Are we living in a generation in which feelings and impressions are as significant as facts? Scholars are beginning to talk about this phenomenon in our culture — which they label the Post-Truth Era.
We see evidence of this phenomenon in the church world as well. A generation ago when people were looking for a church, they wanted to know the creed of the church—the facts, the foundation of the church’s belief system. Now, though, researchers tell us that over 95% of people in our generation choose their churches based on how they feel as they leave the service.
Over 70% of Christians think the purpose of the church is to meet their human needs, and over 50% of Bible School and Seminary students think their calling is to meet these human needs. This is a stark departure for the church. We’ve always believed that the role of the church is to glorify God, and that the calling of our Christian leaders is to help people find their greatest fulfillment by learning to glorify God in all they do. Glorifying God is the door through which Christians have always walked in order to have their own needs met and to meet the needs of others. To reverse this order fundamentally changes the centrality of Christ in our lives and our calling to serve him by serving others.
We are the Church, the eternal institution God established on the earth that provides stability and consistency in our changing world. We know how to be the Church in free- market, democratic countries, and in Islamic countries, Communist countries, Socialist countries, rich countries, and poor countries. We know how to be the Church regardless of the trends we see in the world. At least we have known how to be the Church in times past. However, our greatest threat might be upon us—a post-truth world where foundations don’t matter, and core truth is no more significant than an impression or a feeling.
Jesus warned us about this in Luke 6:39:
Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch?
America seems to be buying into an abstract philosophy that there are no absolute truths. I don’t believe it. Let me explain.
I see all ideas fitting on a diagram including three concentric circles.
At the center of these concentric circles is small circle containing the absolutes–facts and truths that are just as true from one century to another, in any earthly culture, and in outer space. Truth is an absolute.
In the next larger circle surrounding the absolutes are interpretations–our ideas and beliefs based on truth. These ideas might be true for one, but not for another; or they apply in one culture, but not another, or in one time period, but not another. They’re our attempt to interpret life and truth, but they are not as universally true as the core absolutes, which are always true and factual.
In the third and larger circle are deductions–ideas based on a combination of factors which fit in our if/then world or philosophy.
Deductions have a greater likelihood of being wrong than interpretations, which have a greater likelihood of being wrong than absolutes, which are never wrong because they are absolutes.
Outside these three circles are ideas inside all of us that move us deeply, but may not be based in reality at all. They are:
- Personal preferences
- Subjective opinions
- Cultural norms
Please understand. I am NOT saying these are unimportant. I’m just saying they are not necessarily always based in fact. Just because a person feels safe jumping out of an airplane at 35,000 feet without a parachute does not mean that it is safe for them to do so.
The problem that we face in a post-truth era is that people don’t distinguish between the absolutes and deductions, or they think a feeling is as important as an absolute, even if it’s irrational. But interpretations, deductions, and feelings are not as important as facts.
If we don’t distinguish between these ideas in our teaching within the church, congregants will believe the Lordship of Jesus is equivalent in importance to some new theory on the second coming of Christ. And in society, people will believe a hyper-sensitive person who is offended by a blog is as important as the idea of freedom of speech. One person’s opinions are not as fundamental to a good life for all as freedom of speech.
We need to know where the ideas within us fit in a priority system or we don’t know what’s true, thus we have no foundation on which to build our lives.
I believe the god of the American church has become money and attendance (or size of audience), and that the role of leaders has become image management and damage control. I fear many church boards spend their time accumulating assets and/or protecting them, and that we in the Church have spiraled into a delusion, thinking worldly approval and influence is our charge. This is an unstable foundation that God’s work cannot be built upon. If we continue on this path, the unintended consequences will be diminishing influence and loss of purpose, which will leave our churches empty, our leaders worldly, and our hearts cold.
Now is the time to return and be faithful to our foundations.
The writer of Hebrews said,
So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
What?!?! These ideas are not interesting to the modern attendee of the American Church. We need videos, lights, emotion, contemporary illustrations from news, sports, and other relevant happenings in our lives that inspire a fresh, prosperous atmosphere that makes us feel good. We need Starbucks in the lobby and bright colors to make our kids happy. We need relevant topics intermingled with some Scripture. After all, that’s the way to grow a church.
I don’t believe it.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Starbucks, bright colors, and relevant topics IF they are used to establish people firmly in the facts and faith of the Gospel . . . but they must not replace it. The evidence indicates that most Christians have been duped into believing that inspiration equals core conviction. That’s not going to work out well for them during times of trials and testings.
The greatest test of the American church is looming on the horizon. Our Judeo/Christian heritage built on facts, reason, responsibility, love, kindness, and giving is being transformed before us. Christian political activism will not change that slide, but the church being the church could. If we have a solid foundation in the Word and Spirit in our lives, we’ll do fine being salt and light. If we don’t, our emotions will motivate us to be worldly power-players like everyone else. We will continue to be consumed with the speck in the eyes of others, unaware of the plank in our own. It’s time to let truth prevail in us, even in this post-truth era.