Amongst the Christmas gifts I received is a book by Michael Horton, Christless Christianity. In it Horton presents a hard-hitting analysis of churches in America, arguing that many present a faith that is ‘trivial, sentimental, affirming and irrelevant.’ A preponderance of churches, he says, are presenting a message of ‘moralism, personal comfort, self-help, self-improvement, and individualistic religion, trivializing God, making him a means to our selfish ends.’
Horton quotes the response of the late John Stott in 2006 when he was asked his view on the state of evangelicalism: “Growth without depth”.
How different this is from Jesus’ commission: ‘Go and make disciples…, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19f). In Colossians 1:28, Paul says he was committed ‘to teaching and warning everyone so that they become mature in Christ’. Being well grounded in the faith not only draws us into a richer, more trusting relationship with God, but also impacts our attitudes and relationships – something others discern.
Writing in The New York Times back in April, 2011, David Brooks observed: Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us. For example, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos,” Dorothy Sayers argues that Christianity’s advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that “perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil.” This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition…
So, where do we begin? As we start a New Year, I plan to identify some key teachings we find in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. No, this will not be a doctrine series but rather reasons and illustrations of why we need God’s truth and love.
What then has God done? He has revealed himself, for Christianity is a supernatural faith. Its truths cannot simply be found by our observations of the world around us, or by merely applying our mind or conscience. We need not only God’s actions but also his explanation of what he has done. This revelation, the Thirty-Nine Articles tell us, is to be found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (Article VI). Indeed, Article XX says that the Bible as a whole is ‘God’s Word written’. 2 Peter 1:19-21 sets out the grounds for this truth.
What then should we do? Read. We come to understand the revelation the Bible brings us by reading it, looking for the plain meaning of ‘text in context’, and by making deductions from the statements it makes. There is nothing surprising in the fact that God expects us to use the minds he has given us. In fact, it would be most surprising if God, having given us minds, would expect us to ignore them when it comes to reading and understanding his revelation.
And pray. Our problem, more often than we care to admit, is accepting the truth we find revealed in the Scriptures. So, we need to pray. We need to ask God that his Spirit, who caused the Scriptures to be written (2 Peter 1:21), will help us understand the meaning of the Bible with our minds, and to feel the impact of its truth upon our hearts.
God’s promise. The Bible is where we learn of God’s salvation. When we think about it, we see why this is most appropriate, for salvation comes to us as a promise. It is a promise that is verbally expressed in the context of the explanation of God’s acts in history. As Article VII puts it, Both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. God offers men and women, by way of promise, the gift of salvation in and through Jesus Christ.
Jean Paul Sartre, the French existentialist, once said, That God does not exist, I cannot deny. That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.’ The great news is that God not only exists but has, in fact, stepped into our world and revealed himself.