Monday, December 7, 2015

Some Answers For 'Questions Christians Have For Other Christians'

I suspect there will be plenty of posts responding to the latest Buzzfeed project from Christians who are challenging other Christians to step up their game. "I'm Christian But I'm Not…" certainly sparked a lot of conversation; "Questions Christians Have For Other Christians" looks to do the same. I'd hate to see these questions be reduced to rhetorical status, so... let's do this!

“Do you really think [Jesus is] freaking out because his name isn’t on a cup that you get to hold for ten minutes while you drink a pumpkin spice latte?”

Nope. If I had to guess (and I don’t have to, but I want to), maybe 10% of Christians initially thought this mattered, and 5% of them got talked out of it by the 90% of Christians who rolled their eyes when they saw the story cross their news feed. If this incident hadn't fit neatly into an increasingly popular cultural narrative wherein all Christians look crazy like Josh Feuerstein, this would have been a non-story.

 “Why does Christian music always sound like a mixture of Nickelback and Third Eye Blind?”

For the same reason so much non-Christian music does – it sells. And though there is definitely a lot of derivative and uninspiring music put out by Christians, there’s also needtobreathe, Switchfoot, Andy Mineo, NF, Steve Taylor, Josh Garrells, Fireflight, Flyleaf, Rend Collective, All Sons and Daughters, For King and Country, Kirk Franklin, Lecrae, August Burns Red,The Devil Wears Prada, TFKJonny Lang...

“Do devotions actually happen if you didn’t post about it on Instagram?”

Of course, but point taken.

“How come we all love Tim Tebow?”

I don't understand the fixation either, but I get why some Christians are enamored with him  -  he’s an outspoken, consistent Christian in an environment that is often sarcastic about or even hostile to his faith . (See the recent non-event that became a snarky commentary on his commitment to chastity). I do, however, wish Christians would stop acting as his professional setbacks he are connected to his faith. They aren't related. He’s just not as good of a pro footballplayer as people were hoping.

“Why can’t you just pray? Why does it have to be a prayer and then someone in the background [playing a guitar]?”

I’m with you on this one too. Music can often create an appropriate mood (and that’s not a bad thing), but I worry that music is too often used for emotional manipulation. 

“How come everyone’s still supporting Donald Trump?”

They aren’t. In fact, Carson is surging among evangelicals while Trump is dropping. However, some Christians clearly support him as a good Christian candidate. I don’t understand why. For most of his life, he has embodied many things the Christian voting block is typically against.

“How come we all love Chick-fil-A?”

Because their food is amazing. Every time I go to Chick-fil-A, it’s packed no matter what time of day. 99% of people do not make this decision in order to make a statement. They are just hungry and want good food.

“Why are we so afraid to talk about sex? Sex is good. Have you read Song of Solomon?”

The church has often been way to prudish about this issue. That is clearly changing. Just google ‘Christian books on sex and marriage.’ You will find Sacred Sex; Crazy Good Sex; Love, Sex and Lasting Relationships; Under the Sheets: The Secret To Hot Sex In Your Marriage; His Needs Her Needs; A Celebration of Sex; The Good Girl’s Guide To Great Sex; Sexperiment; Red-Hot Monogamy; and Is That All He Thinks About? to name just a few. Apparently, Solomon's Song is still being sung with gusto in quite a few Christian bedrooms. 

Full disclosure: I haven't actually read any of those books. I recommend Real Sex (Lauren Winner), Thrill of the Chaste (Dawn Eden),  The Meaning of Marriage (Tim and Kathy Keller) and The Mingling of Souls(Matt Chandler).

“Why, when Paul said we all have our own individual gifts, that we feel the need to fit into this absolutely perfect mold? That’s impossible.”

Sure, individual churches can be uptight and denominational churches are certainly more structured than non-denominational ones, but what is this impossible mold? For better or worse, there is the potential for more diversity in an American church experience than there has ever been both doctrinally and experientially. Meanwhile, your two videos have at least two million hits already; you are certainly not being crammed into a biblical box. There is at least a little bit of irony in your eclectic, diverse group complaining about this, is there not?

‘Why do you think Facebook is an appropriate place to discuss theology?’

Probably for the same reason you think Buzzfeed is the appropriate place for your video. There is an audience. It starts a discussion that might not happen otherwise. Also, Facebook is a place where people post about life. Theology is part of a Christian’s life. Why not post?

"Why are we as Christians known more by the things we hate than by our acts of love?"

That’s a problem, I agree. Some of it is based on how the media covers stories involving Christians - when’s the last time you saw prime time news run a story about the concern for backlash against the Christian community when Christians behaving badly are in the headlines?  However, the majority of the blame falls on Christians. We don’t do enough acts that embody the sacrificial love Christ has for the world.

“Why do you think Christianity and science are incompatible? If anything, science makes God look a lot cooler.”

A) I don’t, and B) I agree. Some of the greatest scientific pioneers were Christians energized by their faith. I am going to make an assumption here: you are thinking of Young Earth Creationists in particular. It’s worth noting that The National Center for Science Education estimates that only 10% of Americans are committed consistently to that position. Considering how approximately 70% of Americans claim to be Christian, that’s 1 in 7, or 14% of Christians. That’s hardly a representative sample.

“Why are you so adamant about exercising your religious freedoms but then get so offended when people of other faiths exercise their religious freedom?”

I wish so badly you had given an example here, because I am not familiar with the situations to which you are referring.

"Why do you feel like I have to be preaching constantly in order to be a good Christian? Is showing my friends love and grace not allowed to speak for itself?"

I don’t think most Christians believe you have preach constantly. Showing your friends love and grace can absolutely speak for itself at times. But not all the time, right? There is that whole Great Commission (Matthew 28) where Jesus told us we will need to preach that gospel at some point. We love to misquote St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It’s a cool (mis)quote, but it needs one more line: “And words will be necessary at some point.”

"How come there’s a church on every block, but for some reason we can’t figure out a way to work together?"

Great question. We are sinful? We are works in progress that won’t be finished on this side of heaven? Paul wrote repeatedly that a defining characteristic of the church should be unity (Ephesians 4; Philippians 1). We fail at that All. The. Time. That’s on us.

“Why is there so much racism, sexism and homophobia in the church? Galatians 3:28 says there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus. So doesn’t that pretty much tell you that none of that stuff matters?”

The context of this verse is important. Jewish men prayed a specific prayer in which they thanked God they were not a woman, a Gentile, or a slave. Paul (having been a Pharisee of the Pharisees) was well aware of this prayer, and this very particular list in Galatians 3:28 in probably a response to this spiritual and cultural elitism.  Cultural status symbols and false hierarchies were irrelevant in the face of the unity that Christ brought. The 'highest' in Jewish and Roman culture were not actually any better than the 'lowest.' Any time the church has an “- ism” that spiritually denigrates people because of sex (the men and women), social class (the slave or free), or race (the Jew or Greek), the church is clearly not honoring the biblical call to unity and equality.

Can we draw some fair conclusions about a Christian's attitude toward those who are homosexual (a category you added to the list Paul gave)? If Christians are truly homophoic ("unreasonable fear or antipathy toward homosexuals") and use a particular struggle with sin as a reason to treat people as "less than" (as you say later), they are failing to follow the clear teaching of Scripture. We are never to place ourselves on a pedestal and look down our nose in unrighteous judgment of others (Luke 18:10-14).  

"Why, when the main message of the Bible is to love one another, that we choose to do the opposite?”

Why do we choose to do the opposite? Because we are sinners, and on this side of heaven we will fail in the second greatest commandment (the first commandment being to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength). That’s why we talk about the process of sanctification. Christians are constantly seeking to be transformed into the likeness of Christ with increasing clarity.

"How come when we talk about men having many wives in the Old Testament, we talk about 'cultural context,' but when we talk about marriage today, we say it’s strictly one man and one woman?"

Because cultural context matters. Not every situation in the Bible is prescriptive; in fact, plenty of the Old Testament is simply a descriptive narrative of how messy life often is. You often see a juxtaposition of what is vs. what ought to be in the Bible. It’s part of the tension that drives the narrative. 

“Why does having a diverse group of friends make me less Christian?”

It doesn’t.

“Why does the church consider LGBT Christians as “less than.” I don’t remember there being a demographic of people that Jesus saw as ‘less than’.”

Do you mean that churches that call homosexuality sinful are treating people as “less than”? If that is the standard, then everybody in church is “less than,” since everyone gets the label "sinner" (Romans 3:23).  Do you mean Christians treat them as “less than” through meanness? Then I would agree with you. That would be a terrible failure of showing Christ’s love.

“You know all that grace and forgiveness and love we’ve all received? How come we can’t find a way to extend that to other people?”

To whatever degree it’s not being extended in the way Christ extended it to us, that’s a problem. To whatever degree grace is confused with overlooking sin, forgiveness becomes enablement, and love does not include truth, that would be a problem too.

"Why do you feel like 'love the sinner, hate the sin' is an OK thing to say? You realize that’s condescending and still separating them as an “other,” right?"

I feel like I can say that for the same reason you do. You see that’s what you did, right? Haven't you been defining "others" in a way that is condescending and separating, offering to correct their errors because you care?

I think this love sinners/hate sin tension is inevitable. We do it to ourselves, to our parents and kids, to our best of friends, right? I hate the sinful parts of me, but that doesn’t mean I hate myself. My family certain does not like everything that I do and say – they may even hate the sin that I do - yet they love me. These are not contradictory things. 

In fact, I would argue that if you don’t hate the sin you see in others, you may not love them like you think you do. If sin separates us from God and contributes to the brokenness of the world within us and around us, why would I not hate its presence wherever I see it? And wouldn’t the intensity of my love for others match the intensity with which I hate to see sin at work in them?

“Why do you think you can judge my relationship with God off of a handful of statements? What makes you decide what makes me a good Christian? Last I checked, everyone’s relationship with God is personal.”

If you would say, “I don’t believe in God,” that would be an easy statement to judge, right? If you said, “I don’t think Jesus was really God; he was just a good man,” I hope we agree that I could look at everything the Bible says about the importance of Jesus being fully God and fully man and make a reasonable judgment about that too. 

However, if you are talking about your internal experience of how you experience God, you're absolutely right. I don’t know what your relationship with God is like. The Bible warns us against judging hearts, though it does actually encourage us to observe fruits.  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). If that’s what Jesus decided it looks like to love him, I guess that's the marker for both of us about what it means to be a good (though I prefer 'dedicated' or 'comitted') Christian.

“You get mad at me for not being able to back up what I have to say, but you end up taking Scripture out of context so many times.”

I share your peeve on this one. Taking verses out of context is a huge problem in the church – like quoting Galatians 3:28 to talk about homosexuality. That kind of thing. Also, it’s good to see that we now agree that context matters! 

"In the end, the grand message here is that you’re supposed to love one another. Sorry if I sound like a Hallmark after school special, but it’s the truth."

That is clearly an important command in the Bible, but it’s not the Grand Message. The Grand Message is the Christ came to save the world. The Great Commandment is to love God. The Great Commission is to preach the gospel. 

However, love for others is a crucial expression of the love Christ has for us, as well as a way in which we show our love for God. We agree on that. Just be sure you use that phrase within the context of the entirety of the Biblical discussion. Without the truly Grand Message of Scripture to provide a richer, deeper context for what the love of God looks like, we won’t know how to rightly show that love to others.