Dr. Mohler’s recent article “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” is thought-provoking along several fronts, but one in particular struck me. He writes:

What about theology? This question requires a look at the massive shifts in worldview now evident within American culture. Trends foreseen by researchers such as James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia and others can now be seen in full flower. The larger culture has turned increasingly hostile to exclusivist truth claims such as the belief that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. One megachurch pastor in Florida recently told me that the megachurches in his area were abandoning concern for biblical gender roles on a wholesale basis. As one pastor told him, you cannot grow a church and teach biblical complementarianism.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pushback I got for this half-serious post at The Thinklings blog last week, specifically on the #8 point in that list, where I reveal my position against women in pastoral authority. The comments became an exercise in vain disputations, and while the vast majority of the feedback was positive, the still sizable portion that wasn’t, was quite vitriolic. I’ve been called more “choice words” in the last two weeks in public than my whole life combined. (But, remember, I’m the graceless one.) Those disagreeable sorts who weren’t angry, were at the least flummoxed.

The post has been reprinted on a few other sites and was even mentioned on a radio show, and the questions it’s received are revealing. It’s not the accusations of misogyny or sexism that bug me — those are understandable and not unexpected. It’s the question behind the question — “Wait. What’s wrong with female pastors?” — that reveals something, and it’s not simply egalitarianism. Many egalitarians I know are theologically robust thinkers; they are familiar with the relevant texts, they know the complementarian arguments, and they have rejected them on exegetical, logical, and cultural grounds. Of course, I disagree with their conclusions, but I know they’re getting to them with some thought and consideration. But the majority of egalitarians out there have never ever heard the word egalitarian. (Nor have the functional complementarians heard that word.) And this is what they are revealing in their questions.

When they say “What’s wrong with female pastors?” they are not just reacting from a place of cultural sensitivity about the equality between the sexes — which, by the way, complementarians agree with — they are reacting from a place of theological illiteracy. And while many churches that practice egalitarian governance preach and teach the texts, most egalitarian churches do not. But this is just a test case. Most churches with functional-but-not-educated-egalitarians are not simply theologically illiterate when it comes to this issue; they are theologically illiterate — or, more accurately, mediocre — on just about everything else.

Attractional megachurches have surveyed themselves on their discipleship cultures and found themselves lacking. But I wonder how they’d also fare in testing their average congregants on the difference between justification and sanctification, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the incarnation, or more basic still: an accurate definition of the gospel. The other day I saw a pastor on Twitter say belief in the Trinity was not essential for salvation. He had no doctrinal basis for that, simply a concern that to say otherwise was not “grace.” The pushback I get whenever I jab at Joel Osteen reveals a basic ignorance about what’s wrong with his message. These days all it takes for someone to be considered Christian is to simply say they are (which is basically the basis for Osteen’s validation of Mormon Mitt Romney’s salvation).

“Wait. What’s wrong with female pastors?” This question is the tip of the iceberg of evangelicalism’s pervasive theological mediocrity. And it’s not limited to a megachurch problem. It’s an all-church problem. Nor is it simply a problem of raising functional egalitarians — which I object to as a complementarian, of course — it’s more a matter of raising evangelicals who have no idea there’s actually Bible verses to go to that address that issue — which I object to as a brother in Christ. And I believe my theologically-minded egalitarian brethren would agree with me there.

There’s lots of reasons for this problem, and I don’t mean to explore them here. Better minds than I have already done that and will continue to do that, but if I could pinpoint one root cause it would be this: Evangelicals aren’t preaching the Bible. They are putting Bible verses into their preaching. And there is a difference.

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13 thoughts on “Evangelicalism and Theological Mediocrity”

  1. pcb says:

    Outstanding. Thank you.

  2. Brad Haggard says:

    I’m sorry, I may have missed something. How do we get from faith in Christ for salvation to women in ministry?

  3. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Brad, I don’t understand your question.
    I’m not saying “women in ministry” is a salvation issue. I am saying a growing number of evangelicals have no clue how to biblically discuss such issues. The “women in ministry” thing is just an example.

  4. Brad Haggard says:

    In that quote from Mohler he moved from salvation by faith in one sentence to women in ministry in the next. They don’t seem to be related.

  5. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Oh, I see what you mean. I cannot speak for Dr. Mohler, but I don’t believe he makes complementarianism a salvation issue. In the context of the article — where he then goes on to discuss homosexuality — I think he is making a more specific point similar to the one I’m making, which is that the trend is away from a biblical framework for big questions like these, everything from the exclusivity of Christ to the biblical teaching on gender roles.

  6. Brad Haggard says:

    I guess that just seems like we’re lumping everything together to try to find some trend, or even agenda. All-encompassing claims of liberalism make me wary without really parsing out the issues. It makes it easy to marginalize well-studied people on another side of a secondary issue (such as women in ministry).

  7. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Brother, I tried to make it clear I am not referring to the theologically-grounded egalitarians but the “functional-but-not-educated” ones. I even said there are plenty of complementarians who are only of that view by default too. But I am sorry if that distinction was not clear enough — wasn’t my intent to say egalitarianism = theological mediocrity. Only to say that the *sort* of egalitarianism that dominates evangelicalism reflects that. (And, again, that sword cuts both ways.)

  8. Brad Haggard says:

    Sorry, I’m probably arguing with Dr. Mohler more than I am with you about this. I’m not even putting my had in the ring of egalitarians, but I always bristle when we as Christians label other Christians. You made it clear that you can have principled disagreement with “the other side”, and I appreciate that very much.

  9. David Axberg says:

    Amen and amen. Jared thanks for the list by the way I will be sending it to one of my daughter’s suiters, more as an “I am watching and protecting voice.” I did change it up abit because I am not a pastor but left the rest of #8 alone.

    God Bless Now!

  10. Robert Smith says:

    Jared – Excellent essay. It should be taken seriously, and not as something humorous.

    Brad – I know a number of well-meaning Christians, including some relatives, who believe in justification by faith alone, and probably the inerrancy of the Bible, yet their theology is guided by feelings. They feel it is “unfair” that women should not serve as pastors. What is interesting is that I have never heard one of these un-thinking believers question the “fairness” of attributing original sin to Adam, rather than Eve. Moreover, any attempts to reason from the Bible are usually met with the response, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.”

  11. Michael Hall says:

    Good post Jared, it’s a big problem here in the UK as well, where I know people who call themselves evangelical yet resort to the “that’s your interpretation” line straight away on any sort of issue. It’s rare that they’ve got an alternative, theological, text-based interpretation but they actually just mean they’ve got a different opinion.
    One of the comments on your daughter post summed up that sort of attitude well with the comment about the bible being full of errors so “do your research”. I can’t speak for the individual concerned but when I’ve heard that sort of reply it’s usually from someone whose own research has been watching tv and reading a bit of the god delusion.

  12. nhe says:

    Just for the record Jared, I agree (strongly) with you on your position regarding female pastors…….I just didn’t necessarily see having one as a deal breaker for dating my daughter. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being counted among the theologically illiterate. My daughters also have never run in circles where they’d have dated a guy with a female pastor. I guess being in the red-state South has its perks.

    Having thought more about this, I’m coming more to your line of thinking on that “#8″…….mission accomplished with the daughters, I suppose now its on to some grand-daughters.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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