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Pastors Can't Answer Questions About Basic Doctrines

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The Romans Revolution Continues at the White Horse Inn.

We are in the midst of taping our series on Romans called "The Romans Revolution."  Our producer, Shane Rosenthal, went to the National Pastor's Convention in San Diego (Click here: National Pastors Convention 2006), where he conducted a number of interviews with those in attendance.  These include pastors and their wives and key ministry leaders. 

Shane asked a large number of conference attendees some simple questions about basic Christian doctrine.  The answers are not only shocking, they are maddening!  You simply will not believe the interviews when you hear them.

When Shane asked, "are you familiar with the doctrine of imputation?"

33% were "familiar," 67% said they were "unfamiliar."

When Shane asked "is justification by works, faith and works combined, or faith alone?"

0% (thankfully) responded "by works."   25% responded "by faith and by works," while 75% responded "by faith alone."  Sadly, this figure is grossly misleading if people say they believe in justification by faith but don't even know what imputation is!  Many of those who said "by faith alone," qualified their answer with some sort of appeal to sanctification or the transformed life.  It was utterly tragic.

When Shane asked "Is justification a one time declaration or a life long process?"

49% said that justification is a process, 31% said a declaration, while 14% indicated that is was both.  6% were not sure.                    
                                                                                             When Shane asked, "What are we saved from?                             
43% said "ourselves."  24% said from "sin and death" while 17% said (correctly) that we are saved from eternal judgment or the wrath of God.  Another large group were not sure about the question and some admitted to have never even given this subject any thought.

These interviews were absolutely heartbreaking and you won't believe the answers these shepherds gave when interviewed.                             
For more info about broadcast dates for our upcoming programs on Romans 3-4, Click here: White Horse Inn                                                  

References (5)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    The Riddleblog gives the account of a spot-survey that was presented to random participants of the 2006 National Pastors Convention. The survey asked today's pastors a few doctrine questions that they ought to be able to answer. The results were...
  • Response
    I'm shocked (but maybe I shouldn't be) by Kim Riddlebarger's post: Pastors Can't Answer Questions About Basic Doctrines.Riddlebarger reports on Shane Rosenthal's (of the White Horse Inn) interviews with pastors at the National Pastor's Convention in ...
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    loan rates ( much is just enough. -- Mark Twain, on whiskey
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    internet poker ( poker ( - internet pokerYou will gain money by an illegal action.My only love sprung from my only hate!Too early seen unknown, and known too late! -- William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"

Reader Comments (24)

Sad! What else is there to say? Were there additional questions asked by Shane and if so will the results be posted? I wonder how they would have defined "propitiation?"
March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas VanderMeulen
A brief examination of the Conference website tempers the shock-value of the responses.

Here are a couple of seminar titles:

"Designing Emerging Worship Gatherings (That Go Beyond Only Preaching and Singing) | Dan Kimball"

"No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-As-You-Are Culture in Your Church | John Burke "

These are from the "Emerging Church Track" and there were plenty of more orthodox-sounding seminar titles. However, it certainly is appalling to imagine men leading sheep with these answers rattling around upstairs.

March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHed Taggard
I don't know John Burke, but I do know Dan Kimball and he is probably the most orthodox guy you'll find related to the Emergent church. You might take issue with some of his methodology, but he's got the message right and he's doing an effective job instructing others of it.
March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Overton
Does anyone know the background of the Pastor's Convention? What types of pastors do they claim to represent?
March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHed Taggard
I was directed here by my pastor (I a mere Art student at Trinity Western in Canada).

First of all, I am not sure how often I have heard imputation preached off the pulpit of the traditionalist Reformed church I was raised in. The word sounds archaic even if it is relevant to my salvation.

Second, if faith is embodied in declaration (as somewhat alluded to in the third question), then faith may be also a work making question two rather confusing. Moreover, presenting an either/or/and question reads unfair when the reality of faith speaks to a more mysterious unity of the heart and will in Christ. An integration of faith and works coated in a faith in the unseen (and unspeakable).

Thirdly, the question, "Is justification a one time declaration or a life long process?" Um, neither. Unless God declares at one time? (Which would sound rather theistic).

Fourthly, we are saved from all of the above. We die to ourselves, find new life in Christ (salvation). We are made righteous in Christ (sin is no longer holds its sting). We are saved from eternal wrath (yep).

Oh, the tricky questions.
March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moes
I appreciate the WHI surveys, though they are very sad. They serve as a good wake up for me. If the people in my church were asked these questions, how would they respond? These reponses from pastors are particularly bad, though.

James, I think you need some more context. Even finding the White Horse Inn and listening to several episodes will help you get the bigger picture, particularly in this Romans focus year.
March 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Stauffer
Along with everyone else I, of course, would hope for Pastors across America (did this only represent the US? I am assuming for right now, I know) to at least get to know the vocabulary of the faith.

However, is there any possibility that these Pastors would have affirmed what the terms mean?

The question: 'what are we saved from?' is a good example. I do believe that we are saved from the wrath of God for our sins (both original and actual)...but do I also believe that I am saved from my (sinful) self? YES. Am I also saved from sin and death? The Bible seems to say that too.

I just think that these questions sound a little like bait...and not a lot like edification.
March 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRick
I took the bait on a Survey by the WHI folks years ago ("Are You Too Spiritual"). That bait helped take me into the trap of pursuing good theology. I'm thankful for the correction, though I'm glad I didn't have to take this test publicly.

In my case, I had some decent education and even exposure to good theology, but I just didn't put the pieces together correctly (I'm still working on that).

Pastors, especially, ought to be reflective and articulate in theology, and always learning and reforming. I think these results are shameful, but I'm cautiously optimistic because there are sound teachers out there that continue to patiently instruct forgetful (at best) Christians.

Thanks, Kim, for your part in my instruction for the past 8 years.

March 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Stauffer
Kim, I am a teacher and it would be great if I could play for my classes all the basic questions/bad answer recordings that you have done on the WHI. Is that availabe anywhere or could it be? Thanks.
March 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPete
Hed Taggard asked "Does anyone know the background of the Pastor's Convention? What types of pastors do they claim to represent?"

I would suggest the vast majority of pastors in attendance at the NPC are those who relate well to the "emerging church/conversation".

Therefore, the answers didn't surprise me at all.

Carla Rolfe
March 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Rolfe
Sorry Carla, but you are misinformed. Having been there myself,I can say most are middle-aged, baptist, non-donominational, methodist, presbyterian, etc. pastors.

There were few "emergents" in attendance and more than a few who would consider themselves "concerned" about the emerging church. I have witnessed more than one grilling of guys like Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt at these events.

Mostly just pastors and spouses who love God, love their people and deserve a couple of days of being refreshed.

(And by the way, even as an "emerging church" pastor I would have passed the test, at least according to the answers given here, with flying colors...)
March 8, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbob
Doctrine? That stuff divides. I just want people to feel good and love Jesus? That's what matters right?

It's sad that the pastors, in an effort to shepherd the flock, just lead them astray...

Let's pray that God raises up an army of faithful teachers of his word.
March 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy J McNeely
When I read this survey and these comments, I cannot help but wonder: What does it take to be a pastor? How does a person know he has been called to be a pastor? And once called to be a pastor, what steps does that person take to enter into the pastoral ministry?

Maybe the pastoral ministry is just for those who have been enlightened by a few bible basics.
"Jesus died for our sins". Ok well maybe one basic. So the man who has a strong personality, is fairly charismatic, and of course speaks well in public. Maybe that is who the ministry is reserved for.

While the quite man, whose sin at times causes him to stand frozen in fear and trembling. The humble man (well humble by relative comparisons) whose deepest desire is to know God's word, and to understand depths of its meaning. Where does he fit in? Maybe he just needs to keep quit and get out of the way of the Church as she redefines herself and purpose in this ADHD world.

March 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDale Olzer
The Leadership at this conference for pastors were all emergent pastors. Sad to see that those attending did not realize this! Dan Kimball is emergent - his book is scary and one to be avoided! It doesn't shock me that they couldn't answer these questions because many of the questions relate to doctrines they wish to avoid do to the fact they are not considered necessary!
March 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
I'd be interested in the actual number of the 'large number' of attendees. Is this meant to be an indictment of the NPC or the pastors that attend and, if so, is it truly representative of the people that were there?

Also, your biases show through in your analysis of the question, 'What are we saved from?' Though I recognize that Romans 5 supports your final 'correct' answer, Matthew 1:21, 1 Corinthians 5:5, and James 5:20 would seem to suggest that the 24% who answered 'wrong' might not be so unbiblical in their response.

My guess is that you wanted a purely Reformed response from these pastors. The answers at a conference of purely Reformed pastors probably would have yielded results you were happier with. However, the NPC does not bill itself as a purely Reformed conference. Thus, when you get answers that don't fit into your theological framework, don't be surprised...

PS - "Many of those who said "by faith alone," qualified their answer with some sort of appeal to sanctification or the transformed life. It was utterly tragic." We still don't like the book of James do we...
March 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPhilThreeten
It would have been more illuminating if two sets of questions were distinguished and interspersed in the survey, a set of questions that utilize the terminology of classical systematic theology, and another set that put the same theological content in questions that used more ordinary language. We could see then if it was so much that they didn't know the doctrine as that they didn't know the historical formulations of it. Some of the ordination examinations I have sat in on seem to indicate that a presbytery will differ to the candidate in the case where its clear his doctrine is correct even though he cannot articulate it with the familiar (to the presbytery) formulas.
March 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterThe Gnu
Doctrine has seen better days, to be sure. Things seem to have only gone downhill since the Golden Age of Doctrine, 1618-1648. It's a cryin' shame, ain't it?
March 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Witmer
The pastors don't need the headknowledge of doctrine. The Holy Spirit will give them the words to say. You are all being led away by your philosophical wanderings.

Or maybe we are to love God will all our heart, soul, strength, and MIND.
March 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChadd Sheffield
So Chadd you are saying Doctrine isn't necessary then how do you discern what spirit you are following? Even the demons believe but the difference is what belief which ultimately comes down to Scripture/Doctrine. Yes the Holy Spirit does lead but not seperate from the Word of God/Bible they work together one without the other is not possible!
March 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
It seems like the test wasn't really so much about doctrine as about how you approach doctrine. Personally, I wasn't familiar with the term "imputation", but when I looked it up, I certainly understand the doctrine. You say "imputation" - I say "Christ paid the penalty for my sin and though I am sinful, I receive His righteousness and am acceptable to God."

This is where I think religion sometimes becomes politics. It's not the heart we worry about, but whether of not we can all "get on the same page" with our language and experience. It's as if discipleship becomes forcing people into some "mold" instead of organically allowing them to search for God.

Read any of Dan Kimball's books and you'll find that he's very orthodox. Please point out any heretical teaching from his writings. It's not that he's WRONG, just DIFFERENT.

The next generation will not be reached using the same methods used for my generation or yours. Things change. People change. Experiences change.

An EFFECTIVE presentation of the gospel doesn't happen by wrote or forumla, but is lived out through life. As peoples' lives change, it only makes sense that the way we talk and connect will change as well.

The "emerging" movement is happening as a reaction to this natural trend. These church leaders are not creating post-modernism, just responding to it.
May 6, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjohn

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