24 July 2007

Getting by on Christian vapors: a rant

by Dan Phillips

[If I wasn't trying to swear off of starting open-ended series, I'd make this #1 of "Things I Will Die, Still Not Understanding."]
Think for a moment, if you will, Gentle Reader, of the distinctives of Christianity.

Ponder the Christian explanation for why man is such a mess, of how everything began and why, of what God has done to address the whole.

Or, think more specifically of who God is, of His oneness, of the Trinity, of His character, acts, decrees, will, and plan for the future.

Think of Jesus, of His divine nature and eternal goings-forth, of His incarnation and life and teachings, of His penal, substitutionary sacrifice, His bodily death, resurrection, and assumption into Heaven, His present activities from the right hand of God, and His future return.

Think of the Gospel plan in its eternal conception and historical fulfillment; think of God's terms for reconciliation to Himself, and His expressed will for how we think, make decisions, and live our lives.

Now, assuming you know any truth about any of those things — where did you get that?

Were you born knowing it? Did it simply come to you, through breast or bottle? Did you receive it by prayer and meditation, reflecting on a sunset, gazing at tea leaves? Did an emotional state communicate it to you?

No. If you know any truth about any of those things, you know it from the Bible. Period.

Now, maybe you've heard wonderful pastors preach, are blessed with marvelous godly friends, have read pithy and deep books, and are a lover of classical confessions. But insofar as any of those sources are worth anything to you, they are passing along truths gleaned straight from the Bible.

And yet....

How many Christians couldn't demonstrate some of their most cherished notions directly from the Bible to save their lives — and don't care?

The first part of that statement troubles me some, of course. But it's the second part that absolutely thunderstruck slackjawed brain-itchingly baffles me.

We say God is the most important person in our life, and....

Well, wait. Should I even assume that much? Am I justified in assuming, today, that someone knows that when he identifies himself as a "Christian," he is, at the very least, saying that he believes, and believes in, Christ? And that he has some muzzy notion that Christ said (among many other things) that the command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength is the most important thing in the universe (Matthew 22:36-37)?

Okay, so reason it through with me here:
  1. Christ says that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with everything we've got.
  2. If we say we're Christians, we necessarily say we believe that to be true.
  3. The only way we are going to know anything about who this God is who we're supposed to love, or what it means to love Him, or how He wishes to be loved, is by personally studying the Bible.
  4. ...but we don't...
  5. ...and we don't care...
  6. ...and we revile, despise, and destroy the character and name of anyone who tries to provoke us to care.
See, I just don't get it. I honestly do not. Americans aren't required to be any particular religion at all. No one has to say he's a Christian. It isn't hereditary, it isn't a genetic trait. So why say you're a Christian, voluntarily, and then just live like the claim is a big joke and you're a whopping great liar?

I wasn't a Christian. I hated Christians, I despised them. Then, by an act of God's sovereign grace, I became one. I wasn't all that bright, but I did know that I didn't know much. And I knew I needed to know. And I knew that the only way I could know was by (hel-lo?) studying the Bible.

Well, actually and honestly, no one needed to tell me. I wanted to. I believed because, well, I believed. So I wanted to know.

Now, I can understand some reasons why people who have been Christians for some time not knowing much. Maybe they're under pathetic teaching, or even positively discouraging teaching, and don't know any better. But not wanting to know? You start trying to talk to them about the Bible, and they shut you down? And then they're angry when challenged to know more?

I see myself saying, "Wait, wait — you're telling me you don't want to know God better? You don't want to know more of His person, His will, His plans? That if you're believing and telling lies about Him, you'd rather not know?"

Once, a fellow in a church I pastored got the idea of asking Christians to name the four Gospels. You know, just the four Gospels. Not the Minor Prophets or anything hard; just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

He asked dozens of Christians. They were mostly mainstream Charismatics, but they included worship leaders, lay, all sorts, and all had been Christians for years.

His informal survey yielded two startling results:
  1. Either none, or only one, could name all four Gospels.
  2. They were, to a person, not upset with themselves for being so appallingly ignorant, but were upset with him for asking.
Then there is the related phenomenon of scores of Christians who actually seem to believe that a position without a fragment of direct Biblical substantiation is actually superior to one that has a rich Scriptural basis.

I've run into this countless times. Here's a man who wanted to do something. I showed him from Scripture that it was a course of action that was expressly forbidden in Scripture. What was his answering case, from Scripture? None, not even a try. No, his answer was, "I don't want to hear any more of that Bible stuff." (As far as I recall, that's an exact quotation.)

Was he saying he wasn't a Christian anymore? Nope, not to his mind. He thought, and as far as I know still thinks, that he's a Christian. He'd simply joined the thronging masses of Christians-who-don't-care-what-the-Bible-says.

"But that's a contradiction in terms," you say.

Should be, I respond.

Pyro readers probably could contribute horror stories of their own.

So how do these people get by? Well, I think most would tell you they "just know." The feel the truth in their hearts, and they follow their hearts. Christian vapors.

Now it really doesn't take a PhD in Bible to say, emphatically and pointedly, that while this is a religious position, it is not a Christian position. From Testament (Genesis 18:19) to Testament (John 8:31-32) God makes it plain that His people must be taught, instructed, informed. That is Christianity. Anything else is a fake.

What it actually is, is the Gospel of Hollywood. "Follow your heart." What scares and appalls me about that is not merely how many people believe it, but how many professedly evangelical Christians believe it.

But an actual, card-carrying, practicing Christian should be able to tell you that anyone who follows his heart, who believes that his deep and certain feelings communicated divine truth to him, is a FOOL. Period. Why?

Because God said so (Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 17:9).

And if we got our religion from the Bible instead of our culture, we'd know that — and a whole lot more.

< /rant >

Dan Phillips's signature


David Rudd said...

dan, good post. points are spot on and sadly they are probably true across most of our country.

i'd like to suggest, however, that you consider replacing the picture at the top. while i'm sure you have no malicious intent, it is a picture that plays on deeply-rooted stereotypes in America which have caused significant racial divides.

i almost didn't read the post because of the picture. i am glad i did.

James Scott Bell said...

Exactly, Dan. Christians living off "vapors" in the way you've described are no different than atheists who claim to be moral, all the while borrowing their morality from presumptions instituted by God.

But why a rant? I'm sure if you followed your bliss you'd be a lot mellower.

DJP said...

I failed "Follow Your Bliss" in seminary.


graceandmercy said...

In a historically conservative, Bible-believing church, a "pastor" made this amazing statement in his "message" this past Sunday -- "We [this particular local church] don't need prayer meetings and Bible studies - we already know what to do."

Is it possible that I smell the stench of a wolf?

Anonymous said...

By George I think he's got it! Rant on, Dan.

Anonymous said...

And, love the Buster Keaton photo.

DJP said...

You don't feel the Buster Keaton photo fosters racial stereotypes?

Pastor Michael said...

I didn’t like the /rant. You could have kept going. Excellent, substantive thoughts on an important topic.

As to the picture, because it’s easy to predict that some would be offended by it (and such offense being unrelated to the post) you could have done without. It’s already hijacking the comment stream when the real subject is so significant.

Chris said...

Great post. I run into this all the time in ministry. I am currently responsible for a small youth group who are oblivious to the need for guidance from the Scriptures. They don't want to hear it. And the saddest thing is, their parents are just like them. Truly sad indeed.

Jared said...


Great post. As one who supports Bible translation work, I often wonder how we can be so complacent in our handling and reading of God's word when over 2000 languages in the world have no Bible at all. You would think that with the easy access and the number of choices in translation, people would never be without their Bible. Unfortunately, most never even pick it up.

DJP said...

Or think of our forefathers in the faith, 1500 years ago, who did so much more with so much less. What would they make of us?

Jeff Wright said...

"No. If you know any truth about any of those things, you know it from the Bible. Period."

Amen. I'm currently in the middle of this exact conversation. I've yet to see anyone who can explain how we know of the things you listed apart from Scripture.

"Or think of our forefathers in the faith, 1500 years ago, who did so much more with so much less. What would they make of us?"

Very convicting. Now I really have no excuse to skip my Hebrew vocab review today. ;)

Good rant.

Brad Williams said...


Too true.


Doesn't sound like it to me. He probably meant that the church doesn't need to deliberate on what they need to do in prayer and Bible study. They simply need to apply what they've learned.

FX Turk said...


"Their parents are just like them."

Who knew?

FX Turk said...

... waiting for the shoe to drop on paragraphs which begin, "Once, a fellow in a church I pastored ..."

Seth Fuller said...

I think most of the readers know that this particular mindset is an epidemic problem in America. I'm not sure that merely stating the tenets of the problem in a rant is very helpful or exhorting.


donsands said...

Good post.

I thank the Lord I do have a hunger for His word. Sometimes I'm like a deer that pants for water.
But there are times when I'm not so hungry. So I need good rants to read to help me see God's gracious treasure for what it is.

I shared with a pastor after listening to his sermon, that his point was good. Jesus did eat and drink with sinners, and we need to be about the business of doing likewise.
But your sermon could have used a little more balance.
We don't want to become friends with the world and an enemy of God.
And evil companionship can ceratinly corrupt, as Paul tells in 1 Cor 15.
This pastor, whom I love dearly, told me he's been studying the Scriptures for 30 years, and he doesn't understand everything. But he said he knew how he wanted to share the good news and live for Christ, and he was going to do it like this, until he learns different. He is connected with Erwin McManus' Mosaic Church.
I thought I'd share that, because I love this dear brother, and I'd do anything for him yet he drives me crazy.

He is a great example of what you have said here Dan.

Puritan Physicist said...

Seth, this article is excellent encouragement for those who are in the same boat as Dan, and are completely alone in this thinking. I know I've been there before, and I'm sure most others here have as well.

Plus, it's an excellent article to give to those who maybe are "on the fence;" they have a desire to learn, and are open to a sound, biblical presentation, but they don't quite see how bad the problem is.

Jim Pemberton said...

I call it "Social Christianity". The thought is this:

"I've heard about this 'God Who Loves Me'. So I found a church that doesn't ask too much of me and has a bunch of activities and services that I can benefit from. I get to hang out with people who ostensibly won't stab me in the back and where I can try to be a good person. In the end of it I get to go to heaven where it's probably not so bad and I don't have to get burned to a crisp elsewhere maybe."

Then, when somebody asks a tough question:

"Hey, this guy just asked a question about The God Who Loves Me. I'm not sure I like it because if I thought about it too hard, there may be more to this God than just Him loving me. It may be that this love means more than I thought. It looks too much like tough love or something. I don't want to think about it. I like my comfy little corner of the church and don't want to move. Why doesn't he tell a couple of cool jokes and just talk about how good God is?"

JM Vergara said...

Permission to repost this in my blog!

This kind of problem is so evident in our church. Where the pastors would say, "If you don't have a Bible with you, well that's ok, we have a big one here in the Powerpoint."

They tell the people it's ok that you don't have your Bible at church. How do you expect the same people to read their Bible's out of church.

So sad.

Stefan Ewing said...

Jim Pemberton: Hammer, nail, head.

How sweet is the written Word of God, be it in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, English, Korean, Latin, Japanese, Chinese, Swahili, or Inuktituk.

How sweet it is, be it on hand-copied scrolls, papyrus manuscript fragments, a dog-eared leather-bound Red Letter KJV, a paperback handout prison Bible, a Gideon's Bible for a weary traveller, a crisp brand-new straight-out-of-the-box study Bible, or in a free searchable online ESV.

How sweet is the written word of God, be it read aloud from the pulpit, sung in Psalms of praise, alluded to in a thousand hymns, read in Braille or talking book, or presented afresh in a Gospel presentation to new ears.

Apart from clothes and other basic necessities, the only material possession I pray I will always have close by—no matter what God has in plan for my life, through highs and lows, mountaintops and valleys—is a Bible.

The story of Creation and the Flood, the Law, the books of Wisdom, judges, kings, and prophets, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the end of history yet to come, and God's teachings throughout. Perfect wisdom, perfect guidance, perfect teaching.

The Bible has been my comfort in times of despair, and my life preserver through decades of doubt and agnosticism. Sweet manna from heaven.

Praise the Lord for his written Word. (...And praise him also for Buster Keaton!)

David Rudd said...

They tell the people it's ok that you don't have your Bible at church. How do you expect the same people to read their Bible's out of church.

jm, not sure i understand the connection here. can you elaborate?

Habitans in Sicco said...

I'm offended by that new picture. I think it reinforces gay stereotypes.

DJP said...

(I'm just surprised that, with all our blonde readers....)

DJP said...

I have an idea for another rant.

I think the title will be: Wasted pulpits.

bassicallymike said...

I've always been apalled by the fact that the spiritual realm is one of the few places where it seems socially acceptable to be a slacker.

bassicallymike said...


Connie said...

Dan, I did mean to talk to you earlier about the two "blind blondes". The truth about my NATURALLY brunette hair has been questioned from time-to-time, apparently I have blond roots...*sigh* :-)

Moon said...

My dear brother in Christ, AMEN!! I totally hear you!!! (or read you in this case?) I have one of those horror stories happen to me lately with a friend of mine...he said so fervently to me that he's a catholic and will always be a catholic and when i asked him what it meant for him to be a catholic he couldn't even say he said "a lot more than people imagine" and then when I spoke to him about the bible and things God says in the bible and what catholics believe and about Jesus Christ, he was offended and said that I was putting myself above him or something like that and then he changed the topic. He believes that whats important is that he's catholic and believes in God and the virgin mary and that Christ existed and that by doing good he'll get to heaven, but he can't stand the word bible or its contents!!!! I was sooo frustrated!! I still am!! and he's not the only one, lots of people have said to me that they "feel it" in their hearts that they're right and that they can know God without having to read the bible :'(

Moon said...

you know what makes me sad? all those martyrs that went out of their way and some died even in their effort to translate the bible for all of us to read :(

DJP said...

Very true, Rita. And why did God go to all of the trouble of moving men to write sixty-six books He doesn't care whether they read, or not? Or why He addressed so many of them to simple, garden-variety Christians, when it's only Experts who need to read them?

Stefan Ewing said...

I guess I haven't been a Christian long enough to encounter these sorts of people, and I was wondering if they really exist, but some of the specific examples Rita and others have given here are proof enough that this really is a problem.

The thought I should have completed in my earlier paean to the written word of God is this: How sweet is the written word of God; therefore, we should treasure it and appreciate it, read it and study it, meditate upon it, and let it be our counsel, our solace, our guide. We should carry it with us, and have it ready at a moment's notice. It should be our first aid guide to life, our Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, our handbook to living in Christ.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

(Explanation: When I was an unbelieving teenager, reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, how neat it would be, I thought, to have a be-all-and-end-all, alpha-and-omega handbook to life like that. The only thing you need (plus a towel), with the words "Don't Panic" in big letters on the cover. Little did I realize that such a book
actually exists, that really does provide the answer to "life, the universe, and everything," and that if we place our trust in it, we really don't have to panic. At all. Ever.

Oh, and rather than the universe being controlled by a bunch of super-intelligent mice, it's all controlled by an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, personal God, immanent and transcendant, three persons of one essence—a God I had heard of, but whom I did not yet truly know, the one and only God whose name is Yahweh.)

Jay said...

Reading their Bible may cause "Christians" to realize that they are on the broad road to destruction rather than the narrow path to life.

Jay said...

Besides, if you don't take your Bible to church, what are you going to read while the pastor is trying to be clever and relevant?

candy said...

As a blond, I might have been upset at the two blind blonds, but I seriously can trip, fall, crash into, and impale myself just fine with my eyes open.

BTW: That was not a metaphor for my relationship with the Word of God.

one busy mom said...


Awesome post...rant on!

I'm dealing with this in some of my own teenaged children...and it is driving me mad! It's not the "not knowing" with them...it's the "not really caring or wanting to know" and that is heart breaking and frustrating. And as pummeling one's loved ones with an oversized study Bible is not really a Godly response to this (tempting though..) I may just print out your rant and serve it to them for breakfast some day! (ok..I probably won't, but I can dream!)

I grew up Catholic (before God graciously saved me) and I remember a woman telling me how upset she was that Mass wasn't in Latin anymore -because...(..and I'm not kidding here..) "nothing sounds as Holy when ya know what they're saying".

....oh those "holy vapors"....

DJP said...

Mom—maybe you could use it as a "What do you think about what this guy says?" discussion leap-off?

And to the other: a friend was trying to speak of Christ to a Roman Catholic. She finally responded, "I don't understand my religion, but it's beautiful and I would never leave it."

Quintin said...

"...that absolutely thunderstruck slackjawed brain-itchingly baffles me."
Amen brother. I couldn't have said it better. And me say things real good-like.

Pyro readers probably could contribute horror stories of their own
Hmmm. I got sworn at once at bible study... They hate the doctrines of grace. No one told me...

I failed "Follow Your Bliss" in seminary.

Great post. I really think you have it down. It would be such a blessing to fellowship with guys like you!

Moon said...


one busy mom
I as well grew up Catholic and I never learned anything going to church nor was I ever taught to read the bible or anything of the sorts, until I was saved, when I got my first bible I couldn't stop reading it!! I would read it on my home in the bus, when I got home I kept reading. I was so amazed at all the new things I was learning things I should've known about Christ and about God.

Moon said...

on my way home* in the bus

Rob Rumfelt said...

Amen. Simply, Amen.

CatGA86 said...

Thank You. That was a great rant.