I recently read something titled What if Jesus Meant All that Stuff?. It was a letter addressed to unbelievers, and can be found here
Two things caught my attention. The first part was this: I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.
The apology is nice, and I've seen this in other areas, basically structured the same. The acknowledgment that some Christians have behaved in less than stellar ways, and the damage that caused, is appreciated. But there comes a point at which apologies lose sincerity. If someone has punched me in the face ten separate times, and has apologized each of those times, the apology becomes meaningless by the third time or so. If you're truly that sorry, stop engaging in the behavior that leads you to keep apologizing in the first place. Apologies need to be followed up with a clear demonstration of a commitment to avoid the behavior. Otherwise, the apology just becomes a "get out of jail free" card.
The second section that caught my attention: For those of you who are on a sincere spiritual journey, I hope that you do not reject Christ because of Christians. We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name.
This strikes me as right along the same lines of telling non-Christians to look to God, not to Christians. But based on Biblical claims, that doesn't fly with me.
Say we're all told about a weight loss pill. This pill guarantees that anyone who tries it will lose weight. No exceptions. When 100 people actually try the pill, it turns out that 40 people have not lost any weight. 40%. When we question the pill makers on this 40% -- who demonstrate that the claim about the pill doesn't match the results we've all witnessed -- we're told that we can't look to the people to see the results. We have to look at the pill. Don't reject this pill because of those who used it. Base your encounter with the pill on the pill itself.
The reason why those interested in the pill looked to those who tried the pill is because the whole way the pill was described was by its reaction to people. The only way we could look at the pill, evaluate the claims of the pill, was by how it affected people.
And it's the same with God. No, God isn't the same as a pill, He's not designed or created to serve a need for people ... but He is described as someone who makes the old man new, who rescues people from their sin, someone who lives inside His children as the Holy Spirit, someone who departs fruits to His followers -- these followers that we're supposed to be able to identify by how they love each other.
All of those are claims about how God influences the very people He created. In order to see how well those claims stand up to reality, we have to look at the people themselves. The people are the results, and the results are what everyone wants to see. They want to see the validation of the claims themselves.
Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the afterlife, but too often all the church has done is promise the world that there is life after death and use it as a ticket to ignore the hells around us. I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down. It was Jesus who taught us to pray that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." On earth.