One of the most difficult tasks that humans must endure is the continual practice of making a decision. Every day, Every Where, Everyone must make a decision. These decision range from small, I.E. should I put creamers in my coffee or not? All the way to large, I.E. should I abort my unborn child even though carrying it to term she’ll be stillborn, and this could cause potential health risks for me?
Luckily for us there is a theory of communication known as Cognitive Dissonance theory. I find it most useful in explaining how we come to our decisions, and what we do to eliminate or harmonize the dissonance around these decisions.
My favorite part of this theory is called ‘selective exposure’. This is the assumption that people sub-consciously ignore information that increases the dissonance while sub-concisouly surrounding themselves with information that harmonizes their dissonance. This is why before we make ‘large’ decisions we do “research”. The most interesting thing is that even though our research should be unbiased, we are gravitating to the things that tell us exactly what we already presuppose or want to know. We might even highlight portions of the article that tell us what we want, but ignore the warnings in the exact same article. One needs only to think of a prescription drug commercial. The advertisers begin by telling you all the benefits, and then list off the possible side effects in a rushed tone.
The most unfortunate thing is that north american Christianity, and I assert north american Christianity because I admit my lack of familiarity with the church universal, has subconsciously chosen to selectively expose themselves with certain parts of scripture, and ignore other parts of scripture that create cognitive dissonance. Really, this act of selective exposure has led to a dumb american church who are completely unfamiliar with the text, and its theological application to their lives. Thus, Christianity is becoming meaningless because it only reinforces what we already like and want it to address, but it fails to change who we are. ( is it any wonder people leave the church in droves) Daily, I am reminded of this when i listen to Christian talk radio and hear how they spot check their arguments with uncontexted scripture, political persuasion, and their “god given innate sense of morality”. In fact, if you listen closely you will see just how selective they are. My favorite example of this is Todd Friel and his program Wretched Radio. He will invite people of other theological persuasions onto this program and bull-dog them into corners where they can’t possibly make a legitimate case for their understanding because Todd interrupts them, and guides them down his path where only he could be right. Of course, this is radio and its primary function is entertainment, but still, Come on Todd! However, a sub-point is that people are choosing to tune into this program because it subconsciously supports their opinions, and most likely these persons don’t even know the “liberal’ talk radio station. (or they do, because they would say it is all the other stations).
Back on track! Christians have been taught to selectively expose themselves to preaching styles, programs or methodology based on their Christian tradition. However, it is easy to see the slippery slope of why Christians are ceasing to be affective in our culture. And I think the biggest reason is because it has become all about us, and not all about God. Allow me to lay it out in plain fashion.
Congregation A gets a new pastor, Preacher B. He begins preaching and teaching difficult concepts, and all around has a different approach than the last guy, but some people are responding and he sees real spiritual growth. Now half of congregation A doesn’t like Preacher B’s style and choices. So, congregation A begins to thin out as the disgruntled begin to leave. Looking at the bank account, Preacher B sees that he might no get paid, and he couldn’t pay the bills. So preacher B changes his style, his message, and he settles for something he know’s God doesn’t really want him doing. Now, Congregation A is giving, and growing in numbers. Now congregation A has 150 people. Pastor B now must have a youth program, a children’s ministry, a young adults ministry, a Seniors ministry. All of the sudden Pastor B is spending so much time administrating and focusing on programs, and making sure the he keeps congregation A happy because they are keeping food on his plate, not to mention the people are much easier to get along with. Next thing you know, 15 years have gone by, the church has seen a handful of people come to Christ a few times over the years, but really, only because Preacher B needed to see if his programs have brought people from outside the Christian realm into his building so that he might give them the same opportunity to believe as everyone else. In the end, congregation A is happy. Preacher B has settled for a pay-check and occasionally fruitful ministry as long as it is in the context of Congregation A’s liking.
The above is a serious reality in a lot of Church’s. Too many Christians are not critical thinkers because their thinking only extends to themselves and not the church as a whole. People only want what already supports how they feel, what they believe and what they want. Now, lets pose a question If you were going to by a house and make a significant investment of 250,000 dollars over the course of yrs, which actually would be more like 400,000 thousand after interest is incurred. Would you just walk into the rooms you liked and make sure it met your standards or would you hire a building inspector and make sure the foundation is solid, the roof is in good order, and your investment would be worthwhile? Anyone with even a shred of wisdom would tell you to hire a building inspector.
However, in matters that have eternal significance, many Christians are nonchalant in the church they attend, the people they surround themselves with, and theology they subject themselves too. All because certain rooms/programs of that congregation meet all their immediate needs. Don’t you think we should hire an expert to come through and examine to make sure this church has a healthy spiritual foundation and a roof that won’t leak? YES, but will we? Probably not, because the vast majority of church goers in america are only concerned with what they like, and selectively expose themselves to these things. What a foolish way to pick a church, let alone theology, let alone your beliefs, let alone your decisions. How can you fully make the large decisions if your understanding of God and his desire for your life stops at “God Loves You” and the fact that you like a certain praise and worship style.
I labeled this blog “The Art of Theological Decision Making”. Not because I am offering a method, but to expose the current situation as being a 5th grader choosing between a Jolly Rancher and Fine Dark Swiss Chocolate. Who would entrust a 5th grader to choose something based on quality and not what they want? If you put a Jolly Rancher or a dark chocolate piece in front of a kid, he will most certainly pick the jolly rancher for its more immediate appeal, and his current knowledge of what candy is supposed to be. He might even choose it based on his experience with Jolly Ranchers as being sweet and flavorful, and his lack of experience with Dark Chocolate. I would argue many Christians today would rather choose a Jolly Rancher experience, mainly because they don’t know how the cross truly can be.