For years, I’ve required doctoral students to complete a theological survey of their congregations – and we’ve learned that many church members don’t know their church’s basic theological positions. They can neither summarize nor explain their church’s doctrine. The reasons for this problem are many, but here are a few:
We’ve assumed that attendance in our church results in their having biblical theology. Our equation has been as simple as, “Attending our small groups + attending our worship = having a biblical theology.” We assume they will connect the doctrinal dots on their own.
We haven’t taught them basic doctrine. We might think we have, but we seldom have systematically, intentionally led them in doctrinal studies. Too many churches leave those discussions to seminary campuses.
We haven’t discipled them in general. We’ve allowed baby believers to remain babies, and we’ve sometimes even elevated them to leadership positions – without ever talking to them about the importance of doctrine.
We don’t ask what they believe, so we see no need to teach them. Perhaps we’re assuming what they believe, but we usually just don’t know. We don’t ask, either, even though we say that doctrine matters.
We’ve told them to read the Bible, but we haven’t taught them how to read and interpret it. When we only tell them to read but don’t help them understand the Word, we set them up for struggles in their spiritual disciplines. Apart from their knowing the Word, they develop their theology based on some other foundation.
They’re exposed to many, many other voices that influence their theology. They may listen to us for a couple of hours each week – but that leaves dozens of hours to hear from others. They are bombarded with television and social media theology more than biblical theology.
We’ve lost our Great Commission focus. This reason might seem odd, but here’s my point: when you’re not focused on sharing the gospel with non-believers around the world, you’re not typically faced with explaining and defending theological issues (e.g., the lostness of humanity, the atonement of Christ, the reality of judgment).