Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Failure of Theological Education

When I was working on my Master's of Education degree at Minot State University I learned the term "cognitive disconnect." A cognitive disconnect happens when you know something but that knowledge fails to have any kind of impact on your life. For example, as I studied I became a much better teacher in terms of my knowledge of teaching. I learned things I had never known before. However, I did not become a better teacher in the classroom. I kept doing things the way I had always done things. My learning did not impact my teaching.

Friends, we Southern Baptists specifically, and Protestant Evangelicals generally, have some of the finest educational opportunities in the world. Some of the very best schools are turning out world class scholars who are becoming teachers and pastors in our denominations. Our churches are being led by men who have some of the finest learning that can be obtained.

But for all that, something isn't working the way it is supposed to. We are failing to teach the faith to our church members and students. One telling story comes from a few years ago when my daughter asked me how many times in her life she was going to have to go through the creation narrative in Sunday School. I realized that our church's Sunday School curriculum was rehashing the same old stuff over and over. Students were not progressing or being pushed to consider the hard questions of theology and practice. This is having a disastrous effect on our churches and our denominations.

I recall a quote by a Mormon bishop where he boasted that in North America "Baptist churches are the best training grounds for new Mormon converts." Now friends ... Mormons think that by learning obedience to their law that they are going to become gods one day. Now it doesn't take a theologian to know that theology is not only NOT Baptist, it is not even Christian! Yet, 6 out of 10 converts to Mormonism in North America come out of Baptist churches! That statistic ought to be appalling to every pastor and educator. A recent Pew Research Center survey suggests that 60% of Southern Baptists hold a pluralistic (even univeralist) view of who goes to heaven. It is said that Southern Baptists believe that many religions teach the truths needed by men to find their way to heaven. These are but two examples of what I am talking about. If I went on the numbers of examples that could be cited could easily fill a large book.

I think that if all the data were analyzed that it would show that we have taught our students many moralistic lessons but we have failed to pass onto them the "faith once and for all [time] delivered to the saints." We have taught them Sunday School lessons built around a small circle of Bible stories and children's songs, but we have not taught them the Christian faith. We have not taught them what it means to be part of Christ's Church. We have not taught them what it means to be Baptist. We have failed to teach them theology and church history. We have not challenged them to apply their beliefs to their daily lives. The we sit back and wonder why the vast majority of our children completely apostatize when they graduate from high school. I will tell you the truth, we worry about the secularism and antichristian bias of our universities and how it will impact our children's faith when they study there ... but our children's faith was in danger long before they ever set foot on a college campus.

The solution, at least in broad terms, is self evident. First, we need to re-evaluate our religious education curriculums. We need to take a hard look at what we are teaching and what we are accomplishing with our current methodologies. Second, we need to raise the bar with our students. Professor Alvin Reid of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote "If our teens can handle high school physics and chemistry, they can handle theology." But we need to raise the bar in every class, at every level. We must teach our students who we are as Christians and why we are what we are. Finally, we must stop compromising with error. Our ancestors delivered to us a body of doctrine called "The Christian Faith." They passed it to us with hands tortured and stained with their own blood shed in defense of that glorious body of truth. We spit on their memories when we sell our birthright for a bowl of pottage and pat ourselves on the back for our ecumenical tolerance. Our faith, THE Faith, is under attack from all sides these days. Many within our churches shout "peace and safety" when there is no peace and safety. We must develop the backbone to stand for truth and teach it without apology wherever we have opportunities to teach.

If we fail to do these things (and surely there are many more things that can to correct our failure to properly teach) the future is a foreseeable event. Our well trained, well educated leaders will die off (assuming the Lord tarries). The ones after them who will assume the leadership in our churches and schools will be the young ones we weaned on moral Sunday School stories who are not grounded in the Faith. Wake up!

Now for the caveats. I am not a prophet nor am I especially brilliant. Other people besides me are noting these alarming trends. Some Christian leaders are already at work trying to correct these things I have mentioned. All is not black or bleak. But folks, we, the North American Church, are in a bad way. We need more leaders like Luther, Knox, Calvin, Boyce, Mohler, and a host of others, who are passionate for the Faith and passionate to see it taught in all it's aspects ... to the glory of the Living God. We need teachers who are convinced by scripture, who are close to God on their knees, and who will teach without compromise the truths of the Holy Word. No one group can fix this alone. It is time we woke up and stepped up. As the motto of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reads ... "For the truth, for the Church, for the world, for the glory of God." I pray you'll give this topic some thought.

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