Saturday, April 06, 2019

Power Failure: The #1 Reason for Religious Doubt

Detroit Institute of Arts

In elementary school, a long, long time ago, we had something called "show and tell." A student would tell of something they had (like a pet) or had done (like a vacation), and then show the class the object of their speech (produce the pet; show photos of their vacation). They would proclaim and demonstrate. The demonstration was more exciting than the proclamation; the proclamation provided context to understand the demonstration.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, famously: "Perception without conception is blind; conception without perception is empty." Which means: perceiving something by the senses is not cognizable (not recognizable) if there is no understanding; understanding something not accompanied by perceiving that something has no content (leaving us with empty ideas).

A sermon without a demonstration of God's love and power is just empty words.

Proclaim and demonstrate. We need both, in our church communities and outside the walls of the church building. This was the method of Jesus, and the early church. They spoke of the power and love of God, then watched as God demonstrated his power and love. This is what is most needed in churches today. There is too much proclamation and too little demonstration. 

When I was in Billings, Montana, I spoke on healing. My colleagues from Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries were there. One of them, Pastor Ross Lieuallen, hosted the event at his church.

After I preached, I prayed for a woman who had multiple physical problems. She was healed in many physical, emotional, and spiritual ways. I shared her story at Redeemer, and the effect her healing had on others that night. One of her friends stays in touch and tells me of the effects that evening had on her.

Experiences like this are faith-building. Stories like this will be important for the Church in the days ahead. I share why, in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church (December 2017). 

Proclamation (sermons) without demonstration (miracles) fuel unbelief. The lack of such experiences in churches is the number one reason people doubt the truth of Christianity. J. P. Moreland writes:

"If you had to guess, what would you identify as the most prominent source of doubt in America today? Is it certain discoveries of science, incredulity about some stories in the Bible, the intolerance of Jesus’ claims to be the only way? These are not even close. In his study of doubt and defection from Christianity, sociologist Christian Smith claims that far and away the chief source of doubt comes from God’s apparent inactivity, indifference, or impotence in the face of tragedy and suffering in their life and in other’s lives, and the apparent lack of God’s interventions and help in the toil and fatigue of daily troubles." (J. P. Moreland, in Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland, p. 225)

The apparent lack of God's interventions and help... How sad, when many of us are witnessing the kind of things I saw in Montana.

Smith, the University of Notre Dame scholar, "claims that a major source of faith development and strengthening are spiritual experiences: “Very many modern people have encountered and do encounter what are to them very real spiritual experiences, frequently vivid and powerful ones. And these often serve as epistemological anchors sustaining their religious faith in even the most pluralistic and secular of situations.” (Ib.  Emphasis mine.) 

We have them at Redeemer. Your church community, as well, I pray. I expect more this coming Sunday. They are powerful convincers and faith-builders, signs that the rule and reign of God is real.


I am now writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation