detail. Then, I'll explore what steps we need to take to reverse the slide—both individually and as a church.
1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.This first megatheme is not surprising in its statement, but it is shocking in its depth. Barna writes ,"What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans—especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ." He goes on to note that Christians even misinterpret something as fundamental as the person of the Holy Spirit to be "a symbol of God's power" which is a heresy taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses!
The irony, of course, is that we live in an age of the Internet, where Christians have more access to information than ever before. But this means we need to first of all be interested in finding the answers and secondly be discerning when drawing from our sources. I think this first issue is key. People have increasingly taken a "buffet" approach to faith; give me a little of this thing, a dollop of that, but only what I like. It should come as no surprise, then, that the belief system people build start to reflect the drawbacks of a buffet: they load up on all the sweets and fun foods, but skip the fare that may be a little more difficult but will make you healthier.
The writer to the Hebrews had the same complaint with that church. He said "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."(Heb. 5:13-14) As Christians, we need to stop loading our plates with only messages of "Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life" and take in more of the green vegetables on the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, what salvation means, and other items. Apologetics is a wonderful way to do this, as it forces you to understand your theology and also be able to answer heresies, such as errors on the Trinity.
Tips on becoming more theologically astuteFor the individual
- Get some good books, like a systematic theology book or an apologetics primer and keep them handy
- Engage in conversations with others about what they believe and what basis they have for holding to those beliefs (did they just like the belief, are they basing it from scripture, from tradition, etc).
- Keep a daily devotion time, reading directly from the Bible. I recommend a chapter a day. Use an accessible commentary to help unpack the chapters that you read. Wiersbe's series are pretty easy for the novice.
- We need to focus more on expository preaching, and not as many topically-driven messages. Go through a book of the Bible from beginning to end with your congregation.
- Make sure theology is taught in Sunday school classes. This doesn't have to be dry and lecture-like. Place the tough theological questions in real-world scenarios and act them out. Even children's plays and support groups should weave theology into its curriculum.
- Seek to start an apologetics ministry in your church. For some ideas, you can listen to a this mp3 that was recently presented at the EPS Conference in Atlanta.