Interpreting the New Testament for a Faith Response -- By: Wayne McDill

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 12:1 (Fall 1994)
Article: Interpreting the New Testament for a Faith Response
Author: Wayne McDill

Interpreting the New Testament for a Faith Response

Wayne McDill

Professor of Preaching
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

In 1987 the Lilly Endowment funded a major research project to examine the effectiveness of Christian education in the churches for nurturing a strong and vital faith. Symptoms had indicated a growing weakness in this critical task. The study, conducted by Search Institute, involved Southern Baptists along with five old-line churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Christian Church (Disciples), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and United Methodists. Over eleven thousand people responded to the lengthy surveys.

The results were not encouraging. Only 320/0 of adults manifested a strong, life-related faith with both a vital relationship to God and meaningful service to people. David S. Schuller, who worked on the project while on leave from the Association of Theological Schools, summarized his view of the results:

Ministers... seek to proclaim faith as a gift of God’s grace that involves one in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, and further shows itself in acts of love and concern for justice. But two-thirds of the respondents indicate the words have “not taken”; the faith they manifest is amorphous, more informed by the surrounding culture than by the church’s proclamation.1

Among respondents from the old-line churches, 66% indicated that they never or rarely gave a personal witness to their faith in Christ. Two-thirds did not read the Bible and 57% did not pray. More than half confessed that they had never given time to help the poor, hungry, or sick. Over two-thirds had difficulty in accepting salvation as a gift rather than something earned. The survey indicated that not quite half of Southern Baptist adults showed a mature, integrated faith. Some 60% understood salvation as a gift from God. While 74% read the Bible, well over half did not report engaging in daily prayer. More than 800/o had taken no action to promote social change or social justice.2

The underlying premise of the study was that the aim of Christian proclamation is to produce a vital and life-changing faith in the hearers. Though not

intended as an analysis of biblical interpretation by preachers and teachers, the study was nonetheless revealing in that regard. If the preaching and teaching in the churches do not result in vital faith, there must be a serious weakness in that proclamation. The approach and content of ...

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