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The tragedy of the even dumber church

The tragedy of the even dumber church

It’s true – time really does fly.

Christian theologian Dr. William Lane Craig during debate at Purdue University, Feb. 1, 2013. | (Photo: Nicole Byrd)

Eight years ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Tragedy of the Dumb Church”[1], which struck a nerve with a lot of people. It was circulated widely on the web and also resulted in invitations to speak on some nationally syndicated radio shows.

In the article, I talked about how a friend of mine, who has a real heart for grounding youth in the faith, contacted all our community churches about conducting free-of-charge apologetics training for their young people. His gracious offer was sadly met with a talk-to-the-hand response from every local church.

Now it’s my turn.

Because I continue to see data suggesting that many people leave the church or consider it irrelevant because it fails to answer the tough questions that are thrown at it, I contacted the mega-church I go to about starting up an apologetics ministry. Because I’m formally trained in apologetics and theology, I offered to spearhead it and help train a volunteer staff who could serve as a group ready to answer people inside or outside the church who struggle with questions about Christianity.

I spoke with five(!) campus and ‘connection’ pastors about it, and also offered to teach formal culturally relevant classes at the church where these issues could be openly discussed. This time, I was the one who got the shrug-of-the-shoulders response or simply ghosted on email.

That experience got me thinking – could it be that between the last time I wrote on this subject and now, things have gotten worse on this front for the church?    

In This Corner

The fact is, it’s ugly out there and getting worse.

Data from the Barna group has identified a number of disturbing trends that should cause all Christians concern. Gen Z teens are much less likely to assert religious identity than generations before them with a rise in espoused atheism also being witnessed. Almost half of practicing Christian Millennials (47%) believe that evangelism is wrong, and my bet is that their lack of confidence in not being able to answer hard questions from their unbelieving friends plays a role in this.

Who can blame them? In the worldview ring, the opposing corner of Christianity has an impressive array of challengers that is certainly intimidating.

First up is the current post-truth culture. Postmodernism was one thing, but dealing with a secular mood that acknowledges something is true and yet rejects it because it goes against their personal preferences or interferes with their social/political activism is an entirely different beast.

Then we have scientism, which is the default fall back foundation for those who reject spirituality. Scientism is critical to and for the non-religious in order to, as Richard Lewontin puts it, “not allow a divine foot in the door.”

For some, scientism devolves into something more antagonistic – something I call hatetheism. Think of it as atheism with healthy doses of snideness, contempt, and a willingness to do anything needed to make religious faith appear idiotic and even dangerous. For example, Victor Stenger does just this when he says, “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

Last but not the least is the relatively new voice of apatheism. On its opposition to Christianity, authors Paul Rowan Brian and Ben Sixsmith state: “The greatest threat to Christianity is found not in the arguments of the atheist but in the assumptions of the apathetic. The danger is not a hostile reception of belief in God but an incurious indifference to the idea.”

Against these seemingly-powerful opponents to Christianity, who can blame Gen Z and others for being bullied into silence and inaction?

Appallingly Superficial

But are these four enemies of Christianity really the big, bad wolves they seem to be? I don't think so and here’s why.

If there are two words that perfectly define our day, they are: appallingly superficial. The whole world of digital Babylon exemplifies this perfectly in everyday life and they apply equally well to the religious landscape.

For example, in discussing his exit from Christianity, one blogger leaning into hatetheism provided a list of books that motivated him to leave the faith. He concluded by saying that he hoped to read them one day.

Seriously?

This shallow attitude is both sad and encouraging at the same time. Sad, in that it shows how flippant some people take matters of religion. But also encouraging because when such an attitude is directly and lovingly confronted by the robust intellectualism, logic, and  meaningfulness that has defined Christianity since day one, it disintegrates into the vapor that it is.

These house-of-cards foundations are likely why apologist William Lane Craig says that he is oftentimes confronted by upset unbelievers at the end of his debates who assert that the only way “their side” did so poorly during the event was because it was a setup. However, they get really intellectually defrocked when they discover that Craig’s opponents were not chosen by Craig but instead hand-picked by their own atheist group.      

The fact is, Christianity is indeed a robust, personally meaningful and intellectually satisfying alternative to its rivals who truly aren’t as ferocious as they appear.

What You Crave

Sometimes I get the argument from church leaders that they’re only responding to the desires of their members in not offering apologetics and similar, deeper theological education. They say no one is asking for it so it must not be wanted.

Nothing concerns me more about the spiritual state of a church than when I hear such a thing, and here’s why.

Years ago, I met a great couple who hadn’t been going to my church very long. Although they were both busy executive professionals, they were doing 3-4 different Bible studies each week and loving every minute of it. I remember them telling me, “We just can’t get enough!”

That kind of ‘appetite’ is a telling sign that the person in question has truly been born again. It personifies Anselm’s motto for the Christian faith: “faith seeking understanding”, which means that a true faith in God and Christ prompts a hungering quest for deeper understanding of spiritual truths.

Jonathan Edwards said in his great work, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, that a person’s cravings will unveil their spiritual condition. If a professing faith doesn’t seek the kind of understanding and holy affections to which Anselm and Edwards refer, then maybe it isn’t a Christian faith.

In other words, show me a church without a desire for learning about God and living it out, and I’ll show you a church that is pregnant with unbelievers.

Advice for the Dumb Church

So what steps should the dumb church take? Here are a few suggestions I have for churches like mine: 

  • Ask yourself the question put forward by Charles Spurgeon back in the 1,800’s: are you feeding the sheep or amusing the goats? Is your teaching making unbelievers uncomfortable and convicted or is their conscious never poked in the side with a spiritual elbow that causes them to wake up from the unbelieving state they’re in?
  • Is there anyone on staff or are there members of the congregation that are capable of answering the tough questions that unbelievers and struggling Christians put forward? Are there ways of identifying and engaging these individuals over time until they are on solid footing?
  • How seriously have you taken the educating and equipping of your saints? Can members of your body be regularly fed in your church or must they go outside for continued education in the things of God?

Years ago, a man came up to Francis Schaeffer and asked him many deep questions about Christianity. After Schaeffer answered everything that was thrown at him, the man paused, then said: “Thank you. Now I can worship God much better.”

By contrast, today’s dumb church would likely not be of much help. Instead, it has contributed to the sad state about which A. W. Tozer spoke of in his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy: “The message of this book . . . is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking and worshipping people. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little without her knowledge; and her unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic” (emphasis mine).      

Let us all pray that today’s dumb church takes the action needed to both overpower her enemies and equip her people so that our God is thought of and worshipped properly.  


[1] My original post was lost when Christianpost removed their blogging site, but one of the reprints of the post was copied and posted here

Robin Schumacher is a software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.

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