Imagine that you've never heard a piece of classical music.
You never went to a concert, or even saw one on TV. Now also imagine that you knew absolutely nothing about all the instruments in an orchestra-you couldn't tell a flute from a tuba or a violin from a piano. Also imagine that you know nothing about the history of classical music throughout the centuries or any of the great composers. Maybe you've heard a few of their names, but you have no idea who they were or what they did.
But now imagine that you and all your friends (who also don't know anything about classical music) were sitting around watching TV one day and you randomly came across a classical performance on PBS for just a few seconds while switching channels; and imagine that you only saw the conductor waving his arms around for those few seconds. That's all you saw.
What if someone asked you "how familiar are you familiar with classical music being performed by an orchestra?" and you answered "I know all about it! Me and my friends saw that guy waving his arms around on TV."
Would you really know very much about classical music? Of course not. But you insist: "I saw that guy on TV waving his arms around! Don't tell me I don't know about classical music!" And you might add: "and all my friends saw it, too!"
Sorry, but you and all your friends don't really know what you're talking about; and until you get a lot more information, you're going to remain ignorant of classical music being performed by an orchestra. And you'd be missing out on a lot!
This is, very sadly, an illustration of where a lot of Evangelicals stand in regard to Christianity. They're ignorant of their faith's history, it's leaders and it's key doctrines, and they often believe that any study of theology is inherently bad; which is kinda like saying "I don't care about notes-I only care about music!" or "I don't care about ingredients-I only care about food!"
Yet they believe they really know about their faith based on a guy (their favorite pastor, evangelist or author maybe) "waving his hands around," so to speak (or maybe waving a Bible around). Worst of all, they don't even know very much about the very Word of God that can teach them. The Holy Spirit should be teaching them through the Word of God, but He's been replaced by a bizarre, mystical "genie in a bottle" who requires rock bands in order to "manifest himself" and who always demands more and more attention. And to make matters worse, these very Christians are gleefully unaware of their own ignorance. They believe their pastor really knows what he's talking about. Why? Because he said so! And all their (church) friends think so, too!
I know about this topic, because I was one of these ignorant Evangelicals, and I'm very glad to be leaving their ranks. Not because I want to be smarter-but because I want to know the truth about my faith and my God.
I had an extremely limited understanding of Christianity-and I didn't even know it. I thought I was hearing about solid, Biblical Christianity, but in fact, I was only hearing about the American, Arminian, Revivalist, Semi-Pelagianist tip of the pragmatic Protestant Evangelical iceberg. I thought I was going to a "New Testament" church, but it was actually an outgrowth of a number of movements from only the past 200 years or so-and we were greatly affected by even more recent teachings from just the past few decades. Now if those various Christian movements from the past 200 years had really "improved" or "purified" Christianity (as they claimed), I had no way of really knowing, because I was inside that movement-it's all that I knew. Once I stepped outside of the movement and studied what came before us, I could actually see things more clearly, and I could compare the teachings of a pastor or church against historical, Biblical Christianity. It was like a (very) cold splash of water to my face. Or more like a slap upside the head (that I'm still recovering from). But now that I know all of this, it's okay-I'm very glad to be where I am.
I write about this because I wish nothing more than for all my Christian friends (and everyone else who reads this) to experience something similar in their own lives. I'm so much more at peace and so much more confidant in my faith because of what I've learned. As I've learned to see both Law and Gospel in the Bible, I'm not so confused. And I'm excited to learn more everyday-literally!
The thing that really concerns me, is that a lot of Christians, especially as they grow older, are getting tired of pat answers and shallow catch-phrases from pastors who don't know how to rightly handle God's Word. So they just tune out. They gradually stop attending church and whimper away; but a new crop of younger faces (usually with children in tow) show up to replace them. They'll buy into the shallow catch-phrases and pat answers... for a while. And then the cycle begins again. After 10 or 20 years of therapeutic "life-lessons," un-Biblical "success strategies" and unfulfilled "prophetic words" they'll eventually whimper away, too. No amount of cool videos, hip new logos, "relevant" messages or rock bands will fool them anymore.. they're done.
Please, don't let that be you!
If you can relate to this, here are a few ideas that might help you:
First of all, maybe you just need to spend more time reading the Bible. Duh. But, seriously, many Christians don't even read God's Word. So just get started. Read entire books, too; don't just skip around to a favorite verse here or there. The New Testament epistles are all pretty short-that might be a great place for you to start if it's been a while. Remember, the real meaning can only be understood properly in context, so reading a whole passage will always help you understand the meaning better. I don't recommend The Message (it's not really a Bible-it's a paraphrase of the Bible that sometimes sounds pretty neat, but other times is just wrong), but I do read the New Living Translation sometimes (which uses very easy, modern language); otherwise I mostly read a more accurate translation like the NASB, ESV, NKJV or the original NIV. Also, I love "The Lutheran Study Bible" it's the best $50 you could ever spend. It should cost $500. The ESV Study Bible is also amazing and worth ten times what it actually costs.
Secondly, here are three great programs (and a couple YouTube channel) that have helped me to leave the foggy land of the Evangelical Industrial Complex (although there are a lot more). All you have to do is listen to them.
Seriously, just start listening ASAP!
This is from my buddy, Chris Rosebrough. As he says, "don't listen with an open mind-listen with an open Bible!" This show is a little like Mystery Science Theater 3000; he plays sermons by the "Super Pastors" and interrupts them using correct hermaneutics (and usually tears their bad teaching to shreds). I'm amazed at how much I've learned from this one ministry-I'm sure I've learned more in just 2 or 3 years of listening to this, than in 30 years of sermons. I am not exaggerating. Now that I'm occasionally on the show it's even better. ;)
"Know what you believe, and why you believe it!" This ministry has been slugging away for over 20 years, trying to teach Christians about the Bible, the Reformation, and why we need another one. You can also find a lot of their shows archived on YouTube here. I love this show, and I don't know where I'd be without the things I've learned here!
This is a simple radio show that originally featured the excellent teaching of Bob DeWaay (the newer ones have different hosts). Bob has tackled a lot of the topics that most Christian shows wouldn't touch. And he's taught me a lot-in fact, I've listened to many of his half-hour shows over and over again, just so it can all sink in (and correct the confusing stuff I used to believe). He has also published a lot of excellent (and short) articles on the same topics as the radio shows; I often print these off (they're even available in PDF form) and give them to people.
This is a great collection of videos about the history of the Christian Church and it's theological development; plus they are presented with a pretty neutral viewpoint. Done in a narration/documentary style, most of these are around 30 minutes or so. I've listened to many of these multiple times, because they're so interesting and well done. Reeves is a Professor with a PhD in Historical Theology from Cambridge; basically, he's giving away college lectures for free!
This is similar to the Ryan Reeves channel, but these are videos of actual lectures given at Mr. Gore's (very fortunate) Sunday School class. He's a brilliant and engaging teacher, and the lectures have extensive notes and photos to follow along with. This is another amazing free resource!
This is just a start, but I hope this helps! (I originally wrote this article before I was a part of Pirate Christian Media, so if you're here now you already know about the many great programs and blogs to be found here)