Forgive me for being judgmental, because I am about to be judgmental.
This past Christmas season, I visited a church in Houston. It was a large, mega-church on the outside of town. I liked the service very much. The music was simply incredible, and the people were very friendly. I have family friends who attend the church, so I was excited to go. It was a Christmas Eve service.
When the pastor and his wife came up to deliver the sermon, they were amiable people, attractive, intelligent, very good communicators. They sat at a table and just kind of talked about the Christmas story from the Bible. What struck me as they talked, however, was that they were speaking to the audience, literally thousands of people (the church sat thousands and had several Christmas Eve services to deal with the traffic) like they were a group of nine-year olds. That sounds like a judgmental comment, but I don’t mean it to be. I am trying to be accurate. As they spoke to the congregation, I tried to decipher how old a person would need to be to understand what they were saying, and the age I came up with was nine. One of the points was that the wise men were seekers, and we need to be seekers. And another was that they followed a star, and God always provides a star, maybe the star is the person who brought you to church tonight? Then the pastor asked the congregation to circle a word in their notes, not unlike an elementary school teacher might ask his or her class to do the same in a vocabulary study.
I should say I don’t fault the pastor or his wife. They were terrific, and they were speaking to an audience that understood what they were saying (the idea we are each given a star I found absurd, and completely unbiblical and a radical misrepresentation of a historical text, but that’s beside the point) and were touched and moved by the presentation.
My question in leaving the service, however, was whether or not Evangelicals are having to dumb down their messages for an American audience. Fill in the blank notes? Circle the word on the page? There’s a star out there for you somewhere?
To say evangelicals are dumb is to say too much. It’s hard to imagine a greater academic culture than evangelicals enjoy. We literally have thousands of schools and even more annoyingly combative scholars, always at each others throats over whether the anti-christ will enter the world on a thursday.
So here is what I surmised: American culture has become a consumer culture, and a large demographic within the culture simply does exactly what they are told, as long as what they are told promises a pay off of some sort. They do not ask questions. They trust you if you seem trustworthy. Many evangelical leaders, then, simply become info-mercial-type salesman, selling their understanding of the truth to this large demographic. Most of them are extremely well intentioned, and do remarkable ministry around the world for the poor. The dumbing down of what we must loosely call truth is just a sign of the times.