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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catchphrase Christianity - A Troubling Trend

This morning, a friend and I met to catch up at Starbucks. While we were talking a lady sat down at the table next to ours and was reading The Shack by William P. Young. Having read snippets myself as well as many reviews (one of the more balanced and substantive may be found here), I was interested in understanding how she was processing the story.

The lady told me she is enjoying the book and liked how it "focused on relationship. It doesn't over-complicate our approach to God and make it all about religion. I think that people try to make things too hard, when it's all about relationship. Just like any other relationship, it depends on how you view the other person; if you spend time with them. Religion is about all those things you have to do, the stuff you have to obey."

Now, this may sound pretty traditionally Christian, but I had a couple of red flags go up in that statement. Upon asking further, I found out she attends a "pretty laid back church", more contemporary than its denominational roots. She also said that the church was taking a purpose-driven model in its approach. None of that is a concern in and of itself. I know that there can be really strong churches that are purpose driven. However, it seemed that all I was getting in my conversation with her were these 21st century Christian catchphrases. So I wanted to dig a little deeper and see if she understood any of this.

"So, how do you understand what Christianity is?" I asked.

"Well, it's like I said at the beginning. It's about having a relationship. Like in this book where the character of the Holy Spirit says 'It seems you view your life as a pyramid with God at the top. I don't want to be at the top of the pyramid, I want to be in the center. I don't want you to focus on Me one or two days out of the week, then have all your other things, I want to be in the center of everything you do.' So, it’s a relationship where God it a part of everything, not just a side thing."

I pressed again, "But WHY do you need a relationship? Why is that important?"

"Well," she answered "I... I... I'm really not good at explaining things like this."
And that was my sneaking suspicion. You see, in all the talk of closeness and relationship, there was no mention of sin or a fallen nature. She didn't have a concept of someone who has been rescued from a destiny of judgment.

I think that as Christians, we need to have sound reasons for why we believe what we believe. That includes reasons for the necessity of this relationship with Jesus. If we're going to have a relationship with someone, we'd better get to know who they are and what they did as much as we can! Unfortunately, sound theology is being supplanted by quick taglines and Christianese.

We find the subject of sin and a destiny in hell an uncomfortable idea. A lot of churches today would rather just talk about having a relationship with God but leave out the sinner part of the equation, since it makes people uncomfortable and may drive "seekers" away. My position is that true seekers are looking for answers and not just feel-good platitudes.

Our relationship with God is not the same as any other relationship – it is unique. We are sinners saved by His payment on the cross. The message of the Gospel cannot be preached without this vital point of information, but it was wholly absent in my conversation with this woman.

The reason I point this out is because many people we run into through the course of our lives may look Christian and say all the right things, but they may be missing a big piece of the puzzle. I’m still not sure if this lady had a saving relationship with Jesus. She agreed with all I brought up on how Christianity is the only faith that effectively answers the sin problem and that Jesus did pay the penalty for sin, but how much she holds of that is still a bit of a mystery.

So the next time you meet someone who you think is a Christian, don’t be afraid to engage them further. They may very well understand that becoming a follower of Jesus is just that - pledging your life to Him because of what He did for us. Or they may just know the lingo, or be simply unclear on the whole matter. Whatever the case, being clear yourself and helping others see things clearly is a good start in correcting a church that increasing is infected with easy-believism.

Image courtesy Adam Fagen and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.


  1. Christians judging others Christians. And then you point out how Jesus said not to do that, they come up with some excuse like "but that's in the bible, I'm just passing the judgments of god on".

    I guess you're not as good at reading the bible as you thought you were.

  2. Korinthian,
    What is the context of Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:1? Furthermore how does it relate to His statement in Matthew 18:15ff or Paul's in 1 Corinthians 5:9ff? Finally apply that interpretation and stop judging Lenny for "judging others" because you are breaking the same measure you are setting up. If you try to rebut remember the excuse like "but that's in the bible, I'm just passing the judgments of god on" doesn't work.

    Grace and Peace.

  3. Surely it would have been more sensible to just ask her directly? e.g. 'Do you believe we are sinners saved by His payment on the cross?' or did you choose not to so that you could write this article? Occasionally the quest for reasoned truth can sound quite cold hearted.


  4. Anonymous11:25 PM

    Ian and korinthian are obviously missing the point of this article. It is true that many modern churches have become very lukewarm; turning towards the contemporary and into the feel-good'ism church, and forgets to preach hell and serious repentence. Rev 3:16 says, "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." KJV
    Comment threads always become the attacking ground, it should be disabled.

  5. There's no point to miss. People when put on the spot by a stranger can reply in a variety of manners, the lack of a substantial answer doesn't necessarily qualify a weak relation with Jesus. Only the lady in question will know the true answer to that, just because someone has a simple concept of faith doesn't mean that others who require deeper reasoning can justify guessing someone core beliefs. Many churches do preach on a lot of 'fluffy' subjects rather than Hell and repentance which I agree needs to be addressed. But this can also be taken to an extreme, I managed to catch a particular preacher on 'End Times' where the guy systematically tore apart a famous American preachers publications practically ridiculing the titles because they were too 'fluffy' or 'Luke warm' as you might like to put. The problem is I think we need the benefit of both facets of God after all with many scriptures such as “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Hebrews 10:31) we know he's not pure loved up marsh mellow!

  6. What I got out of the article was the author asking someone what they understood about Christianity and all he received was an affirmation that a life with God at the center was the desired goal. That is awesome and that should indeed be the desired goal.

    However, the point - in my opinion - that he was trying to make was this: If you go to church and hang out with like-minded people, serve at the food kitchen, donate material goods to the local homeless mission, and try to always keep your focus on God. etc., thought comes to mind:

    Why? Why are you doing those things?

    Are you doing them because the preacher preached a message that said that's what we should be doing? Or are you doing them because that's what Jesus died on the cross for? And, honestly (again, this is _my_ understanding), Jesus didn't die on the cross so we could be community servants, He died on the cross so that we could HAVE a relationship with God.

    God will never be at the center of our lives if we do not first receive His grace and mercy through the blood of Christ.

    If I had not had a night in 2001 when the Holy Spirit came into me, a night when God invited me into a relationship with Himself - and I accepted - then all the church-going, do-gooding, and relationship building in the universe would leave me exactly where I was before that night: staring into an eternity without God.

    It's a little chic these days to pooh-pooh the thought of hell as a bad place. Heck, I used to joke about preferring hell over heaven saying, "At least that's where the party will be," or, "That's where all my friends will be."

    None of us know just exactly what eternity holds, but the Bible - which is all we have of God's plan for us - says that between heaven and hell, heaven alone is where there will be no more tears and no more pain. And Jesus Himself said that HE was the ONLY way to get there, whatever and wherever it ends up being.

    So I think it's a good idea that the author opened up a conversation to help the lady think about all that and examine herself and her faith a little more critically.

    Her eternal life depends on it.

  7. I agree that some churches may be bending over backwards to make folks comfy. However, I just joined a "debate" group on Facebook where every atheist I've heard is pushing this image of God as immoral tyrant ("Make Me believe you love Me or you'll burn forever!"). That seems to have been their take-away from their adolescent experience with church. Lewis said that Christianity has nothing to say to the person who feels that they're just fine the way they are. How do you lovingly preach the disease so folks will stick around to hear about the cure?

  8. From the start, the lady has the wrong knowledge what Christianity is. While it is true that you can be saved just by accepting Jesus as your Lord and savior, without religion or church, a religion is still an important aspect for Christians.

    The lady has a clear issue on following God's commandments which is shown by her rejecting the dreaded religion and choosing the much easier and comfortable 'relationship' with God. This also shows on some 'Christians' today. They prefer the relationship with Jesus rather than the religion because they don't want to follow God's commandments. They will do what they want to do, and still have close relationship with God. It is much easier to be a Christian that way.

    The lady (and other 'Christians') is doing it their own way.

    God has His own way.

    Jesus Himself says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." - John 14:15

    Christianity is mainly about: Accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior because we are sinners and will surely burn in hell. We have to accept that we're sinners and ask for forgiveness and accept that we need Jesus and He's God (not oneness).

    "Burn in hell", brutal but true.

    1. I agree that she has the wrong idea, Ken. My bigger point is neither she Christians who do have the correct knowledge will know of her misunderstanding unless we stop taking the slogans at face value and engage in real conversation.


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