"Doh!" appears to be the operative word in the Protestant church in the USA where theology is concerned. Barna is reporting trends I saw early as a youth pastor to Baby Busters in the 90s.
In this first of six discussions of harmful and dangerous trends in the church, I'm going to let you know how the vision and mission of Crosspoint and Encuentro prepares to grow a healthy church, fight the trends and suggest these are ways other churches can too.
Theologically trained disciples led by theologically astute elders, deacons and leaders. The battle to be theologically literate starts and ends with church leadership. In this respect, we are purposefully counter-cultural and apparently rebels. Kinda funny. Theological training is retro? Oh well.
Crosspoint and Encuentro also value multi-generational ministry. We get a broader tapestry of wisdom, depth and knowledge as older men and women teach younger men and women. We aren't totally dependent on the charms of our photo-genetic pastor either. (Which is a good thing for more than one reason...)
Barna's report notes...
"What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the finding that few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence.
Further, a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power, but not a living entity. As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency."
Crosspoint/Encuentro bucks this trend other ways too. We preach through books of the Bible so the theological concepts get taught. Though we speak in everyday language, we use and explain those big, theologically rich words like 'justification' and 'sanctification' so people learn theology. Two of our seven elders learned theology through our Theology for Ministry training module taught in small groups.
Here's a surprise maybe. People who have been in churches that do not teach theology want to know the details! I'm finding folks are hungry to know how things fit together. Offering the training to hungry people in non-traditional formats requires some changes in delivery methods, but the outcome is tremendous.
We are not the only ones working for theological literacy by any stretch. Our denomination (PCA) vigorously plants churches that are theologically grounded. So does Acts 29. Seminaries we love, like Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant, Westminster and even many of the Southern Baptist Seminaries teach men and women well. And I should not forget that several campus ministries are quite theologically robust. RUF (Reformed University Fellowship), CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) and Campus Outreach graduate some sharp theologically trained students.
There is hope as leaders are trained that we can lead the church to theological literacy (and even vibrancy) in the future.
The question this raises in my mind isn't 'Are there enough theologically astute people in the Protestant churches in the USA?' The bigger question is this: Are there accountability structures that will weed out false teachers in the pulpits of our churches?
Trust me. If I (or any elder or pastor in our denomination) stray for orthodox Christian doctrines, I will be corrected and if I refuse to be corrected I'll be disciplined and removed from the ministry.
Accountability is the answer to this problem in the church. We don't need pastors who go free-lancing on theology.