Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I do not like your Christians

I'm finding no shortage of great reading related to matters of faith and post-modernism. In case you hadn't noticed, that seems to be where most of my thoughts have been of late.
Right now, I'm reading “The emerging church” by Dan Kimball, with insights and comments by a number of savvy individuals. The book is already 6 years old, but is still light years ahead of much Christian writing. I don't necessarily see eye to eye with everything he says, maybe because I don't think he goes far enough, but it's definitely adding to my understanding of postmodernism.
I've just finished a chapter called 'I like Jesus, but I don't like Christians', and I think I have months of blogworthy material!

Kimball starts this chapter with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi:
“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

He then gives several responses from interviews with university students. He asked them two questions:
“What comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus?”
--Jesus was beautiful.
--I want to be like Jesus.
--Jesus was a liberator of women.
--I want to be a follower of Jesus.
These are some wonderful, positive responses from people who would not presently be considered followers of Christ.
Then the second question:
“What comes to your mind when you hear the word Christian?”
--I would want to be a Christian, but I have never met one.
--Christians are dogmatic and closed-minded.
--Christians are supposed to be loving, but I've never met any who are.
--Christians should be taken outside and shot.

Why do so many people have a great view of Christ, but so negative a view of Christians?
Don't blame it on the high-profile scandals of a few Christian leaders. That is a very small part of the whole picture.
Another small part would be the portrayal of Christians on TV and in the movies (almost always unflattering, to say the least).
We tend to point at those influences on society as a whole and think that Joe Q. Public's negative view of Christians is based on those stereotypical Christians.
Not so fast, grasshopper!
I think that most negative impressions of followers of Christ are based on personal experience. One way or another, many people have had some connection with a Christian. Perhaps someone at work, or on the street, or a preacher on TV. And that interaction has not been good.
In other words, the biggest problem with how people view Christians is us. 'They' see 'us' and when they do, they don't see much of Jesus.
In a nutshell, we aren't even close to living up to the mandate of living like Christ. How often have we heard people talk about hypocrites in the church, and all we can do is make excuses.

Kimball quotes a couple more people. Scott Stapp of Creed:
“I became disillusioned by a lot of things that happened to me by Christian people.”

Rick Levin, a journalist covering a large Christan music festival:
“I have a hard time locating any similarities between what Jesus says and does, and what the people—in particular the organizers—[at this festival] said and did. Jesus is a beacon of righteousness who leads the way through a dark world to eternal peace, love, and eternal salvation; the Jesus of [the festival] is a blue-light special, pointing you to the quick fix of a righteous bargain in the shopping mall of endless consumption.
These two versions of Christ, and the premises they entail, are antithetical. They negate one another, leading me to a very unsettling, unpleasant conclusion [about the festival]: It was, in the end, a very un-Christian affair.”

The best quote in the chapter is a sidenote by Sally Morganthaler (one of the 'savvy individuals' who added their insights to Kimball's manuscript.
“We need to stay true to who God is and what God has done as revealed in scripture. But doctrine alone is not enough; lived doctrine will make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness in the spiritual landscape, whether we're wanting to reach adults or teens. The postmodern, post-Christian world is relational to the core. It is much more interested in matters of being than simply knowing. As Christians, the most difficult thing about this new world is that we are no longer going to be able to impact the world by just spouting our theology. We're going to have to live it out—radically.”

I think Sally's comment is easily evidenced in people's distaste for the Christianity of televangelists known for their hateful rhetoric, and their love of people like Mother Theresa—because they know she truly was living like Jesus—and the same isn't necessarily true of many of the rest of us, whether preachers, TV orators, and average Joe's.
It's time to practice what we claim to believe.
My own experience bears this out. There are two things that I have come to believe very strongly, and these have gone a long way to earn some 'street cred', and start to undo some of the negative 'Christian baggage' being carried by many people:
--a desire to dialogue and discuss rather than push dogma, and
--a consistent involvement in a local downtown street ministry.
I'm far from perfect, but those two steps toward living and loving like Jesus have opened doors that would otherwise be firmly and permanently closed.
Now, let's all go and be true disciples (followers) of Jesus.


Ed said...

My hero is Mother Theresa and love what Ghandi did for his country. I think that India is a really cool country. Agree with your intentionality about living Christ.........not pushing but loving. Thats not like me and its hard, it pushes my 'comfort'. God, I desire to have your heartbeat.

Matthew said...

I think it's moving past our love for "right-belief" and moving forward with "loving compassion." Our faith has turned into a final exam. Polling the masses about how old the earth is, what view of atonement is correct, predestination, etc. A lot of areas at which the Bible is grey on. Love your post and your writings. I will be visiting this blog frequently. Keep it up Al!

Peter said...

Great post, Al. I'm not a big fan of Kimball, because I think he's too formulaic. But I appreciate your reflections here.

And ultimately, I do appreciate Kimball's core theme in "They Like Jesus But Not The Church." Just that. We have a problem. And changing our "advertising" or getting better PR isn't going to help, because the fact of the matter is: we aren't changed people (corporately). And if Christianity can't produce changed people, then our product is falsely advertised.


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