The American Church and the Desperate Need for Strong Theology

I have the joy of teaching adult Sunday School at our church. We offer a Core Seminar class that is based off of those offered by Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. And so every Sunday morning at 9:15, 15-20 of us gather to study. We recently began a long seminar on Systematic Theology. Yes, in a world in which the dominant headlines among Evangelicals revolve around the number of “Nons” in our culture, our church offers a Systematic Theology Sunday School Class. Why? I’m glad you asked.

            The struggles facing the church today are a result of a watered-down theology. We have spent years minimizing theology. We don’t even want to use the word. I’ve seen churches that have a basic discipleship process of “get ’em saved and get ’em serving.” But serving who? Serving why? The answers to these questions are often overly simple. “Serve because you love Jesus.” But who is Jesus? And I don’t mean “what did Jesus do?” We all know that. But WHO is Jesus? And an extension of that would then be “Who is the Father?” We often don’t get fully-developed answers to these questions because we are too busy giving application-driven sermons focused on practical life change at the surface level, but not concerned with driving professing Christians to better behold the God they profess to love. This is effectively the same as coloring your hair. It gets results, but they don’t last, because what is lingering underneath is going to come out. We need something better.

            The struggles facing the church are multi-generational. This is not a problem with “young people these days.” This did not happen in one generation. There was a massive failure of one (or two, or three) generation in discipling the next. While parents were sleeping, their children were being “discipled” by TV, peers, the internet, secular education, and a host of other avenues, while receiving biblical input once a week on Sunday. We stacked a deck and then were shocked with things went bad.

            There is hope for the church. I believe the church’s best days could still be ahead of it. That is no “pie in the sky” hope. The church in America is facing an incredible challenge. Too many local assemblies are meeting the problems they are facing by adopting stances that are simply adding fuel to the fire. We have watered-down our faith and practice so much that there is often an explanation needed to demonstrate to those outside the church why they would ever need what the church has to offer. No, the need is to push hard back into the foundations of what we are as believers and as a church. In other words, we need to push hard into basic, systematic, theology.

            A way forward. Most of us get tired of hearing anything to do with “basics.” We want a new program, ministry, or tool. We want to find a secret that will open the door to the holy trinity of buildings, bucks, and butts. We’ve done that. It’s not working. And even if it were, that pragmatic methodology falls far short of the glory of our God. Here are three emphases that I believe will be key in seeing generational change occur in our churches and families: first, a renewed emphasis on text-based, expository preaching. Second, a renewed emphasis on family discipleship. Third, a renewed emphasis on the centrality and sufficiency of the text. I will unpack each of these in upcoming weeks, but I want to point out what all three have in common. When done well, each of the above emphases will flow from and develop in the learners a deeply rooted biblical theology. When our preachers better understand the nature of our God, their messages will seek to glorify that God better. When our families grasp the holiness of the God they profess, they will seek to pass that grasp on to their children and grandchildren. And when we all grasp the importance of the Scriptures in better understanding this God, the text will take it’s rightful place as central in our homes, lives, and worship. It may sound cliché, but we need a reformation. We need to set aside the petty theological games that we have been playing and behold anew the face of our God.