Thinking Out Loud

May 9, 2010

Pastors Who Are Non-Believers

This item by Erin Roach appeared as part of the “Culture Digest” collection for April 30th at Baptist Press.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as a nearly “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy.”

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many religious leaders for at least a century.

“God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all,” the authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn’t draw any reliable generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.

“‘Preachers Who Are Not Believers’ is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in March.

“In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, ‘On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.’ In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. ‘These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.’

“If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them,” Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com. “If they will not ‘out’ themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to ‘out’ them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?”



As for the cartoon, I traced a use of it back to an appearance in this blog post about doubt from a Christian perspective, but thought if you’re feeling really brave, you should consider this recent blog post about seminary education from an atheist perspective where you’ll also see the same cartoon.

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April 21, 2010

Wednesday Think Links

Here’s the list for Wednesday the 21st: That means spring is one-third gone already!   (Or autumn for all our mates down under.)

  • Gotta love the new style of church names, right?   Okay, maybe not all of them. The blog Out of Ur has put them all in this collection.
  • What’s the worst thing a Methodist preacher can do?   Re-baptize someone, according to this piece by Talbot Davis at The Heart of the Matter.   Mind you, I can think of worse things!
  • Cornerstone Church without Francis Chan?  Tell me he’s just testing his congregation again.  Here’s the 11-minute video at Resurgence.  Or listen to the message on 4/18 here.
  • David Kenney went to church on Good Friday and Easter, only Jesus never died at the one, and never rose again at the other.   In this piece, he suggests that it’s all about life.
  • Tom Datema sets the bar low enough on church “purpose statements” that any local church can attain, in this piece at Brain Twitch.
  • Can you handle one more Jennifer Knapp post.  “…Let’s assume that it is a sin.  Then my question is: Can a sinful person love Jesus?  Oh! We’ve got to be so careful how we answer that question.  To me, the answer is an obvious “yes”.  It is obvious to me because my own life testifies to it.  In every season of my life, I have struggled with different sins. But in all of those seasons I have still loved Jesus.”  Read in full at Upwrite.
  • All those progressive Christian radio stations can keep playing Owl City, now that Adam Young has hit the online pages of Christianity Today.
  • Colin at the blog simply titled Words has an analogy on the subject of “constructive reconstruction” of faith with the piece, My Brother the Bike Mechanic.
  • Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like finally gets around to doing a book promo video, but you might draw more from this CNN clip of a piece he appeared in.  (Canadian readers:  Does John Roberts hint at the end that he attends North Point?)
  • Allen Flemming, who claims an intimate knowledge of the family says that Canadian David DiSabatino’s DVD documentary on Larry Norman has got it all wrong, setting up a website refuting Fallen Angel called Failed Angle.
  • Pastor Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.tv re-establishes his church’s purposes in The Code, a series of 13 statements spread out over three blog posts at Swerve.   You’ll have to click here and then head for April 14, 15 and 16 posts; but they’re good reading.  (Or see them all in the comments section here.)
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, has a balanced look at discernment ministries in 10 Ways to Keep Watchdogs from Barking.
  • Jason Wert is thankful for Anne Jackson drawing attention to the issue of human trafficking in Moldova, but suggests this event has been going on for a long while, even in the United States.
  • Adrienne at the blog, Contemplative Life, has a short post here introducing a piece by Ann Voskamp about Ann’s daughter’s baptism.   Start here, and then click the link to Ann’s piece.
  • Bill at the blog, A New Language for Christians, puts a more modern spin on the story of the good Samaritan.
  • This week’s cartoon is from Thom Tapp at Baptist Press:

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