Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I suppose we could say the letter is addressed to me ...

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.

20 comments:

Laura said...

I LOVE your pill analogy.

And I think that letter might work for people who aren't Christians just because they are mad or hurt, but that doesn't describe most atheists. Most people who are mad or hurt say something like, "I believe in God, but I'm not a fan of organized religion." But atheists tend to have more intellectual issues.

atimetorend said...

I read that article about a week ago and remember being disappointed after reading the leader about being to those who don't believe. Because it doesn't seem to introduce and ends up with the same necessity of belief without supporting it in any better way. So it just sounds like more hollow apologetics to my ear, even if it does say some good things too.

Perhaps at the end of the day a lot of people do not evaluate what they believe critically and leave the church disenchanted but unbelieving, so someone like Claiborne can speak to them.

Anonymous said...

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.

I like this thought!

OneSmallStep said...

Laura,

**I LOVE your pill analogy.**

Thanks!

**Most people who are mad or hurt say something like, "I believe in God, but I'm not a fan of organized religion." But atheists tend to have more intellectual issues.**

I've been wondering recently if anger/hurt could be considered an intellectual issue. Yes, I'm appalled by some of the behavior I've seen -- and have even had hurtful encounters with Christians I consider friends. But that behavior might lead someone to say that they don't wish to be a Christian because they feel it would make their own behavior worse, and they reached this through a process of analysis.

OneSmallStep said...

Atimetorend,

**So it just sounds like more hollow apologetics to my ear, even if it does say some good things too.**

That, and I remember him commenting on the street corner preacher, about how everyone was going to die, and we'd all go to hell unless we know Jesus.

The author of the letter wished the preacher would stop talking, and the author wanted to yell about how God wasn't a monster.

But ... if the author believes in the afterlife, and hopes his friend doesn't go to hell (and can't say his friend *isn't* going to hell precisely because his friend doesn't know Jesus) ... then what was the preacher doing wrong?

The preacher's behavior wasn't making the message repulsive. The message itself made the message repulsive. Yet the author of the letter acted like the whole problem was with the packaging the message came in.

Xander said...

Until you can get all offending Christians to stop acting out, the point is useless.

Would a black man apologize if you were assaulted by another black
man?

I guess Muslims apologized for the terrorist actions, but the damage was already done.

The thought was nice though.

atimetorend said...

"The preacher's behavior wasn't making the message repulsive. The message itself made the message repulsive. Yet the author of the letter acted like the whole problem was with the packaging the message came in."

Yes, exactly! You put that well.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

I don't think you can use the analogy with the black man, though. A Christian apologizing for another Christian isn't the same as a person of one race apologizing for someone of the same race. Simply because they have the same skin color doesn't mean they have the same anything else.

Whereas with Christians, they do claim to follow someone who establishes moral guidelines, who claim that God is working on their sin. There's supposed to be similar behavior.

Xander said...

I know it is an over simplification of the situation, but it is a similar situation. One Christian, who has no control of another, apologizes for their behavior and actions. The Christian apologizing can’t stop someone else from claiming Christianity, so they are forced to deal with the repercussions of the name. They can change their name from Christian to I follow the real God worshipper, but someone else can like that name and take it too. So regardless they are forced to be grouped together. A person who has been attacked by a Christian repeatedly will look at another Christian as if they were a part of the attack.

The black man can’t change his color or the color of the person who attacked you, so they are forced to deal with the repercussions that other people of his race have caused. If you are white and someone from another race says your people have oppressed their people, how do you respond to that? You didn’t do it, but that doesn’t matter. You are still guilty in their eyes.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

The difference, though, is that telling me someone is of a certain skin color tells me nothing about them, other than their skin color. (Though this would vary depending on what country we're discussing). It doesn't tell me about their personality, what God they worship, their morals, what choices they might make.

Whereas telling me someone is a Christian or Muslim does give me an insight into what to expect. I know about the God they worship. I can look to the Bible or the Koran to get an idea of what behavior I should expect. If someone claims to love and follow Jesus, I can look to the Bible to get a very good idea of what to expect. By calling themselves a Christian or Muslim, they've given me a set of perceptions to place upon them. By calling themselves white, they've given me a description of their skin color.

Where is the similar thing to look at if given someone's skin color?

societyvs said...

I know Shane Clairborne somehow - no sure how though?

Either way, it's a nice attempt but it's meaningless...he cannot apologize on the behalf of others for things he has not down to offend another...it doesn't mean much.

I applaude his efforts to show that Christianity does have humility in it - grand - but his claims after that really cast shadows upon his own version of the faith.

For example, he says "We have always been a messed-up bunch, and somehow God has survived the embarrassing things we do in His name." He couldn't take the obvious selling point of 'we will help you transform your life for the better'...he almost admits being a Christian or not is about the same (behavior wise). What's the selling point of joining the faith if this is the case?

I always go for things that offer me something...eternal life is good - but what about now? Am I still going to be a messed up human being now that is in struggle with basic common decency? What does faith actually promise?

Xander said...

I was thinking racism as a similarity; people judged solely on outward appearance and prior experiences with people who are the of the same race. My thought on similarity is that the person is automatically judged based on prior experiences with the similar group. My mistake. Might have been better if I said someone who is from Germany or Thailand.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**he almost admits being a Christian or not is about the same (behavior wise). What's the selling point of joining the faith if this is the case?**

I hadn't even noticed that. Which would then lead to the question of if being a Christian is the same behavior-wise as not being a Christian, then how convincing is it to say that one is convinced the Gospel has just as much to do with bringing God's Kingdom to Earth?

I always go for things that offer me something...eternal life is good - but what about now? Am I still going to be a messed up human being now that is in struggle with basic common decency? What does faith actually promise?

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

**My mistake. Might have been better if I said someone who is from Germany or Thailand.**

Ah. I follow you now. Or maybe someone who is from Japanese and someone who was held prisoner by then in WWII, or even fought them in WWII, and they might be a lot more likely to judge everyone of that race based on the actions of the soldiers.

Though I can see the use in acknowledging the wrongs done based on your group. Like in the US history. While none of us had any part in what happened to Native Americans, or in slavery, or in child labor, it can help heal things when people acknowledge the wrongs a country has done. Is there a way to acknowledge the wrongs without saying that we are responsible?

Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xander said...

Maybe that is how the Christian apology should go.

I am sorry for the abuse and hatred you have felt at the hands of Christians. There treatment of you was and is wrong.

Apologize without having to defend their position. That might be what that guy did wrong. The hard part about the apology is that the abusive action hasn’t stopped. Hard to make an apology when you have to add, I wish I could say it was over, but they are still out there.

OneSmallStep said...

Kay,

**If I self identify as Christian, do you really know about the God I worship because of the Bible?**

Would I know the complete theology if they just identified as Christian? No. But I'd have a very good general idea, regardless of what parts of the Bible they follow more than others. For instance, I would know the God they follow is One God (regardless of how mushy the concept of the Trinity makes the "one" concept get). I'd know they weren't worshiping a tree, I'd know it would be a God related to some form of eternal life. I'd know Jesus played a key role, as does the crucifixion and resurrection, and some sort of reconciliation to God. Now, the Christian labeling themselves as conservative or liberal would narrow it even more. But just by calling themselves Christian, I'd have a general idea.

**And so when you look to those Christians to see the results of their pill usage, you don't see what you might see if they had actually swallowed the pill Shane did.**

I don't know ... I wonder if Shane would say the pills are really that separate, given what Society noticed, in that God still does good things even though people still screw up. It sounded like he was grouping himself in with the different pill takers.

Of course, had he separated himself from the others and gone with the "not true Christian" route, my blog commentary would've picked up on that. ;)

Lorena said...

Yeah! The Realtor rarely sells a house, but it isn't his fault at all, no. The house sellers have a problem.

I think I stopped being a Christian when I got tired of finding excuses for the absence and failure of God as portrayed in the Bible.

Xander said...

Lorena,

Out of curiosity, how was God absent for you? I ask because I have seen people talk about their loosing faith because God doesn’t show up, but I never fully understand how they expected God to show up.

Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.