John Walton is the father on the popular TV series “The Waltons.” On one of the shows he was distressed by his financial condition because of the depression and discouraged because of his lack of control over the present dilemma. He was talking to his wife and said, “I’m not getting any smarter or any richer, I’m just getting older.” John Walton is not particularly committed to any religious belief and he is not a philosopher. He is just an average man looking in the face of toil and trouble, but asking a very religious and philosophical question – “why?”
Why do we think the way we think? Why do we do what we do? We think the way we think, because of our essential disposition and inclinations, our innate capacity, and our sensuous contact with the world around us. We may understand these truisms and yet fail to apply them when we ask the question -“why?”
I’ve been a member of a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Presbyterian church and I have attended independent, charismatic, Pentecostal, and holiness churches. Every one of these churches have different ideas about the nature of God, Christ, man, and many other doctrines taken from Holy Scripture. We find this same kind of pluralist concept adopted by many seminaries. There is a sense in which we look at the church and see pluralism rather than progress and dissension rather than consensus. I join John Walton and ask the question – “why?”
About twenty years ago a group of prominent evangelicals who are working toward an “effort to transform contentions over theological differences into cooperation based on common faith in Christ.” I believe we should be at the table discussing the theological issues that separate us from the Roman Catholic Church. The effort is worthy of our prayers. It sounds exciting, but you need to look a little deeper. Chuck Colson is quoted as saying, “More people are going to call up and say, ‘praise the Lord you did this’ than will be upset.” Yes is my response to the debate table. No is my response to popular polls as the method for determining truth. It is not likely that Christians will come to a fuller understanding of the nature and character of God by conducting popular opinion polls. It is not likely that Christians will grasp and practice biblical ethics by conducting popular opinion polls. Christian pastors, leaders and laymen may think it is prudent to follow the advice of the majority rather than doing the hard work of theological discussion. Again, I ask the question – “why?”
Francis Turretin gave the Protestant church a systematic theology in the 17th century. Millard Erickson gave the church a systematic theology in the 20th century. Turretin argued strenuously for the central tenets of the Christian religion. Erickson offers a range of possibilities for the reader to choose. Puritan sermons tended to focus on the nature and character of God, but contemporary sermons tend to focus on the Christian religion as a package for dispensing whatever is necessary to make Christians happy. Christians have radically shifted their thinking in the past three centuries. “Why?”
Why have many Christians abandoned logical thought processes? Why have many Christians abandoned absolute truth for pluralism and relativism? Why have so many Christians abandoned the centrality of God and replaced Him with the study of human needs?
I believe many Christians are rootless. Why are Christians rootless? Because they have not been taught and they just don’t understand the essence of the religion they proclaim.
Evangelical Christians, to a large extent, have abandoned the “why” question. The “why” question has been replaced with the “how” question. How can we present the gospel to make it more palatable? How can we get people to make deeper commitments? How can we raise more money? Christian thinkers have shifted from “why” to “how”. I’m guilty of that crime and see more and more that confession and repentance is in order. I get so busy “doing things” that I forget the reason why I do them. I need to remember John Walton’s philosophy. “I’m not getting any smarter or any richer, I’m just getting older.” The fundamental idea is that how we do things is not nearly as important as why we think and practice the way we do.
The challenge before us is to ask questions and look for answers. Why do we believe what we believe? Why have we abandoned classical Christianity? Why are we depending more on our efforts than on the hand of a sovereign God? The answers will not come easy. As it was in the day of Nehemiah, so it is today. “The work is great and extensive” (Nehemiah 4:19).