It has become quite popular in our culture to hate, belittle, and criticize church. There are people in our culture who do this outside the church, but what might surprise some is that there are many critics within the church. This mentality of bashing the church and Christianity has become commonplace in American Christianity. Books such as Stuff Christians Like which picks apart bits of American Evangelical Christendom in order to provide a comical read tethered to a dose of honest conviction amid a culture that has embraced the mocking of Christianity and the traditional church experience. The book Stuff Christians Like, named after a blog by Jon Acuff with the same title, is humorous and a fun little book to read (I have it in my bathroom this moment.), however, I wonder how healthy it is to take pleasure in mocking some of the problems within American Christianity because if it becomes too commonplace it might not be only the bad things in American Christianity that are made a mockery, but the whole of Christianity….. by Christians at that.
In pop-culture, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos has been made into comic relief in the news, ESPN’s Sportscenter, Saturday Night Live, late night television, and even in the local bar, pub, and coffee shop. Even grade-school students have joined the Tebow-craze phenomena that has gripped this country which is about making the prayer of a football player look like a superhero (such as Captain Planet) pose while making Tebow’s mention of Jesus during post-game interviews akin to religious fanaticism and fundamentalism.
Then, you have the increasingly common theme of Christians bashing religion in a general sense and saying there is no religion within Christianity, true Christianity that is. On top of that, you have the whole ‘Hipster Christian’ trend which has some positive and negative elements to it. On the one hand Christian hipsters very existence reveals that those Indie-rocker, alternative types of 20-somethings that many have dubbed as being outside the reached of Christianity and contemporary evangelistic methods are evidence in themselves that many 20-somethings are passionate about Jesus and that Christians don’t have to wear plain, pastel colored, button-down shirts with khaki Dockers or bridesmaid-looking dresses for church every Sunday (no offense if you are wearing either of these right now). The down side is that hipster Christians by nature says there are some Christians who are cool and somehow better than others including non-Christians. This is a message that is quite the opposite of the Christian message that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that it is Jesus Christ in which we find our value, purpose, and meaning.
Tebow bashing, religion bashing, and hipster Christians; what can be so bad about these?
Well, the thing is that it can be easy to join in on humor or attempts to be cool. In joining and agreeing with others, wherever we are, we create a sense of community. My concern, though, is that all of these could create a counter-community to the church. I sympathize with the idea of pointing out the problems of the traditional American Evangelical church. God knows there are problems. However, if my critiques don’t work to create change, aren’t biblically based, nor made in a spirit of Christian love and grace and truth; then what good is it?
Conversely, there are those in the church who are ignorant or so it seems to the many problems in American Christianity. When the culture likes Jesus while generally being non-Christian, but doesn’t like the church, it’s time to start listening to why people have issues with Christians. There are still many Christians who would believe we live in a Christian culture and America is the center of Christianity in the world. The truth is America as a culture is post-Christian and Christianity is growing globally while leaving North America behind. The church has it’s critics and it’s share of many who seem ignorant to the culture and the modern world, however, I believe the church needs both.
The layperson who is suspicious of the academy, doesn’t read much, and faithfully reads their Bible needs those cynical, and often critical minds of academic Christianity as the academic needs the common layperson. The church needs criticism, questioning, and well-read individuals as well as the average joe Christian who works hard with their hands and is often too tired to do much reading. The church can benefit by critics, hipsters, and those who have spent years studying the Bible critically in the academy. Why bring this up and what does it have to do with Tebow, religion critics, and Christian hipsters?
I’ll tell you. All of these however noble their initial intentions may be divide Christians from one another and eat away at the beautiful New Testament image of the unity and diversity that the church should embody (Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 3). It can be easy to focus on the differences we have with others in the church, but what if we started noticing the similarities a bit more? What would happen? Trying to be cool, criticizing others, and separating from culture too much can breed self-righteousness and disunity of the Body. What if the criticism used was spoken in a spirit of unity and in the bond of peace? Godly criticism can be as loving as it can be critical. If a Christian has a problem with a church or another Christian, they should go to the Bible and prayer to discern if it is just or sinful, then go to the other Christian, and maybe seek out the pastor to talk to them about their concerns and prayerful critiques. This is the biblical manner of dealing with these issues.
Perhaps as others joke about the power prayer stance of Tebow, we can mention that it is good to pray and good to give glory to God even if it might look funny or be susceptible to mocking. Perhaps in talking about how Christianity is not a religion and how bad religion is we can qualify that statement by recalling that Jesus came to reach out to sinners and to the religious (Pharisees, scribes, priests). Perhaps in bashing hipsters we can seek to love their personalities beyond the hip-attire, and those who love being hip too much could remember that their value is in Jesus Christ, and in nothing else.
Side Note: I read in John 19:1-7 during a devotional (Explore July – September 2011, The Good Book Company) how we should be careful to not love our religious practices so much that we no longer love or recognize our Savior Jesus Christ. This is a good point on religion and the problem Jesus had with many scribes, Pharisees, and priests.
May we seek to be the church of Jesus Christ in the world and work harder to love one another beyond the church in caring for those in need, but also loving those within the church and especially those we disagree with so as to strengthen the church through greater unity of the Body, and to include different types of Christians among us who are different than ourselves in order to cherish the diversity of the Body and more fully utilize the many diversified gifts of each Christian through one Church for God’s glory. Amen.