It isn’t so much what we believe. It has more to do with how we act. Three things happened to me this week that converged to remind me there is a Christian subculture that often does more harm to the message of Christ than it can to effect real change in people’s lives.
On Monday nights I volunteer with the youth group at my church. This past week I had the privilege of visiting with one of the other volunteers. My friend Scot talked about his understanding of a passage from the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. Jesus was talking to Peter about the Church and said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16.18, ESV)
In Jesus’ day, “gates” were meant to keep things out of a city. Given that notion, it seems as though Jesus is saying that it is hell whose gates cannot stand against the Church, not the other way around. Somehow, a lot of Christians seem to reverse that idea and think that it is the Church that must live behind guarded walls, watching the gates to keep any perceived threat from getting in. We have Christians on the defensive and living in fear instead of carrying out the conspiracy of grace and redemption they are called to. Thanks to Scot for reminding me of this.
Later in the week I posted an excerpt from a review of the upcoming film based on Donald Miller‘s book “Blue Like Jazz” on my Facebook wall. I’m very excited about this project. It chronicles the journey of a young man who was raised in the Christian subculture, abandons it, only to rediscover his faith. Unlike many of the films put out by Christians, it does not sterilize the world we live in. It pulls no punches. The producers also spent a lot of time making sure that the message was not invalidated by poor filmmaking.
While I appreciate the heart behind a lot of the films Christians release, they are one of the main reasons people who don’t follow Jesus think we’re silly. Don’t believe me? If you can find someone who is not a Christian and has seen a Christian film, ask them what they thought about it.
It wasn’t long before a reply was posted with a link to a less than favorable review of the book titled, “Green Like Envy.” Now, I know that Donald Miller is not everybody’s cup of tea and I’m sure there will be critical reviews of the film. What I take issue with is that the review was filled with wrong information, quotes taken out of context and what another friend of mine called “the same old judgmental stuff…why the world thinks of us as haters rather than seeing the love of Christ through us.” (Thanks Rick!) The book was also described as controversial. I chuckled a bit at this. There are a lot of controversial books out there (e.g. “Love Wins” by Rob Bell, “Real Marriage” by Mark Driscoll). Except to those with the narrowest view of what the Gospel means, Betty White is more controversial than Donald Miller. This is another kind of thing that gives reason for people to think we’re silly.
Today I read a great interview with Margaret Feinberg by Gabe Lyons that addressed the question, “Are Christians too sheltered?” Feinberg stated, regarding past generations of Christians (and I would assert current ones as well):
“I always thought they took on a fortress mentality when it came to life and possibly even engaging in culture. It was more of an idea of ‘I’ve got to protect me and mine.’ At the end of the day I want to stay pure, and the way to do that is to withdraw from the world, to withdraw from culture, to withdraw from things that could possibly shade or affect me. And I think the generation that is coming of age is beginning to ask a whole different set of questions. They’re saying, ‘How do I go into culture?’ ‘How do I go into the world and be an agent of change and of transformation?'”
This is probably the foundational reason those who don’t follow Jesus think we’re silly. We claim to believe in a message that offers hope and redemption to a broken world, but some choose to live behind guarded walls and wait for others to knock on the gate. We’ve forgotten Jesus’ charge that while we are not of this world, we are still in it. We expect people to come to us and on those rare occasions we do go to them, we want to proclaim our message through a Sony Walkman in an iPod world.
Well, that’s just silly.