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Chimps with guns

Religion

I think it might be time to renew our focus on the basic content of Christianity. Dorothy Sayers once wrote that it's incumbent on non-believers to first acquaint themselves with exactly what it is they are choosing to disbelieve. Certainly the corollary is true: There is something worthwhile in knowing what it is we claim to believe.

I write this after learning from a friend that when he asked a group of high school-aged Presbyterians what they'd learned from the Westminster Catechism, none of them had much to say. I also write this after seeing a few clips from Bill Maher's Religulous, in which a variety of believers struggle to explain their faith. I've given glancing attention to Maher for years, and I'm inclined to concur with a thoughtful atheist I read recently who wrote: "I think of Bill Maher and his stupid sneering face, and I see a man who wields the truth the way a chimpanzee holds a gun." Only I would change the word "truth" to "half-truths and outright falsities."

None of us would be surprised if footage of Christians ably explaining their faith ended up on the cutting-room floor when Maher's film was edited, but we wouldn't be surprised either if we were to take microphones to a variety of church lobbies on Sunday morning and get an array of errant and incomplete answers to the question: What should the Christian believe? We might also be unsurprised to get answers that are incomplete on the fundamentals, yet containing doctrine that is less than imperative, because it is the particular focus of certain denominations. Those Presbyterian kids might not know much else from the Westminster Catechism, but my experience tells me they probably have predestination down cold.

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So I'm wondering if it might not benefit a good many churches to get back to basics. Some of my friends will protest that their church is already covering the basics. But just as we can go too far astray with heartfelt testimonials, a social-gospel message, and other distractions, I wonder if we can go so far into the trees that we lose sight of the forest's contours. We can end up able to explain the meaning of the messages to the various churches in the Book of Revelation, for example, without being able to articulate much about Christ's being fully God and fully man, say, or what it means to proclaim "one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."

In other words, there is eminent value in understanding Scriptures, but might there also be value in being able to articulate what, in summary form, these Scriptures explain? I suppose I'm making an argument for more focus on the Nicene Creed, for catechizing youngsters, and for making it harder to befuddle the average Christian with ignorant what if and why not and how come questions. What do you think? How well are we preparing young people (and adults, for that matter) to articulate what it is we Christians hold to?

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