12 In the early 1980s the president of the United Church of Christ (UCC), clearly one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations in America, suggested candidly that the real problem in their ranks was their "theological deficit." In 1980 Time magazine did a study on what congregations wanted in their pastor. The article concluded that people wanted "a pallid but personable faith." The word pallid is a synonym for the word pale. To be pale or pallid is to be dim, faithless or colorless. It also means to lack in texture because one is exhausted. I cannot think of a better way to describe the current state of things in the church.

This statement sums up things today much as it did in 1980. Can anyone honestly believe that things have dramatically improved in the mainline since 1980? What about the evangelicals? I am convinced that on the whole there is an obvious "theological deficit" in almost every corner of the church in America. The problem is not our methods. The problems is not in our programs. The problem is theology. We have drifted, as the Barmen Declaration put it in Germany in the 1930s, toward "the spirit of the age." The answer these courageous Christians offered to Germany, through the Barmen Declaration, was a strong, clear witness to "one Word, Jesus Christ."

My good friend David Bryant calls this our "Crisis in Christology." He is right. Christ is not supreme in our lives or in our churches. Listen to our conversations, listen to our music, read your bulletins and look over your worship. Where is Christ? Do we talk about him, love him, advance his name and his cause? Until we correct this theological deficit we will continue to produce wan, pallid and pale faith in our churches.

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  1. jls August 1, 2009 at 7:03 am

    I wholeheartedly agree. But the widespread myth in our churches is precisely the opposite of what you have written. Theology is seen as pallid. Preaching that is driven by the “big picture” themes of the Bible is seen as dry and irrelevant. And there is quite a bit of truth to that. The theological deficit is our stage-two cancer. Stage one was losing the excitement and deep insight into the fundamental spiritual truths that change everything. We did not retain our theology because we felt it was not worthwhile. I am reminded of Romans 1:28: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”

  2. Chris Criminger August 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Hi John,
    This theological deficit threw me in a crises of faith in the 1990’s. I basically said “to hell with Evangelicalism” and walked the postmodern route for almost a decade. Sept.11th was a wake up call to me when I saw America’s response of violence to even the debate among Christians on the use of torture on suspected terrorists. Not only are my feet firmly planted back into Evangelicalism but I am cautious and hopeful.
    The signs of the time are not too promising but whether it’s some kind of revival or wake up call for the church in whatever way God wants to do this in a country where the really thriving churches are happening now more among the immigrant church is telling.
    May God’s robust Spirit quench the thirst of so many dried up theological deficit and for some, yes, even bankrupt souls. One of the many paths Evangelicals are turning to is patristic theology and a return to the early christian sources and roots of the early church fathers. I know there are Evangelicals that oppose this move but it is one of several turns as far as I am concerned in the right direction.

  3. Laurie Miller August 1, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I guess the question for me, John, is how do I change it? I can change myself through Christ and that affects some, but how do I change “The Church?” My church? This is a problem that has bothered me for quite some time. Not only do I see lack of commitment to the church and our theology, but I see a lack of passion for Christ, and I have to look at myself first. I often feel like I live in a cluttered house of pallid faith and am paralyzed by the overwhelming clutter to the point where I do nothing.

  4. Susanne Barrett August 1, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    It’s rather interesting that just before I read your blog here, John, I was reading some blogs written by Catholic moms. (I’m not Catholic, btw.) And I see in their writings an infectious faith, a faith they can’t stop talking about, can’t stop sharing. I enjoy reading their blogs because they give me hope … hope in seeing the Faith passed down from one generation to another, lovingly and passionately. (A list of these blogs can be seen in the sidebar of my own blog if anyone is interested.)
    Why have we evangelicals lost that passion? How can we get it back?

  5. John H. Armstrong August 3, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    We lost our passion by losing a deep relationship with the tri-unity of God. Our understanding of the nature of God is weak to the point of being bereft of orthodoxy. The way to get it back is to take people, starting with ourselves, to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Spiritual formation is central to this process.

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