In his book A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan), Brian McLaren makes a piercing assessment of evangelicals. He says they have focused on having all the right doctrinal beliefs, but they lead lives that, often, don’t match those beliefs.
He sums up their mindset like this: “[O]ne could at least be proud of getting an ‘A’ in orthodoxy even when one earned a ‘D’ in orthopraxy [the application of doctrine to one’s life].”
Many Christians think McLaren is on to something.
A lot of evangelicals affirm doctrines they don’t really believe, according to Dr. Gregg Ten Elshof, chair of Biola’s undergraduate philosophy department.
“It's not that they disbelieve what they affirm,” Ten Elshof said. “It's just that they have no real belief either way. What they affirm has nothing to do with the way they live."
Dr. Richard Flory, an associate professor of sociology at Biola, calls the problem “an intellectualized Christianity, where it stays in your head and doesn’t work itself out on the ground.”
This can be seen in some churches, according to Dr. John Hutchison. Hutchison is chair of the Bible exposition department at Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology. He said: “There’s been a disillusionment with churches who pride themselves on teaching very orthodox doctrine, yet you don’t necessarily see a difference in their members’ lifestyles.”
Multiple studies have shown, for example, that Christians get divorced as often as, or more than, non-Christians. Studies have also found that many Christians, even pastors, regularly view pornography. Evangelical pollster George Barna said that nine out of 10 born-again Christians fail to live differently than the rest of the world.
McLaren thinks many “doctrinally sound” Christians tend to be arrogant, judgmental and unloving toward non-Christians and, even, Christians who have different doctrinal views.
In his book Think Like Jesus, Barna said that many people who claim to be Christians lead lives that are indistinguishable from non-Christians.
McLaren believes an answer to this inconsistency is for Christians to shift their focus from having abstract doctrinal knowledge to leading authentic, Christlike lives — lives that are characterized by traits like humility and genuine concern for people.
Many evangelicals have expressed a similar sentiment that relationships are more important than doctrine. As the popular catch phrases go: “Christianity isn’t about head knowledge but heart knowledge” and “it’s not a religion but a relationship.”
True, Christianity is fundamentally about a relationship with God. Evangelicals have historically stressed that the Christian faith is essentially a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Yet it’s precisely because Christianity is a relationship that doctrine is so important, according to Ben Shin, who teaches classes on the Bible, hermeneutics and spiritual formation at Talbot. Shin said that, in any relationship, if you want to grow closer to the other person then you have to know more about him or her. Read More.