When Christian “Answers” Are Too Simplistic


Many Christians are talking about what it means to be radical for Jesus. You’re either caught in the hellbound grip of the comfortable American Dream, or you give it all up to follow the Lord and therefore gain eternal life as a true disciple.

Alex and Bree are a young couple who read David Platt’s book Radical and decided they could no longer live the complacent hipster lifestyle they’d adopted. They sold their townhouse, quit their jobs as a videogame designer and a florist, and moved to Uganda, where they now serve as missionaries, working in an orphanage.

Rob and Tiffani, on the other hand, go to the same church as Alex and Bree once did. Tiffani works as a paralegal but is saving money to attend law school one day. After work, she holds down a second job as a waitress at an upscale restaurant, where Rob is one of the cooks and has a small vested interest in the restaurant as a limited partner. Both spend most of their day working, collapsing into bed at 10 p.m. each night. Neither has much time for church activities, but they are there in the seats every Sunday morning.

Alex and Bree versus Rob and Tiffani. Which couple is truly radical for Jesus?

What if you knew that Rob and Tiffani are the major dollar donors that make it possible for Alex and Bree to stay in Uganda? What if you knew that Tiffani works her second job solely to ensure that money keeps going to Alex and Bree?

Who is radical for Jesus now?

I don’t know about you, but I’m bored with facile arguments from within the Christian community. Most of the situations we set up to illustrate “Bible truths” are so disconnected from most people’s lives as to be utterly useless. No one can argue against them because they are so simplistic and obvious.

But people’s lives are not so easily measured. And what folks do with those lives is more complex than the simplistic bins we want to file them in.

I think that one reason that Christianity is suffering some losses in the United States is that smart people can see through the oversimplifications we sometimes hold out as “truth” on Sunday mornings. We attempt to take Scripture and shoehorn it into our perception of “genuine Christian living” only to find out that result leaves something to be desired—at least it does for those folks who think hard about implications.

Einstein: Duh!The problem is that not enough Christian leaders think about implications. Doesn’t matter what the topic is, they stay on the surface and then try to sell their biblical solution as the only way.

In the case of Rob and Tiffani, I think a lot of Christian leaders who ascribe to the new radicalism would condemn them  as not being radical enough. But what those leaders never consider is how folks like Rob and Tiffani are the ones who make it possible for others to pursue the kind of radical faith that the leaders hold up as necessary. Such is true in a lot of cases. People living a supposedly “self-centered, American Dream life” wind up funding big chunks of ministry because of the fact they ARE living according to the system. Take away the Robs and Tiffanis of the world, and you get a lot fewer Alexes and Brees as a result.

It’s not just that illustration I raise, either. Thousands of other cases exist that don’t fit our facile arguments of what genuine discipleship and commitment look like in real life.

More than ever, we need Christian leaders who go deeper. Not just deeper in Jesus, but deeper into the complex problems that face modern America.

Because I have to say that we are doing a terrible job communicating the essence of real discipleship to real people. Our answers are too simpleminded and not well considered. Living for Jesus doesn’t just mean handing out food to the homeless. Sometimes it means tackling entire systems of thought and redeeming them in Jesus name. Sadly, because we avoid the tougher problems in favor of the easy ones, our efforts are a figurative Band-Aid on a severed limb, and we pat ourselves on the back for what we label “radical ministry.”

Church, we have to do better. And doing better is going to ask more of us. And what is asked of us is going to be more complex than what we’re hearing from the pulpit on Sundays IF Christian leaders start examining what goes on beneath the veneer of real discipleship.

What is the radical Christian life? It’s not always the Alex and Bree response. Sometimes, it’s asking the harder question and then doing something about it.

What Is the “World System”? And Why Should Christians Be Wary of It?


Earth from Apollo 17I’ve been reading the New Testament out loud with my son this summer. We are working  through each book in as large a chunk as we can so that we retain the original intentions of the writers.

One of the things I’ve noticed more deeply as we’ve moved rapidly from epistle to epistle is that most every writer warns believers about the world system. We all know that warning exists, but a quick move from one book to another really drives home that these writers were deeply concerned about that world system and how it negatively impacts the Christian life.

Here is a classic example of such a warning, but in a slightly different translation (J.B. Phillips’s New Testament in Modern English, the one we are reading) than some are used to:

Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die.
— 1 John 2:15-17 (NTME)

We tend to make the world system in that verse into little more than some bad things that we shouldn’t do, usually associated with the “flesh” and any sin that directly proceeds from our physical bodies. Today, abortion, sex outside marriage, and homosexuality would immediately be lumped into that world system as things we Christians should avoid—and rightfully so.

But that’s too simplistic an understanding of the world system. The NT writers ask for us to be wary of much deeper issues.

My question for readers:

What parts of our daily existence do we NOT question

as to their place in the present world system?

Is it possible that Christians make peace with parts of that world system because those parts make us comfortable? How much of daily living in the United States circa 2013 embraces the world system without our acknowledgment—or our ire?

Given how often the NT writers address this issue (a brief overview of which can be found through Xenos Christian Fellowship), are we paying less attention to it than we should? And if so, what do we do about correcting that lack?

Your thoughts and insights are greatly appreciated.

The Problem with Christian Criticism


Recently, I wrote “Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian.” In it, I noted that too often we lack the facts to comment and should probably, in humility, refrain from adding our two cents.

Seems some may consider me part of the problem. 😉

At Christianity Today, Rachel Marie Stone, in her “Why Criticism Belongs in the Christian Blogosphere,” argues the merits of Christian opinion. She equates it to iron sharpening iron, and she wonder how it is that Christians are refraining from offering much-needed criticism.

I would like to offer my answer.

1. Many people are tired of angry discourse on the Internet. It doesn’t seem as if anyone has enough couth to criticize without resorting to sinful expressions of anger and resentment. Stone notes her own criticism of others has often resulted in ad hominem counterattacks. Well, yeah. That’s where we Americans are in 2013. Still, some thoughtful people—thankfully—are tiring of this.

2. Our critical vision as Christians is too small. Nearly all criticism by Christians on the Web is directed at individuals rather than at systems. Problem is, it’s mostly the systems mucking up everything. While it is much easier to criticize individuals, doing so rarely changes anything on a larger scale, because the power of that larger scale is not in individuals but in systems.

3. Systems are ridiculously hard to address. Criticizing the guy next door for letting his dog poop on your grass may accomplish getting him to keep his mutt out of your yard. But if your state determines your house is ground zero for a new shopping mall for “the public good,” good luck with your criticism of the state. And many systems are more complex than even a state government. Try criticizing the result of the Industrial Revolution and changing it through criticism. That system is far harder to assault because it is enormous and nebulous at the same time.

4. Criticism of individuals does not lead to change on a larger scale, while criticism of a system often gets absorbed by the immensity of that system. That tendency toward “lose-lose” explains the result Stone laments in her article.

For too long, some Christians have focused too much anger in their criticism, reserving much of it for individuals. So and so is a heretic! You don’t know your Bible! And on and on. This does not get us far. More people now recognize this. They also note that much of that criticism was not wrapped in love but in self-righteousness and pride.

Where Christians should be focusing our criticism is on systems, yet almost no one does. No one talks about workplace justice. No considers whether our lifestyles are based on fallacies locked in place by deviant cultural assumptions. No one asks whether the Reformation and democracy have led Americans to no longer fear of God. For the most part, Christians are not offering criticism of these larger thoughts, ideas, and systems because we’re too intellectually lazy and too satisfied with the status quo. Why rock the boat and bring down the system on our little heads?

I stopped reading most Christian blogs because they went after the minuscule. They strained for gnats. And then when they did, they were too often mean-spirited about it.

I think many people are tiring of the mean spirit. Meanwhile, few are willing to wade into larger battles. Stone talks about how hard it was to receive criticism for her criticism of another writer’s book.  If that’s the size of our vision, then all is lost already. Taking on systems, which is what we Christians SHOULD be addressing, is costly, complex, and tedious. Our criticism needs to be laser-like, educated, and relentless if we are to fix entire systems in the name of Christ.

Christians of long ago were up for that task. I’m not so sure we are today.

Oh, look…

“Hey, you! Get your dog off my lawn!”