In the wake of the great tragedy of September 11, 2001 much that was good, honorable, and heroic about America resurfaced. There was also a welcome return to patriotism and national unity. For a few weeks church attendance increased, and there was increased talk of the importance of God in our lives and the life of our country. But listening carefully, much of the religious talk of media pundits, politicians, and even many of the clergy revealed an appalling prevalence of shallow and sometimes shockingly bad theology in America. Much of this popular theology was pleasing to the ears of the multitudes, but it was not based on divinely inspired Scripture. It was the politically correct theology of a sympathetic but small and pliable god crafted by secular humanism, multiculturalism, and modern liberalism, bearing little resemblance to the all-powerful, all-knowing, absolutely sovereign, and Holy God of Scripture.
Media coverage of 9-11 and related events following it, revealed several themes of shallow or bad theology:
The sovereignty of God was not acknowledged. Yet the Scriptures clearly teach that God acts in history and in the affairs of men and nations. Scripture teaches that God is not the author of evil but ordains or allows it for his own perfectly righteous and holy purposes and has absolute control over it. Nothing happens in this world outside the complete sovereignty of God. Not a single sparrow falls outside of his divine knowledge and control.
There was a refusal to acknowledge that widespread sin and apostasy in a nation might provoke the discipline, chastening, and if necessary the wrath of a holy, just, and righteous God. There was a refusal to examine ourselves in the light of God’s standard of righteousness. We seem righteous in our own eyes and by our standards, but our standards are often a rejection of God’s standards. Yet Scripture is filled with histories of nations that by sin provoked the discipline or ultimately the full wrath of God.
The Uniqueness of Christ in salvation was not acknowledged. The implication of this is that Christ is not the unique Son of God and our only Savior and Redeemer. Yet Scripture teaches very clearly that no man comes to the Father except through Christ. There is no other name by which men may be saved. Salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Christ Alone.
Islam was portrayed, except for a small group of fanatics, as innocuous and on the same level as Christianity. It was portrayed as peaceful while its writings justify mortal violence against those who oppose it, and its history is decidedly imperialist and intolerant, especially of Christianity and Judaism. If Biblical Christianity is truth, then Islam is not a way to salvation, nor is any other religion or self-justifying moral philosophy or code.
The Koran was placed on the same level as Scripture. Christians take Scripture at its own word, that it is the uniquely inspired Word of God, infallible and authoritative in all it teaches. Muslims believe the Koran was written by the very hand of Allah and revealed to Muhammad. Yet many passages of the Koran strongly contradict Biblical Scripture and teachings. Knowledge and sincerity prohibit placing them on the same level.
American Christians are vulnerable to this bad theology because they have become biblically illiterate and intellectually lazy. Their standard has become television rather than Scripture. They prefer to make decisions on the great issues of life based on 20-second sound bites and the shallow moral fashions of entertainment media. They eschew tradition, intellectual rigor, and the discipline of sound scriptural interpretation. They are ignorant and scornful of history. Hence they are undiscerning of political propaganda and religious heresy. Subjective feeling everywhere trumps not only Scripture, but also reason, and the traditional wisdom of centuries.
During the media coverage of 9-11, many strongly unbiblical philosophies kept surfacing at the same time many “God bless America” bumper stickers were appearing on cars:
Pluralism: Christianity is not unique. It is no more than an equal to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and the latest fashions of secularism. Hence just about any moral, amoral, or immoral teachings are just as valid as Judeo-Christian moral teachings. This has led to an unbiblical understanding of tolerance as an ultimate value. Yet tolerance of evil is evil.
Relativism: There is no absolute truth or absolute moral standard. Everything is relative to the time and culture. This is a common argument for all sorts of nonsense.
Majoritarianism: The majority is the standard of right. This misguided faith in majoritarian democracy is based on the basic goodness of man, in stark contrast to the biblical view of man as spiritually, morally, intellectually, and psychologically marred beyond self-help and in need of divine redemption. This idea from the French Revolution has begun to supplant the American founders’ distrust in pure democracy and their insistence on constitutional safeguards and federalism (states rights) against the potential abuse of power by elected rulers and majorities as well as dictatorial tyrants. Beware of the deification of democracy.
Egalitarianism: This is another unbiblical idea from the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence was speaking of the right to equal freedom and justice under the law, not that there are no differences in the abilities of men, or that they are entitled to equal property or freedom from want.
Much generosity, courage, and good in the American people could be seen in the aftermath of that tragic day of brutal and depraved terrorism, but it also revealed our addiction to unsound theologies. Continuing the errors of bad theology blinds us to spiritual, moral, and intellectual clarity—and impending dangers.
Originally dated September 24, 2001