What’s wrong with Christianity? No, this is not a Rhetorical Question!

I’ve got lots of friends on Facebook (ok, 108 seems like a lot to me), who hold many different spiritual perspectives, so I’m asking the question:  What is wrong with Christianity?  And yes, I really, truly am looking for responses!

What do I mean?  I’ve just spent the past 90 minutes reading several different Christian leadership blogs that posit different perspectives on why people are rejecting Christianity in our nation.  This is a real phenomenon, and Christian leaders are concerned about it, but can’t agree on why people are rejecting it.  The arguments span the entire spectrum, and I’m at a loss for legitimate answers (I’m sure the problem is complex enough that there’s more than one reason).  While our culture is more spiritual than it has been in generations, fewer and fewer people in the US are Christian, or claim to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Here’s my very sincere request:  In the spirit of the quote at the top of this page, I really want to understand.  I’m not asking to start a debate, or to try to start a dialog so I can proselytize.  No tricks, no traps, honest.  I really want to know:  What is it about Christianity that turns you away (assuming you’re not actively following Christ)?  I sincerely ask, because I desperately want to understand, and I just don’t get it.  I’m admittedly late to the party (as a follower of Christ), but I’ve studied Christianity, and it makes sense to me.  I don’t understand why it doesn’t to others.  And I’d really appreciate it if you’d help me understand.  So please, take a minute or two to comment.  You can either reply to the blog (anonymously if you’d like), or as a comment on the Facebook thread, or even in a PM to me on Facebook.  But I’d really appreciate some feedback.

Thanks!

 

Pastors say some dumb things…

Just read a tweet by a pastor that I follow, that says “journalistic integrity is an oxymoron.”  As the father of a son of the highest integrity, who’s also a journalist, this kind of statement gets my back up.  Painting an entire profession with this broad of a brush is just plain foolish… like saying “professional athletes have no integrity” or “pastors have no integrity.”Here’s the problem, for any of you pastors who might be reading this:  This is not the first time I’ve heard a pastor slam journalists in their public statements (whether from the pulpit, or through written means).  Problem is, some of you don’t realize you’ve got journalists in your audience.  How welcome are you going to feel belonging to a “family” where the leaders denigrate your profession?

Wouldn’t it be better if we had even more Christian journalists (there’s already a bunch of them–surprised?)?  How crazy would that be?  But if you keep slamming journalists from your pulpit, your youth that are listening are either going to choose another career field because you’ve turned them off, or their going to choose that career field, and leave their church behind, so they don’t have to hear pastors (and other church leaders) bash their chosen profession.

Guess what?  Pretty much any profession out there today has an integrity problem.  The problem’s not in the profession, it’s in our world.  The WORLD has an integrity problem!  So, why don’t you start preaching about integrity, instead of railing against a stereotype?

Adopt a stance of MISSION vs. ADMONITION

In this article, John Dickson provides an insightful approach to the ongoing discussion of how Christians can have a meaningful impact in the world around us.  The Church in Secular Culture | Leadership Journal.

He describes the “admonition paradigm” as churches and Christians speaking “with a sense of entitlement… You’ll want to strike back.  And people will think you’re arrogant.  Quite right, probably.”

We can’t go back to the good old days, whatever we believe them to be.  We’ve got to live in the culture we’re in, even if that’s a “post-Christian” culture.  If we’re truly living Christ-like lives, that shouldn’t be a problem.  The disciples didn’t have 200, or 2000 years of Christian influence to rely upon in their efforts to advance the Kingdom, so why should we?

Ed Stetzer – Rick Warren Interview on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions (Responding to Recent News Reports)

Ed Stetzer – Rick Warren Interview on Muslims, Evangelism & Missions (Responding to Recent News Reports).

Good read.  Lots of noise again about Rick Warren and his allegedly compromising his Christian beliefs.

I really like some of the statements about people failing to check the facts, but my favorite quote is this one:

Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

I missed the original hoopla, but I believe the negative response falls into the category of a failure to “Seek 1st to understand…”

Why are we all in such a hurry to judge, that we don’t first take the time to gather enough evidence to understand what happened?

Stop being binary!

The binary number system, made of two digits, o and 1, is the very basis for the computing power sitting in front of you, whether you’re reading this on your desktop or your smartphone.  I’m only smart enough with the binary number system to be able to laugh at the math-geek t-shirts that say “1 + 1 = 10”, and to be thankful that we don’t have to be able to actually use the binary system to make our computers and smartphones work.  But I do understand that binary as it applies to computers has to do with switching, either something is on or it is off.  There’s no in-between.

A lot of my studying lately has led me to a frustrating realization that too many Christians, from pew-sitters to theological heavy hitters, are living in a binary, either-or world.  It seems that no matter what the issue, there appears to be two sides, with a crisp, clean dividing line that separates them, and no room for people like me to either straddle the line, or more preferably to live on the line, exploiting the opportunity to embrace the best of both poles.

I think this polarized, yes/no, left/right, on/off attitude is a byproduct of the world we live in (Aaaughhhh!  He just said the church is influenced by the world–may it never be!).

  • Should we be culturally relevant, or hold to our traditional ways?
  • Should we be “seeker-friendly” or doctrinally sound?
  • Should we preach the gospel, or show compassion to the world?
  • Predestination or free will?
  • Faith or works?

OK, some of these are recognizably  false dichotomies (at least to me), while others might just get me branded as a heretic for even presenting them as anything other than truth/lie.  But the truth in many of these seeming opposites is that there is great opportunity to have a “yes, and” relationship!

I like the editorial in the recent Leadership Journal by Drew Dyck, where he speaks of Clark Blakeman’s desire for “Biblical Symmetry.”  Why can’t we preach the gospel AND do acts of compassion in our community?  I personally know of a great man of God who makes those who are curiously seeking something, maybe not even specifically Jesus, feel right at home, all the while preaching powerful, doctrinally sound, messages that in no way compromise the Gospel.

Are there absolutes in Scripture?  Absolutely!  But not everything is.  Is there a better way?  Is there an opportunity to find a beautiful, complex, multiplying tension between the two poles that in fact creates something more powerful than either extreme?

More on Compassion

Still ruminating (what an excellent word!  Look it up, especially the etymology, or verse 2 here) on the conference from last week.  While some might write it off as heightened awareness (what our family calls the Red Volkswagen Syndrome-right after we bought a red VW Beetle, we saw red VW Beetles everywhere) I’m going to take the risk of being labeled hyper-spiritual and claim that I see signs of God moving in the area of compassionate Christianity.

It starts with the fact that even before I knew about the conference last week, God was making me painfully aware of both a persistent and growing problem, and an obvious, Biblical solution.  The problem is what I will inadequately describe as the growing irrelevance to our world, at least from society’s perspective.  We don’t have anything to offer to society–that they can see.  If you have no clue that you’re “lost”, why would you be looking for “salvation?”  Studies of postmodern worldviews (we’re there, might as well stop fighting it, and learn to function in it) indicate that people today aren’t near as interested in what you think as they are in what you do.  So a church that expounds flawless theology, but doesn’t show any signs of making a real difference by living out love, doesn’t mean much to them.

Which brings me to my solution–OK, it’s certainly not my solution, it’s Jesus’ solution, but I can now see it–the Church needs to start loving!  How radical is that?!

Which gets me back to the point:  As this thought was starting to form in my own mind and studies, my wife pops up, out of the blue, and asks if I want to go to Baton Rouge, in two weeks.  Pretty random, but sure!  If nothing else, Louisiana in February has to be warmer than Alaska in February.  That’s when she told me about the Greater Things Conference.  “Hmm, kinda ties in with what I’ve been thinking on anyway.  It’ll be cool to get together with a handful of other folks thinking on the same thing.”  Fast forward two weeks, with over a thousand folks all in Baton Rouge in response to a call from God to love people through concrete, life-changing means!

We arrived home Friday night, and I received my first issue of the Leadership Journal.  It’s the Outreach Issue!  Then Sunday morning in worship, a team of college students from Central Bible College in Springfield are visiting to do ministry during their spring break, and they put on a powerful drama about Jesus helping break the bondage of addiction, abuse, and other hurts.  Coincidence?  Only if you don’t believe that God has a plan!

I’m excited–God’s moving, and his people are getting on board!  And, at the same time, we get to help those people who our world is running over, or casting aside.  You know, the ones Jesus kept loving on while the religious leaders were teaching theology?

I’m going to keep ruminating on what this means in my life, how I walk it out.  But our communities need us, and we can’t keep hiding in our Christian enclaves, waiting for Jesus to come.  He just might be waiting to come until we’ve brought more citizens into his Kingdom!

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. -1 John 3:17-18 

Suspend disbelief

I had a boss who had a great way of challenging our thinking, to get us to stop restricting possibilities with our preconceived ideas: he would ask us to “suspend disbelief.”. Not blindly conform to conditioned structures, and just as validly to not conform to unexamined pronouncements. Instead, he invited us to approach ideas with skepticism, but forbade cynicism.

I like that distinction. Skepticism invites healthy exploration-it says “this may or may not be true, let’s explore it more.” Cynicism says “there’s no way this can be true, exploring it is a waste of time.”. Skepticism approaches the unknown or unproven objectively; cynicism builds an all but insurmountable wall of negativity in front of any consideration.

Note too that skepticism is not blindly following, but instead objectively considering the possibilities.

Being a Sheep

Observations whilerunning with my pack (flock?)
 I run with my twolarge dogs.  Not as often as I should, oras they would like, but I do.  As we wereout for our run this morning, I was thinking, and noticing things.  First, my two dogs are rather exuberant whenwe start out.  They really don’t want tofollow my lead, but would rather run ahead. That causes problems, because when I’m not in front, they tend to missthe turns, and get their leads really tangled up, sometimes causing one or moreof us to slip and fall in the snow.  Whenthey’re following well, they  run withtheir shoulders right next to my thigh. They can sense when I slow down, speed up, or change direction; evenwhen I alert on some sort of perceived threat. We move almost as one.

Now, when they perceive a threat,whether it’s a moose, another dog, or a trash can (what can I say, the GreatDane can’t see too well in the dark) they tend to take their eyes off me, andstart focusing on the threat.  If I don’tget them refocused quickly, they start veering off toward the threat, creatingthe same problem discussed above.  Theycan even start pulling me off course. But, if they stay focused on me, we generally run right by the waywardtrash can, or I deal with the loose dog, and our little pack is safe.

 So what, yousay?  Well, I see a broaderapplication.  Excuse me while I changemetaphors, from a pack to a flock.  Manypundits, bloggers, and commenters on the internet news pages like to use themetaphor of sheep to refer to people today, particularly those who aren’talarmed by the threat that the writer sees. “Sheeple” has become a derogatory term for those in societywho aren’t alarmed by the threat so obvious to the writer.  “I don’twant to be a sheep! ” Sheep are dumb, blindly following theshepherd, and easily led astray.  Theyhave no real individual defensive capability, and are only really safe frompredators when pressed tightly together in the flock, and when being protectedby the shepherd.
 Unfortunately, Jesuscalls us sheep.  His sheep.  He uses this metaphor a lot, and says he isour Shepherd.
 So what does being asheep have to do with running with my dogs? Well, while I was running with my “pack,” I was considering aflock and how it behaves.  I won’t even pretendto be an expert on sheep behavior, but I have observed flocks before, and I’vegot Google.
 First, a flockfollowing their shepherd tend to bunch pretty closely together.  Even those sheep on the outside edges,farthest away from the shepherd, know where to go, because the flock tends tobecome one contiguous mass.  Those on theedge press in to those closer in, much like my dogs do when they’re followingwell.  When threats appear, they tend topress in even closer, trying to draw closer to their shepherd, and listeningfor his voice.  If those sheep on thefringe of the flock, instead of drawing closer, focus instead on the threat,they will tend to veer away from the flock, and toward the threat.  This is exactly what a predator wants–todistract the sheep from the flock, causing it to take its eyes and ears off theshepherd, and to stray away from the safety of the flock, becoming easy prey.
Jesus says his sheepfollow him because they know his voice. But what if the sheep, instead of focusing on him, are bleating aboutthe threat?  Loud noises frighten sheep!  I imagine those closest to him may still beable to hear his voice over the cacophony of the flock, but those sheep on thefringe, farthest from him, and also most vulnerable to the predator, may not beable to hear over the noise.

I think it’s time for Christians to start acting like the sheep we are supposedto be.  We are defenseless, other than bystaying in our flock.  We’re not supposedto fight against the predator, but to stay close to the Shepherd.  Quit fixating on the predator, and stopbleating.  We might still be able to hear him, butothers in the flock might not.  Ourcarrying on about the threat may be what panics them, causes them to losefocus, to run.  Our lack of trust andfocus might be the very thing that makes the predator successful in taking ourlambs.

If you’re scared, oruncertain, or worried about the predators lurking in the shadows, press in alittle tighter to the flock, and listen for the Shepherd.

Even though I walk through the valley of theshadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and staff, they comfort me. – Psalm23:4

Watch how you say it

1st Century Palestine was governed by a harsh, pagan dictatorship, bent on taking advantage of the people they governed, extracting their resources and wealth for the good of the central government in Rome, and oppressing the local people to ensure they did not rise up and revolt against the government. The Romans tolerated religion only insofar as it yielded ultimately to the ultimate form of power, the worship of Caesar as lord.

In this political environment lived a small group of men who worshiped the one true God. They studied the Scriptures, and observed every command to the extreme, exhorting all around them to do the same. These men longed for the Palestine of centuries past, when the people lived under a government loyal to God, and the king was a “man after God’s own heart.” These men even studied the Scriptures to more fully understand the prophecies of the Messiah, the one who was to come and establish God’s kingdom on earth, longing for the day when they could throw off the bondage of the pagan dictatorship and live under the authority of a government based on Godly principles.

Another group of men in Palestine did not revolt against the Roman government, they embraced it, allying with the pagans in their attempt to extract wealth from the locals. These “publicans” gathered the taxes from the local residents on behalf of the Roman government, and collected a little (or a lot) extra for the purpose of building their own personal wealth. The historical record reveals that the former group treated the publicans with unbridled contempt, despising them for their moral compromise of Scriptural principles for economic gain.

Against this backdrop, the Son of Man, the Holy One of God whom the Scriptures foretold, taught of the coming Kingdom of God which He himself was establishing. He spent a lot of time with both of the aforementioned groups, speaking to and about each, often in earshot of the other. Of one group he spoke with mercy, often citing them in his stories of God’s love and forgiveness. Of one he spoke harshly and contemptuously, unapologetically offending them in his scathing criticism of their use of position to selfishly advance their own interests.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)

Jesus did not approve of the actions of the publicans (tax collectors). One can be certain that he despised their sins, as God despises all sin. But Scripture reveals that Jesus only spoke with open contempt and criticism of one group of people: those who took pride in their own righteousness and condemned others for not meeting their religious standards; of this group his condemnation is unvarnished and explicit (cf. Matt 23).

I relate all of this, not to judge the speech or motives of others, but to make the point that Jesus was VERY selective in how he spoke of his fellow man. In his teachings he speaks very strongly against adultery (Matt 5:27-30). But when he speaks to or about adulteresses, he speaks with mercy and compassion (See John 4). We (I am first among the “we”) should be of like mind.

Today wraps up our vacation at Disneyworld, which bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth” and the place “Where All Your Dreams Come True.” it’s neither. Don’t get me wrong…I had a great time, but it was because I was here with my wife and daughter. That’s my Happiest Place on Earth-where my family is.

This place also made me think. I posted earlier about the riches spent to build this place. It IS impressive. We’re watching the nighttime parade at the Magic Kingdom. The showmanship, attention to detail, and excellence exhibited by the Disney organization should inspire each of us in our own jobs. I know–we’d all work hard and settle for nothing less than excellence if we worked at Disneyworld. Wrong! Some of these tourists are NOT happy–they’re downright mean and angry! But the “cast” always responds cheerfully. I wish I always had that attitude at work.

The design and engineering are also amazing! If you pay attention, you notice all sorts of details that make this place beyond the ordinary. In Animal Kingdom, the concrete paths look like real dirt trails, right down to the boot prints and bike tracks formed into it. They do the little things with excellence, not just the big things.

However, in the end, the experience left me feeling unfulfilled. I’ve wanted to go to Disneyworld since it opened. I imagined it to be magical. It’s not. It’s…nice. But for me, it’s turned into a metaphor for all the temporal things that we desire…Disneyworld as kids, and later cars, money, jobs, power, or prestige as adults. IF we ever attain them, we realize they aren’t all we imagined. We wind up unfulfilled. Like King Solomon said (a man who had it ALL by any measure of worldly success):

“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

In the end, I agree with Solomon. Theres only one thing in this life that brings true fulfillment. If you don’t want to read his whole treatise on the emptiness of worldly success, you can skip to the ending, at Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Excuse me now while I watch the fireworks.