Dumbing Down Faith?

           Seth Godin always makes me think.  His observations about marketing (translation: getting your message to people who don’t have it yet) spark interesting thought tangents about the church and its mission.           

          In a recent post titled Dumbing Down Godin challenged the user-friendly approach to churches and other organizations.  You know, the idea that in order to attract people, you have to reduce everything to its most basic, to the lowest common denominator.  Bottom-shelf access is the highest value.

            We’ve often done that by refusing to deal with doctrine (“it’s too confusing”) or talk about the demands of discipleship (“faith guarantees smooth sailing through life”) or soft-pedaling the gospel (“just agree to these facts about Jesus…that’s really all there is to it.”)  or marketing church membership privileges like a time share (“you get this and this and this and this…”).

            Now listen to Godin: “You’re under pressure to do that with your restaurant and your spiritual advice and your stump speech and your non-profit speech and your non-profit pitch.  There are gatekeepers pushing you to dumb it down for the average.  The thing is, when you dumb stuff down, you know what you get?  Dumb customers.  And (I’m generalizing here) dumb customers don’t spend as much, don’t talk as much, don’t blog as much, don’t vote as much and don’t evangelize as much. In other words, they’re the worst ones to end up with.”

            Bottom line: if we’re not careful, we can damage our ultimate mission.  We will not make world-impacting, Jesus-treasuring disciples by always dealing with the simple stuff, always thinking for people, always making it easy, always focusing on privileges instead of responsibilities. 

           Many people in our generation want the Christian faith straight up, with no hedging.  They embrace the radical adventure of following Jesus and His revolutionary movement.  They respond to mystery and wonder of the inexplicable-like the gospel of grace.   They want to belong to something that matters and that even costs.

So, we can do doctrine without apology, present a full-proof gospel, invite Christians to take up a cross and deny themselves, live with dangerous faith and make church membership as meaningful as the New Testament describes.  The way of Jesus will not advance by dumbing down, but by presenting it with integrity and backbone.

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5 responses

  1. I must disagree. The good news is very simple. Jesus took some very simple fishermen and said “Follow Me”. He didn’t say “Follow me if you have sound doctrine.” The radical adventure you speak of is that against the nature of the world. Love others as you would yourself. I believe that somewhere the Bible states “Love covers a multitude of sins” That is the radical thought not the deep theology and doctrinal stuff of man that we love to pride ourselves in knowing.

  2. I think the idea is both-and. Yes, the gospel is simple. And as you correctly point out, the implications of living it out are profound– which was pointed out as another area that evangelicals have tended to downplay or ignore. However, doctrine remains vitally important. Doctrine is simply “loving God with all my mind.” It is not antithetical to living with deep passion and love for others. Bible-centered thinking (which necessitates doctrine) is essential in the face of so many viewpoints of our world that dilute Biblical truth. Christians without a solid doctrinal foundation then fall for the moral appeal of Mormonism ( more evangelicals and Baptists become Mormon than any other group) or for the touchy-feely heresy of Joel Osteen, or worse. The foundation of discipleship is “teaching everything I have commanded you.” ( Matt.28:20). That’s doctrine. The first church was “devoted to the apostles’ teaching” ( Acts 2:42). That’s doctrine again. The minute we teach anything, we’re into doctrine. So, I think our call is to embrace sound doctrine in our thinking that issues into deep love in our behavior. The two are never separate, but inseparably linked.

  3. Kevin is right in that Jesus called simple disciples. Kevin is wrong in that Jesus left the disciples ‘simple.’ Yes, they were slow to learn and see the Truth. But, with Jesus’ constant teaching, loving and the Holy Spirit’s power and insight, these simple men were moved to change the world. Whenever this argument is raised, no one uses the example of Paul, do they? Why is that? Because Paul was brilliant and, I might add, was used mightily by God. Why does it have to be one or the other? How limiting is your god if you think he only uses emotion? Each time Jesus was attacked, He always used Scripture. He had a theological answer. Why can’t we? Why can’t we use our mind and our heart? Won’t we be more effective if we are the most indepth, lovingest, most joyous people out there? How many people would be drawn to that?

  4. As a side note to the dumbing down discussion, I think it’s good to just remember that we all “crawl before we walk.” I believe (and am so thankful!) that Pastor David does a great job of relating his message each week to an audience that could range from the spiritually mature to the lost. I am continually challenged to grow in my faith & deepen my understanding of the Scriptures, and at the same time, my husband, a seeker, is always confronted by the basic reality of the Gospel when he attends.

    One thought, however… I wish we could maybe have a Life Group or discipleship class devoted more to seekers. Not to “dumb down”, but where vital doctrine is just broken down into bite sized pieces for folks who have never before come to the table in search? (Maybe it’s their first time even in the restaurant, so to speak!!) Just some opportunity outside of corporate worship where hungry folks can learn about Jesus, bring their questions or baggage and meet Him face to face, even hear tesimonies of other’s encounters with Jesus, without feeling self-conscious b/c they don’t know the songs or where to find the book of Matthew.

    I worry that much of today’s modern church programming —generally speaking here—is tailored exclusively to believers, leaving seekers feeling intimidated at the least, or left out all together at the worst. I mean, I know that church is by definition a body of believers who indeed need to be nurtured through Bible study, discipleship groups, retreats, etc… as they carry out the Great Commission. But sometimes the lost don’t wait to be found. Sometimes they come knocking (and yes, sometimes their loved ones drag them.) Either way, can’t we be prepared with a class for them as well? I see church signs all across town appealing to every demographic (recently divorced, married w/ kids, married w/out kids, recovering addicts, singles, new believers, 65yrs +, sports fans, etc… Wouldn’t it be shockingly cool to see one just inviting, say… “Doubters, Skeptics and Seekers–Sundays at 3pm!?” I’ll volunteer to help in any way I can to make something like that available at Victory. And please bear in mind, I’m new here, so if there’s already something like this being offered, or if I’m mistaken in any way please clue me in! Thank you and God bless you all!

  5. Christina –Something of the sort of thing you’re talking about is coming later in 2008- -probably in the fall. It will be expressly geared to walk those who aren’t quite sure yet through the entire drama of the Bible’s story, from the very beginning. Be praying the Lord will open the doors to the right people at the right time, etc…

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