Being a Berean (1) Finding your Way in the Evangelical Fog

By Cameron Buettel*

I grew up in a remote Australian community. Our relative isolation meant there was a noticeable delay in the arrival of big-city trends, technology, and television. But it wasn’t all bad—the upside of our perceived backward lives was that the erosion of values and views moved more slowly in our little corner of the world than it did in the cosmopolitan cities.

But those days are long gone, even in the outback of Australia. We now live in an age of instant information and awareness. The Internet has demolished many of the geographical and cultural barriers that used to restrain the spread of changing trends.

Today, information technology is a powerful tool to apply immediate pressure to our thinking and beliefs. Our culture is shaped by those who are most persistent and aggressive in bombarding us with their worldview. And vocal minorities cloud the truth as they steer societal change.

Armed with a robust Christian worldview, evangelicals should be the best equipped to confront those challenges. Instead evangelicalism belies its commitment to Scripture as it wanders in a fog of spiritual opinions that lack biblical convictions.  John MacArthur rightly highlights the problems in his book The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception: “Far from being a strong voice and a powerful force for the cause of truth, the evangelical movement itself has become the main battleground.”[1]

The marketplace of evangelical ideas is now overrun with diverse and competing agendas. Even the most seasoned believers can struggle to navigate it. Making matters worse, there are now many evangelical voices spreading dangerous error mixed with a dose of biblical truth. Many believers have been lulled into a false sense of security under once-orthodox preachers and teachers who have veered away from true, biblical north.

John MacArthur doesn’t hold back in his assessment of the situation:

I am convinced that the greatest danger facing Christians today has infiltrated the church already. Countless false teachers already have prominent platforms in the evangelical movement; evangelicals themselves are loath to practice discernment or question or challenge anything taught within their movement; and many leading evangelicals have concluded no doctrine or point of theology is worth earnestly contending for. The evangelicalism movement as we speak of it today is already doomed.[2]

Those false teachers contribute to the problem every time they enter the pulpit. The sermon content in many popular churches leaves congregations at the mercy of prowling wolves:

Bible teaching, even in the best of venues today, has been deliberately dumbed-down, made as broad and as shallow as possible, oversimplified, adapted to the lowest common denominator—and then tailored to appeal to people with short attention spans. Sermons are almost always brief, simplistic, overlaid with as many references to pop culture as possible, and laden with anecdotes and illustrations. (Jokes and funny stories drawn from personal experience are favored over cross-references and analogies borrowed from Scripture itself.) Typical sermon topics are heavily weighted in favor of man-centered issues (such as personal relationships, successful living, self-esteem, how-to lists, and so on)—to the exclusion of the many Christ-exalting doctrinal themes of Scripture.[3]

MacArthur’s sober commentary on the decline into evangelical ignorance also implies the solution. If the abandonment of biblical fidelity has plunged Christians into biblical ignorance, then the embrace of Scripture’s authority and sufficiency will result in the ascent out of that dark pit.

Paul and Silas saw that high view of Scripture exemplified and applied in the church at Berea:

Now these [the Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed. (Acts 17:11–12)

The Berean believers were commended as “more noble minded” than the Thessalonian Christians. They didn’t gullibly swallow what Paul and Silas preached, nor were they swayed by the prevailing winds of their culture. Scripture, carefully studied, was their sole barometer—and it should be ours too. Next time we’ll take a closer look at who those noble Bereans were.

–> Part 2

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