Evangelicalism and Theological Mediocrity
Dr. Mohler’s recent article “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” is thought-provoking along several fronts, but one in particular struck me. He writes:
What about theology? This question requires a look at the massive shifts in worldview now evident within American culture. Trends foreseen by researchers such as James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia and others can now be seen in full flower. The larger culture has turned increasingly hostile to exclusivist truth claims such as the belief that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. One megachurch pastor in Florida recently told me that the megachurches in his area were abandoning concern for biblical gender roles on a wholesale basis. As one pastor told him, you cannot grow a church and teach biblical complementarianism.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pushback I got for this half-serious post at The Thinklings blog last week, specifically on the #8 point in that list, where I reveal my position against women in pastoral authority. The comments became an exercise in vain disputations, and while the vast majority of the feedback was positive, the still sizable portion that wasn’t, was quite vitriolic. I’ve been called more “choice words” in the last two weeks in public than my whole life combined. (But, remember, I’m the graceless one.) Those disagreeable sorts who weren’t angry, were at the least flummoxed.
The post has been reprinted on a few other sites and was even mentioned on a radio show, and the questions it’s received are revealing. It’s not the accusations of misogyny or sexism that bug me — those are understandable and not unexpected. It’s the question behind the question — “Wait. What’s wrong with female pastors?” — that reveals something, and it’s not simply egalitarianism. Many egalitarians I know are theologically robust thinkers; they are familiar with the relevant texts, they know the complementarian arguments, and they have rejected them on exegetical, logical, and cultural grounds. Of course, I disagree with their conclusions, but I know they’re getting to them with some thought and consideration. But the majority of egalitarians out there have never ever heard the word egalitarian. (Nor have the functional complementarians heard that word.) And this is what they are revealing in their questions.
When they say “What’s wrong with female pastors?” they are not just reacting from a place of cultural sensitivity about the equality between the sexes — which, by the way, complementarians agree with — they are reacting from a place of theological illiteracy. And while many churches that practice egalitarian governance preach and teach the texts, most egalitarian churches do not. But this is just a test case. Most churches with functional-but-not-educated-egalitarians are not simply theologically illiterate when it comes to this issue; they are theologically illiterate — or, more accurately, mediocre — on just about everything else.
Attractional megachurches have surveyed themselves on their discipleship cultures and found themselves lacking. But I wonder how they’d also fare in testing their average congregants on the difference between justification and sanctification, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation, or more basic still: an accurate definition of the gospel. The other day I saw a pastor on Twitter say belief in the Trinity was not essential for salvation. He had no doctrinal basis for that, simply a concern that to say otherwise was not “grace.” The pushback I get whenever I jab at Joel Osteen reveals a basic ignorance about what’s wrong with his message. These days all it takes for someone to be considered Christian is to simply say they are (which is basically the basis for Osteen’s validation of Mormon Mitt Romney’s salvation).
“Wait. What’s wrong with female pastors?” This question is the tip of the iceberg of evangelicalism’s pervasive theological mediocrity. And it’s not limited to a megachurch problem. It’s an all-church problem. Nor is it simply a problem of raising functional egalitarians — which I object to as a complementarian, of course — it’s more a matter of raising evangelicals who have no idea there’s actually Bible verses to go to that address that issue — which I object to as a brother in Christ. And I believe my theologically-minded egalitarian brethren would agree with me there.
There’s lots of reasons for this problem, and I don’t mean to explore them here. Better minds than I have already done that and will continue to do that, but if I could pinpoint one root cause it would be this: Evangelicals aren’t preaching the Bible. They are putting Bible verses into their preaching. And there is a difference.