The Danger of "Auditing" the Christian Faith1
My guess is that most people reading this article have at one time or another throughout their educational experience audited a class or course, whether in high school or more likely in college. I certainly have. I loved the courses I audited. After I had graduated from Dallas Seminary in 1977 I returned a couple of years later and audited beginning Hebrew which was being taught by my good friend Jack Deere. Continue reading . . .
My guess is that most people reading this article have at one time or another throughout their educational experience audited a class or course, whether in high school or more likely in college. I certainly have. I loved the courses I audited. After I had graduated from Dallas Seminary in 1977 I returned a couple of years later and audited beginning Hebrew which was being taught by my good friend Jack Deere.
I had already taken two years of Hebrew but I wanted to brush up and refresh myself. It was great just sitting there and listening without the pressure of having to know it well enough to pass an exam. I watched with a degree of joy and satisfaction, as well as relief, as the other students memorized words and paradigms and verb forms, wondering if they would remember it all well enough to pass. I just listened and learned at my own pace and then walked away without having to “do” a thing. It was the same in other classes I audited. I didn’t have the pressure of conducting research or writing a term paper or being prepared should the professor have asked me a question. It was great.
And the best thing of all in auditing a course like that is that you didn’t even have to show up for class if you didn’t want to. The professor couldn’t rebuke you for being absent. Your overall grade point average remained unaffected, even if you chose never to attend class. If you preferred to sleep in or stay out late or hang out with friends, everything was a go. There was never any fear of consequences.
Tragically, many approach the Christian faith and life in much the same way. They treat Christianity much like a college course they’re auditing. They show up when they feel like it, learn about as much as they please, but never feel as if they have to “do” anything. They soak up knowledge, enjoy the music, make friends with the people around them, but feel no urgency or obligation to do anything beyond sitting and listening. They are what James calls “hearers” of the Word “only”, but not “doers” (James 1:22).
These are the people in local churches who are thrilled to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21a). They love listening. They look forward to soaking in the sermon. But they are deceived. They have been duped into thinking that hearing and believing is all that is required. Orthodoxy is all that matters. As far as they are concerned, making certain that all their doctrinal ducks are properly aligned is the sum and substance of Christianity. These are the people who can argue your ears off. They understand the complex intricacies of Christian theology and are rather proud of their intellectual achievements.
They also typically look down their spiritual noses at people who are more concerned than they are with reaching the lost and ministering to the poor and laboring in the interests of racial reconciliation. It’s not uncommon for such folk to greatly emphasize the grace of God and accuse others of putting too much emphasis on works.
Like so many in college classrooms across the country, they are “auditing” the Christian faith. They hear, but they don’t do. They listen and learn, but rarely if ever put into practice what they know. They rest rather smugly in the extent of their knowledge, but rarely express it in concrete actions of obedience and compassion and sacrifice.
So, big deal, right? Yes!
James (in James 1:22-27) makes the critically important point that the “word” of God is not something merely to be believed but also something to obey. The collective revelation that God has made of himself in Jesus Christ in the Scriptures must never be thought of as nothing more than a list of doctrines that call for our consent. Should we believe every jot and tittle in the Bible? Absolutely yes! Every word, every syllable, every sentence is the product of the creative breath of God. Do you want truth? You find it in the Bible? Do you want to know right from wrong? You find it in the Bible. Do you want to understand who God is and why this universe exists and what God’s purpose is in redeeming and forgiving people like you and me? The answers are found in the Bible.
But the Bible is not just an answer book. It’s more than a theological encyclopedia. Don’t ever think of the Bible as an inspired version of Siri on spiritual steroids. The Bible is not meant simply to satisfy your mental and theological curiosity. The Scriptures were not given so that you can impress others with how much information and insight you can cram into your brain. The Scriptures were given so that in knowing truth we might live it, in understanding God and his purposes we might practice it, and in gaining insight and discernment we might conduct ourselves in such a way that God is truly honored and people are blessed.
May we never settle for being “hearers only” but also devote ourselves to the doing of God’s inspired Word.