Mehta noticed that churches vary greatly in energy and passion.
The churches I enjoyed the most had a buzz of excitement that was noticeable from the moment I walked in the door. …
The positive feeling I picked up came from other churchgoers. It stands out when you are around people who look forward to coming to church, people who are glad to see one another. That vitality brushed off on me.
Mehta notes that architecture and technology aren’t the source of this enthusiasm. He found it in both plain and beautiful buildings. In particular, he considers community service as helping to generate this kind of enthusiasm.
The life of a healthy church extends far beyond the assembly, and the excitement, I think, comes from shared experiences, victories won through Jesus together. Small groups and classes contribute to this, but I believe he’s right that the greatest impact is found in community service, missions, and such, where Christians work side by side and the gospel meets the world.
Provide opposing viewpoints
Mehta encourages churches to offer debates or discussions where both sides of an issue are aired by representatives of both sides. He expresses dissatisfaction with churches that present lessons on a controversial issue where the other side is given no opportunity to be heard.
If the church has the correct stance on, say, Intelligent Design, then then there should be no problem with bringing in credible evolutionary biologists who can explain the scientific point of view.
He’s right, of course, but there are severe practical limitations on this method. First, most churches don’t have the expertise (or budget) to bring in top flight evolutionary biologists and Intelligent Design theorists. And these things don’t go well if either side is poorly represented.
More importantly, the vast majority of the unchurched aren’t really interested in such things. I think Mehta is unusual in being as analytical as he is. Surveys show that most unchurched people are deeply spiritual and most even believe in God. Unbelievers are more likely to be put off by the church’s views on homosexuality or its teaching that those outside the church are damned, than the church’s teachings on evolution.
I would go a step further. Mehta frequently ran into churches teaching against evolution. I don’t think the church has any business making evolution the issue. Obviously, those who claim that evolution somehow disproves the Bible or God are in error, but — sadly — many in the church are in this camp, telling all who will listen that they must choose between evolution and God. And so, many pick evolution. It’s a false choice and the church shouldn’t force people to make it.
Now, I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t teach Christian evidences. They should. But Christian evidences are generally not an effective evangelistic tool, and therefore churches should not build their evangelistic efforts on such teaching.
However, it’s important that the members know there are good answers to such questions. And in some communities — such as university towns — it may well be a good idea to take on such questions in a debate forum now and again. But if you do it, do it right, and that means not being scientifically ignorant and not being ignorant of the arguments made by your opponents. And it means doing things in a respectful, fair, and honest manner.
For example, so-called Scientific Creationism, which argues for a young earth based on science, is easily refuted by those who know their science. Read Phillip Kitcher’s Abusing Science. It’s a thorough demolition of the work of Henry Morris and his circle.
On the other hand, much of the Intelligent Design effort is worthwhile. But do we really want to build faith in Jesus on the molecular biology of cilia? or photosynthesis? There are better places to find faith!
Ultimately, in my experience, Christian evidences, well done, can eliminate intellectual barriers to faith but cannot create faith.
Making Bible stories relevant
Mehta is particularly critical of preachers who just read Bible stories without making an application to current life. How does the story of Joseph help me deal with problems at work?
Frankly, in my experience in the Churches of Christ, we’re pretty good at this. My guess is that Mehta is targeting some of the churches that do lectionary teaching, where predetermined scriptures are read each Sunday, often with no application. But few Churches of Christ and few evangelical churches are guilty of this one.
And Mehta agrees. Most of the sermons he heard did an excellent job of making life application of the Biblical narratives. And even though he doubts the historicity of these stories, he enjoyed and profited from the lessons.