Did you see the film “Jesus Revolution” yet? I rarely recommend movies, but this one is worthy. I rarely shed a tear over anything ever, but one particular scene made my eyes ‘watery.’ The story features the hippie ‘Jesus Movement’ just over 50 years ago as the background for the story of both a young Greg Laurie (who is currently one of the world’s most renowned evangelists) and Chuck Smith, who started the Calvary Chapel Association of churches. While there are troubling aspects to Calvary Chapel’s theology, I appreciate greatly in the movie how Chuck, played by Kelsey Grammer, would hold up his Bible before speaking and say to those gathered, “Open your Bibles. This is life.”
The Bible is life because it is God’s truth and reveals Jesus, who is the Life. The doctrine in the Bible is life because we don’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God (Matt. 4:4). Theology is life because what God says determines our worldview, guides our morality, and filters our decisions. However, we continue to see how recent research and surveys point out how quickly and dramatically Americans have shifted their theological views.
One reason is likely because people are attending church far less than they used to. A few months ago, Lifeway Research’s biennial “State of Theology” study found that for the first time a majority of evangelical (supposedly Bible-believing) Christians state that worshipping alone or with family is a “valid replacement” for regular church attendance. That view has increased by a whopping 15% in the past two years, attributable to people blaming the pandemic for the change in their habits. But that trend was only accelerated by the pandemic.
Another reason for the shift is that Christians aren’t reading their Bibles. This same research showed that while most believe in God, they’re confused about who He is or who Jesus is. Only around half say the Bible is 100% accurate in all it teaches and is authoritative. Half don’t. Many think it’s helpful, but not literally true. This largely explains why sound doctrine is slipping. They acknowledge the story in the Bible, but more than half give more weight to their personal opinions. So religious belief isn’t objective truth, just personal preference–whatever a person wants to believe. A growing number believe that God is not concerned with their daily decisions. While we may assume a certain level of theological literacy, it doesn’t seem to be present for a great number who claim to be Christian.
This is why the regular teaching of core doctrines is essential. Yet, another reason for the doctrinal slide is due to the very churches where people expect to be trained in biblical theology but are not. Preaching in many churches is either doctrinally adrift or theologically light, focusing more on therapeutic felt needs. People tend to want to feel better, not just think rightly. So preachers will cater to that. Or they’ll compromise on controversial subjects for fear of losing attendees. This is perhaps even more true in children’s and teen ministries, which can overemphasize fun and fluff instead of Bible teaching.
When declining church attendance, less personal Bible reading, more rejection of biblical authority, and the lack of solid Bible teaching in churches are combined, is it any wonder Americans are theologically dysfunctional? We need Christians committed to reading and studying the Word for themselves. We need our kids to be brought up with Bible teaching at home and in church. We need ministers who stand firmly on Scripture and focus their ministries on preaching and teaching.
I know I’m committing myself more and more to these things. Right now, I’m leading four groups in biblical doctrine-three of them are studying a book of biblical theology (“His Truth” by Dr. Jack Cottrell), and one is a group of young adults going through a book on basic doctrine (“What We Believe” by Elliot Blount). Not only that, but our Elders and staff are reading doctrinal books together every month (“Real Life Theology” – Renew.org). We’re having great conversations about what really matters. Our Kids Ministry will also be switching to even better biblical curriculum this fall.
Open your Bibles. This is life.