Why are so many Christians Ignorant?
If you’re thinking that the title is a little “click-baity”… well, I will confess there is a certain element of truth to that statement. But it’s a very small element. God saved me when I was 20 years old, and I have been a Believer now for 35 years. I am within shouting distance of getting to the point where I have been a Christian twice the number of years I was not. That, in and of itself, is a bona fide miracle. I have been in the ministry for 26 years and that has given me one of the most precious things that a person can be given: perspective.
I remember sitting in various classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and hearing names like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels and their churches, Saddleback and Willowcreek. Fellow students spoke of these guys like the techies talked about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They were rock stars in the evangelical community, and many of us wanted to be like them. To accomplish what they were accomplishing. And it didn’t hurt at all that we Southern Baptists could claim Warren as one of our own. If he could do it, surely we could do it.
Before we go any further, let me give my disclaimer. My point here is not to denigrate anything that another Believer has done. I don’t do that. The world is the one against us, and we need to remember that. I will not engage in putting down a fellow Believer because the world already does that, and we don’t need to give them any help. What I am simply doing is pointing out the obvious fact that every movement, construct, and paradigm has inherent weaknesses. And these weaknesses are generally exposed by one of the soundest laws in the universe: The Law of Unintended Consequences.
We cannot escape that Law. It is impossible. We can try to mitigate the effects as much as is possible, but we cannot escape the grasp of this Law. Warren and Hybels are the fathers of the modern mega-church era and one of the reasons we have seen a huge surge in mega-churches in the country today. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. But remember- we cannot avoid the Law. While these types of churches are different in their own way, there is one element that seems to tie the vast majority of them together. They focus on felt needs more than they focus on the theology necessary to grow into the Believers God expects.
Warren and Hybels are amazingly bright and talented guys, as are the current flock of mega-church celebrity pastors. And they have taken the approach of a less theological, less doctrinal, and more feelings-based Christianity. And I am not saying that this in and of itself is a bad thing. In fact, current celebrity pastor Stephen Furtick is actually on camera telling people in his congregation that, if they have gotten saved at Elevation Church, after a few weeks, they should probably move to a different congregation. He knows they will not get the growth-oriented depth of teaching at his church that they will need to grow into disciples. I absolutely do not ascribe to his approach, but I applaud his honesty.
I’ve been studying these churches for three decades. And there is one inescapable fact we cannot avoid. For the most part, they have produced ignorant Christians (if, in fact, they are Christians at all). Just last week, Ligonier (in partnership with Lifeway Research) released the 2020 version of The State of Theology. In short, it is a study of 3,000 evangelicals on what they know and believe about God. If you want to get pretty depressed, I suggest you not only read the 2020 results but also the previous iterations of the study. The results are always staggering, especially considering the study is comprised of evangelicals.
And there is always one aspect of the study that simply floors me. This time, it is information related to Who evangelicals believe Jesus actually is. The study included this statement: Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God. An amazing 30% of evangelicals actually agreed with that statement. I want you to let that soak in. Nearly 1/3rd of evangelicals think that Jesus was not God… just a really smart man. Let me clarify what this means even further. Not only does this mean that these 30% are not really evangelicals… it means that these 30% are not really Christians at all. They can’t be. It is impossible to think that Jesus was just a man and truly be a Christian.
Oh, they can be followers of some of His teachings (except, of course, the ones where He claims He is God), but they are not Believers. Here’s a snapshot of even more “good” news regarding evangelicals. 46% believe that people are basically good (which is not true). 42% believe that God accepts the worship of all religions (which is the heresy of universalism). Here’s the big question: how did we get here? These things are Christianity 101. They are the basics of Christianity. Do we blame Warren, Hybels, Furtick, Andy Stanley, and those of like mind? I think it is much simpler than that. We blame the lack of serious teaching of God’s Word. Whoever fits into that category is, ultimately, partly responsible.
Look… felt needs are fine. I get it. But there has to be more. We need to hear this loud and clear… Jesus did not die to make me a better husband, father, or employee. He did not die to make me a better citizen, friend, or political zealot. He died to transform into a new being (2 Cor. 5:17). He died to make me His child (2 Cor. 6:18). Now, as a result, I hope I will then become a better overall person. But I was not a person who needed to be improved. I was a sinner who needed to be saved and redeemed. Thirty years of watering down God’s Word so that we can have our best life now, or repent because we don’t dream big enough, or wonder how God is going to fix my marriage or make me better has led to complete ignorance of His Word.
And His Word? It just so happens to be the only thing He has given us that shows Who He truly is. And we are ignoring huge swaths of it to draw big crowds. Most of these guys know that if they start talking about sin and focusing on theology, their numbers will drop. They know this. And yet, sin is the reason I desperately need Jesus in the first place. Theology is simply knowing God better. Christianity has been transformed into a semi self-help philosophy. This construct is leading millions to a death where they will be separated from God for eternity because preachers told them that they were basically a good person and Jesus can help them be a better person. When they should have been told they are incapable of being good apart from Christ, and they need to be a new person. That is the only felt need that ultimately matters. It’s time we stop being ignorant about the Gospel and Who God really is. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this ignorance can cost us our very lives.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in St. Cloud, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.