Nothing More Than Feelings
If I asked you what you'd call a person who believes in astrology, reincarnation, and communicating with the dead, you'd probably say "a New Ager." Well, you might be surprised to learn that sometimes the correct answer would also be "a born-again Christian."
For the past few days I've been telling you about America's credulity, or gullibility, when it comes to spiritual matters. If any belief promises to enhance our sense of wellbeing, to make sense of our lives, or provide warm feelings, it will find adherents. It doesn't matter how bizarre or irrational the claims may be.
And I'm not only referring to the unchurched masses. According to a prominent sociologist of religion, the credulous include many people sitting beside you in the pews every week.
In his book, Spiritual Marketplace, sociologist Wade Clark Roof reports that 25 percent of "born-again" Christians interviewed in a recent study believe in the possibility of communicating with the dead. A third believe in reincarnation and astrology, and half say they believe in psychic powers. Oh my!
But just as troubling as this trend toward syncretism is the departure from historic Christianity. Half of those interviewed told Roof that "the various religions of the world are 'equally good and true.'" As Roof put it, what is true of Americans in general is increasingly true of those who describe themselves as "born again." The problem is that "they trust their own experiences more than anything."
And this reliance on subjective experiences, rather than the unchanging truth of Scripture, is what leads to the credulity and the syncretism I've been telling you about. Belief systems based on personal experiences alone place no priority on objective truth. Too often the question asked isn't, "Is this true?" but, rather, "How does it make me feel?"
It's the perfect belief system for an age that places the self at the center of the universe. Every person becomes the judge of what's true for them. And not only what's true, but also what's right. Right and wrong, like truth, is about what we feel.
While it's easy to understand why non-Christians might fall into these traps, why would self- identified born-again Christians succumb? Well, as Roof and others have noted, the past few decades have seen a shift in the way American Christians define being "born again" and "evangelical." Such terms are no longer a matter of believing certain doctrines or teachings; rather they're a matter of having a particular experience -- an experience that the person says changed his or her life.
Now, while I of all people understand that personal transformation is an important part of being a Christian, our faith is about more than feelings or experiences. It means affirming what the Scriptures teach about God, the person of Jesus Christ, and the origins and destiny of man. Believing means not only saying "yes" to what the Scriptures say is true, but "no" to whatever contradicts those teachings as well.
And this is what our churches and our Bible study groups need to hear. Trusting their experiences has led many of them to put their trust in myths. You and I can provide them with an example of what believing should be about: Always ask, "Is it true?" and not simply, "How does it make me feel?"
For further reference:
Roof, Wade Clark. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. http://www.parable.com/breakpoint/item.asp?sku=0691016593