I do a lot of reading, as you probably know. Right now, I am reading a splendid book on the subject of apologetics titled, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, by Nancy Pearcey.
Unfortunately, despite the amazing nature of this book, the author makes the same mistake I have heard repeated time and time again: the claim that our churches do not prepare our youth with the answers to the questions and challenges they will face in college.
The reason for this lack of preparedness (I would argue) is not necessarily a lack of opportunity. Many students don’t want answers to questions (before they face a crisis), because it takes too much mental effort to think things through. Even if present where the big questions are thoroughly addressed, some may be uninterested and daydream the opportunity away. Such issues do not seem relevant at the time.
It is not until those students are pressured in college that they realize they do not have an answer, or that disturbing questions even exist. In most cases, answers are available—if you know where to find them. But if you haven’t learned at least some of those answers beforehand, it is easy to conclude that there are no answers. (Incidentally, this is why it is crucial for college students to be involved in organizations like Cru/Campus Crusade, Navigators, or Intervarsity; those organizations can often steer inquirers to quick and at-hand resources).
For example, many youth believe in creation and do not understand why others choose to believe in evolution. Then, when they attend college where evolution is assumed and non-evolutionists labeled as ignorant, they feel intimidated and cave-in to what they believe is reason. If, on the other hand, they had put in effort to study the evidences for creation and against evolution (perhaps offered by their church), they would know that many of these questions have answers.
Years ago, we would show a creation science video on Sunday nights about every month or six weeks. We stopped showing them, however, because of lack of interest. We could provide the opportunity, but we could not provide interest.
The Idol of Relevance
This article is not about apologetics, however, but about the human tendency to think of information as irrelevant until it is needed. So bear with me.
When I officiate a wedding, I require pre-marital counseling. The couple is required to read certain books, do certain exercises from those books, and meet with me to discuss a variety of issues.
Most couples think, “I don’t need this. We will work things out as they come up.”
After our sessions, however, couples often say, “The things we have learned are very helpful and have made a big difference in our relationship.”
Let me offer another illustration to consider. Barna research has documented how little Christians know. Albert Mohler quotes these statistics:
Only half of all Christian adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the twelve disciples. According to data from the Pew Research Center, nearly half don’t even realize that the Golden Rule is not one of the Ten Commandments.
Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. Most Christians in the United States believe the Bible teaches, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ (and some even believe this quote is a Bible verse). A series of Barna surveys shows that only 19% of ‘born again Christians’ hold to the simplest elements of a basic biblical worldview.
Here is the point: most people are only interested in learning what they think they need. The idol of relevance has permeated our society. Unless we can convince some people that something is relevant, they may not be willing to learn—even if experts avow how important such information is.
If God is Lord and relevance is not, then Christians should be concerned about what God wants them to know—not what the “idol of relevance” decrees.
Relevance and the Future
But even if we were to bow the knee to relevance, the truth is that we often discover a great chasm separates what is relevant at the moment from what may be relevant in the future.
Before I went to college, I did not always have the best attitude as a student. I remember being forced to read some books, for example, that I would have never chosen to read. And who cared about the proprieties of the English language? I could talk, write, and communicate. What did I need this stuff for?
If the whole truth were told, I have indeed learned many things that I have never used. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have learned many things that I thought I would never use—and they became an important part of my life (like writing and researching, for example).
Let me apply this concept to the Kingdom of God.
A church—and the broader kingdom—can offer much to prepare believers for life and life’s challenges. This preparation can help Christians spot a cult, answer a skeptic, or accept that suffering will come our way. We must take advantage of these resources before we need them, however. “Winging it” when things come up doesn’t always work.
The Christian life is like a reservoir. We should constantly be adding to the reservoir with a variety of fresh sources. We want pure water and solid teaching. Then, when a challenge comes our way and threatens to dry us up, we can draw upon that reservoir.
We fill up that reservoir by reading the Word, being regular in church attendance, taking advantage of special opportunities, listening to Moody radio, and reading some books that are both solid and substantial (recreational reading is fine, too, as relaxation, but does not add much to our reservoir).
At HPC, we try to give you a varied exposure to the Word of God, theology, and practical issues. But you have to be there regularly and ready to learn if you want the maximum benefit.
For example, not long ago one our teachers provided a great class on “Cold Case Christianity.” Those who read the book and took the class are better able to answer objections to our faith. For those who didn’t attend, however, the information never made it into thier minds. Because another of our members taught about the Tabernacle, many now have a better understanding of a good portion of the Bible—if they were present and alert. But if they weren’t there, it was just a blip during announcement time.
We have an amazing Bible study for our women, and a youth group that is not afraid to tackle questions or educate with the Word. Camp Emmanuel is filled with depth, doctrine, and apologetics for our youth; camp is much more than fun and games.
When it comes to preaching, in the past three years, I preached a series on prayer, through the Book of Ecclesiastes, a series on Rewards, two segments of the Book of Acts, the Book of Hebrews, six chapters from the extremely applicable Book of Proverbs, the life of Elisha (from 2 Kings), the Gospel According to Mark, a series, “Short Answers to Common Questions,” (including “How can a good, omnipotent God allow suffering?”), a series on marriage and family, the Psalms of Asaph—in addition to holiday sermons or other “one sermon” topics. But for those who attend two or three times a year, how much of an impact have those books had on their lives?
This doesn’t include our fine adult and teen Sunday School classes, or our in-depth Bible studies on Sunday nights (in Revelation right now). We have covered books such as 1 Samuel, Daniel, and Ephesians. Peter and I collaborated for a special series on Church History a couple of years ago—what a great time that was.
It might be difficult for some to believe all Scripture is inspired. But many believers find it difficult to believe that all Scripture is “profitable.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches both. Do we follow Andy Stanley’s advice to “unhitch” the Old Testament from our Christian faith? Or do we refuse to bow to the “god of relevance?”
You may not see the importance of learning the Bible, learning theology, learning apologetics, learning prophecy, understanding world missions, cults, witnessing, or Christian ethics. But when you need them—and some things you will, and some things you won’t—you will be glad you did.
Is it possible to overdo learning, knowledge, and skill building? I think so; anything can take us out of balance. But I don’t think most of us are in danger!
As a new year approaches, consider making a point of taking advantage of more opportunities to learn and grow.
All a church can do is provide opportunities. It is up to each one of us to choose which ones we will take, and which ones we will not.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.