Do you remember when Rob Bell wrote Love Wins? Do you remember how it destroyed the Christian faith and led millions to Hell? Oh you don’t remember that happening? That’s because it didn’t.
Ah…but do you remember how Noah brought about the end of the Bible and thousands of years of respect for an ancient Holy Book?
No?..Yeah that’s because that never happened either.
Whether other Christian controversies e.g. revelations that Mars Hill in Seattle used a marketing company to get a Mark Driscoll book on the New York Bestsellers list or the World Vision employment policy story, will have a detrimental effect on the church are still to be seen.
My thoughts are that they won’t.
And why not?
Because like most Christian controversies they all pass. In the moment they seem like the end of the world for Christianity and we feel like this will finally be the point where the Heathens take over. At the core of each of these kinds of events is the idea that something about God’s character is being threatened. His sovereignty, His justice, His rules. There is a belief that if we don’t stand up for God as Christians then people won’t take Him seriously or will ridicule Him. There is a fear that we will all end up doing whatever we like.
In January we saw this all too well in Northern Ireland, when a few Christian politicians objected to a comedy play about the Bible that they deemed sacrilegious and offensive to Christians. In the end their protests only led to a show with poor ticket sales, selling out for two straight nights. The same show has announced more shows in another town with little or no fanfare.
We think that our generation is some how different in that God needs us to defend His name or else all Hell will break loose. All it takes though is a quick glance through human history to see all the ways in which Christians as a corporate body have brought God’s name into disrepute. Think the Inquisition. Going even further back and take a closer look at some of the Biblical stories and we can see how many of those that we hold up in high regard often led lives that were far and away from what God intended. Often murdering, cheating and lying to get ahead.
Yet, here we are. God has seen attempts at destroying His name come and go (mostly by those professing His name) each without any lasting success. However, we’re still paranoid that sooner or later it will all become too much for Him. Thank goodness we’re here to save His ass.
Another interesting observation is in how these controversies are often played out in a very specific public sphere. Most people on the street won’t have heard of many of these controversies that we think are going to destroy all of Christianity. Only in the Christian blogosphere and Twitter will these debates be played out. If they do happen to make it into the main stream media most people will just sake their heads and roll their eyes.
“Those pesky Christians”.
Most people would generally consider death to be the ultimate way to defeat someone. So it is all the more puzzling that we feel the need to stand up for God when we believe He has already overcome the very worst thing that could happen to Him.
All this being said, there is a slight hint of truth to many of the often fundamental fears we have when we feel our faith is being challenged or ridiculed. Indeed, God’s name and the revolutionary message Jesus came to share can be damaged. The problem is that we’ve directed the blame in the wrong direction.
My wife used to work in a coffee shop in Belfast. I have a lot of friends who currently work in coffee shops and restaurants and do you know which clientele are the rudest and most impatient?
The Sunday morning/evening post church service Christians. Yep them. The ones who just heard a sermon about how God’s love encompasses everyone except baristas. Because that can be the only reason I can think of why Christians can be so rude.
If we truly want Jesus’ message to be received we should stop hastily reacting when we feel like someone is challenging our faith and rather look at how we treat those we come into contact with on a daily basis.
How we treat the waiter even if we’ve been waiting a little longer than we would like.
How we react to the driver who cut us off and added a whole extra 30 seconds to our journey.
How we stop being afraid of people who don’t believe in our God.
Jesus told a story about a man who was beaten and left to die on the street. Three men passed by. A Priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. For the listener of this story they would have considered the Samaritan to be someone they should despise. Someone outside of the Jewish faith. They were the enemy. Only one of these people stopped to help the man on the road.
In case you can’t see where this is heading it was the Samaritan who stopped to help.
Jesus then instructed His listener, who happened to be an expert in the Jewish faith and it’s law, to go and imitate the Samaritan. This would be like replacing the Samaritan character with a Muslim cleric today, and telling a Christian Pastor to do what the Muslim did.
It was and still is one of the most incredibly shocking stories Jesus told.
The point Jesus was making was simple. How we treat people is more important than having all our doctrine and beliefs about God sorted. What use are they if they don’t lead us into true love for others? What good are they if people are left to die because of some misplaced respect for correct doctrine?
Jesus was warning us to have our priorities right in case we are in danger of letting people die.
Jesus doesn’t need us to defend His name or stand up for the right to wear a cross in work. I think Bill Hicks (strong language, might offend some) got it right. What he does need is for us to love our neighbor. To live in the freedom we have already been promised and not worry about religion being taken out of schools or having our ‘Christian’ countries erode before our very eyes.
He has and will survive much worse.
So my question to all of us is this. Which is more likely to destroy the church and the Christian faith? An author who dares to suggest that Jesus might be more loving than we think? A play that respectfully pokes fun at some of the more absurd parts of the Bible? A Pastor who perhaps took a slightly morally dubious short cut to more sales?
Or… a group of Christians who yell at the waiter who has been working for six hours without a break and has a line of ten people to serve before them?
Because we need to remember God loves everyone.