Protestants and Roman Catholics don’t understand as much about major religions as atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons. A new survey by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life tested Americans’ knowledge of religion found that many respondents could not even correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Examples: Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics didn’t know church teaching that the bread and wine in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ. And over 50% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation.  Of all groups participating in the survey, atheists and agnostics scored the highest number of correct answers.

America is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, yet evidently we know relatively little about the faiths we practice. In one sense this is deeply troubling. Faith, while not dependent on knowledge is rooted fundamentally in tenets and core beliefs about the world. Our inability to grasp the fundamental facts of faith makes it unlikely that we will be able to discriminate between one view of life and another.  As the Bible itself says, “People die for lack of knowledge.”

Yet while ignorance itself is dire sign, we must be careful to avoid flipping our logic the other way. Knowledge for knowledge sake is not faith. Theology means “knowledge of God” not “knowledge of the knowledge of God.” And the Biblical word for knowledge used in the Jewish scriptures means “experience” and it’s the same work expressing sexual intimacy. Meaning: It’s not enough to have head knowledge about God and faith. We must EXPERIENCE him!

That said, our experiences must be anchored in truth and understanding and right discrimination between what is and what is not. In our hunger for spiritual experience we dare not ignore spiritual truth!

“God, we want to know you, to experience your love and taste the wonders of the blessings you long to bring into our lives. But our experience-knowledge of you must be anchored in our understanding of who you are and what you have said and done in history. Teach us your truth at the same time you allow us to experience the goodness of your presence. Give us discipline and wisdom to rightly discriminate what is and isn’t true about you. Not every idea or every experience that claims to be from you is. We want to know and know about what we know. Give us both yourself and the right perspective on your ways. Teach us facts and a give us a desire to learn them. But may these facts never be an end but rather a door to a deeper, more complete encounter with you! In Jesus…”


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