Friday, October 1, 2010

No one said there would be a quiz!

Okay, so I have been largely absent from the blog and the rest of the online world for a while now. Basically, I scheduled my vacation a little too late in the year and I have been limping along trying to get to a break. I am a little behind the curve on writing about this piece from the news. However, it too closely ties into the purpose of this blog to completely ignore it. A recent phone survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life showed clearly that Americans don’t know much about the Bible, Christianity, other world religions, famous religious figures and the rules about religion in public life.

This has been out for a little while, so instead of my summarizing, follow a couple of these links and then come back here.

Basic Religion Test Stumps Many Americans - New York TimesDon't know much about religion? You're not alone, study finds - Belief Blog

Okay, welcome back. Big shock, right? Not really. Let's set aside for a moment the issues of other world religions; protestant Christians really don't know a lot about their own faith and their own book. Two questions arise right off the top: who is responsible for this and why does it matter?

This seems really obvious, but clearly it is not: If American Christians don't know the most basic tenants of the faith, it is the because of the failure of the Church. Really. Who else's failure could it be? This is exactly why I am so committed to systematic discipleship, speaking to people's hearts and minds about the basics of the faith and how we are to live them out. The mainline churches have been especially guilty of just assuming people know the basics. When people come to our congregations, we need to assume that they don't know the Bible, they don't know the basic doctrines and they don't know the heritage of the faith. If they already do know, fantastic! I little review never hurt anyone.

More importantly, why is this so important? Isn't it more important that people know Jesus in their hearts than know about Jesus with their minds? They are both important and here is why: We live in a complex and broken world. As Christians we are often called to speak to the brokenness in our world in terms of our faith in God. Too often, we just don't know what we are talking about. Let me use a very current example. Here in San Antonio, there were recently two tragic suicides of high school students from two local schools. In such moments of tragedy, grief and confusion, Christians have a word of hope and peace to speak. However, what we found is that Christians didn't know what word to speak and were sometimes speaking the wrong word. Christian denominations differ on their understanding of the theology of suicide. However, United Methodists have a view. The Social Principles in our United Methodist Book of Discipline (par. 161) state:

A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.

We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.

It is important to note that these words are contained in the Social Principles which do not represent church law but represent our efforts to wrestle with complex social issues and be faithful to scripture.

Interestingly, the view about is not the view that if often expressed by United Methodist who often share the belief that suicide results in a clear condemnation to hell. Often people who do express that view have trouble explaining why they have that belief or where, biblically, it comes from. While suicide is a complex and tender topic and raises a number of theological questions, a United Methodist familiar with his or her theological heritage can be a voice of hope and peace in the midst of tragedy. But only if they know what they believe. (My friend and our Director of Youth Ministries who has recently by in the midst of this topic has written clearly and eloquently on this topic. You should read his blog post on the topic: The Lord Bless you and keep you.)

This is a just one example of many. The point is this: it doesn't matter how we do on a quiz or survey. That is not the point. However, this latest report is symptomatic of a lack of understanding of our faith. And understanding our faith is an important part of living it out in the world. At University, we are working hard to teach and equip people through our Pathway to Discipleship. Yet we know that this is just part of the solution. I hope that as week seek to clarify and improve our instruction at University, the Church universal is continuing to consider how we teach the faith and pass it along to a new generation.


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