The Trouble With Christianity (in the USA)

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” -Brennan Manning

This quote has stuck with me since I first heard it on DC Talk’s Jesus Freak CD. Couple that with St. Francis of Assisi’s famous line, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words,” and I think you have a pretty good explanation as to why Christianity is rather unappealing to so many. 72% of non-church goers think the church is “full of hypocrites” according to the Barna groups research. There’s an obvious disconnect.
I’m making this case not as an evangelistic appeal, but simply to say, from both an insider and outsider perspective, I find very little evidence or reason to believe the claims of Christianity. As someone whose more or less followed this religious system for over a decade, that concerns me.

For years, I’ve ignored the large majority of “Christians”, opting instead to focus on the inspiring lives of Mother Teresa, Dr. King, John Perkins, Shane Claiborne, and my close friends who’ve lived out their beliefs and convictions before me. Yet, the elephant in the room was and is the vast majority of Christians whose lives look so strikingly similar to the rest of society (save a few condemning judgments). If these others claim a relationship with a super-natural God, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit, and a belief in the same Bible that I read, why do our lives and convictions look so different?

As a person whose at times struggled with doubts in the existence of the super-natural, I’ve leaned heavily at times on the witness and testimony of others. In the past, I’ve chosen to look to the testimony of those who claim Christianity and live out the same convictions I believe in, but the reality is that they are in the vast majority. If one were to take a scientific approach to assessing these claims. It would seem those who claim a connection with the super-natural and live radical lives of self-sacrifice that look like Jesus are in the vast minority, they are outliers. The majority of ‘evidence’ in an empirical study would should those claiming a super-natural empowered Biblical Christianity, live lives that look nothing like the Christianity I see in the Bible. The evidence would show that I am an outlier, that I’m one of the ones reading the book wrong, coming to inaccurate conclusions, and am obviously not in touch with the “leading of the Spirit”.

I want to spend the next several weeks trying to flesh out some of my beliefs, with Biblical support, and put them out their for discussion. I’d like to ask of those who agree with me, why are these convictions not present in most churches and Christians lives? And of those who disagree with me, where am I wrong? What am I miss reading? My intent will not be to toot my own, or anyone’s own horn, nor preach to the choir. I’m really seeking for some honest answers.

10 thoughts on “The Trouble With Christianity (in the USA)”

  1. Part of the problem is that the church is full of sinners. It should be. If that ever changes, we're failing. We have a bent toward on our selfish, misguided desires which take us away from living as God would have us live.

    A potentially bigger problem is that most churches suck at discipleship. We don't help people grow. Unfortunately, most of the time the people don't want to grow. But we don't always spur them on toward growth. So we remain shallow Christians. We accept our salvation but shun the process of sanctification, growing more Christ-like. And so, we say we are Christians, but we don't have the maturity to live changed lives.

    That's probably not anywhere near the full answer. But it's a thought.

    1. Dave,
      I know the "church is full of sinners", I've used that as an explanation of things quite often to myself and to others along my faith journey. But now I look at it as a bit ridiculous. Those outside the faith don't use some theological excuse to explain their misgivings or the wrongdoings of their groups. It seems mostly like a very creative excuse for not being better then we are.
      My atheist neighbor has no God-given mandates they claim they are called to live by, yet they end up living pretty 'good' lives. My church-going neighbors claim relationships with the supernatural, God-given scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit, and I see them living lives that are barely more loving and sacrificial then their unbelieving neighbors.
      So, I agree we are all sinners, but why are those with the power of God on their side barely changed or compelled toward different lives?

  2. Ariah,

    Thanks for your conversational initiative and leadership. I share Rev. Dave's disappointment that most churches are not better equipping stations, and yours that the identifiiable witness of God's people as change agents is not more clear. However, I would take issue with your assumptions about how we identify faith's authenticity in the broader society.

    I share your wish that we could point to more people who "live radical lives of self-sacrifice that look like Jesus." But I'm truly concerned for you and others who use as their primary "evidence or reason to believe the claims of Christianity" the number who you perceive have this radical or activist expression of faith.

    No doubt America's racial segregation, our technological isolation from one another, and our economic drivenness — just to name a few factors — undermines the ability of us Americans to grasp or walk out the gospel. But I will not downplay God's ability to spread His kingdom through zillions of quiet and faithful mothers and fathers, for example, who, unlike Jesus or Mother Theresa, daily love, nurture, and provide for tomorrow's disciples in their homes. A quote to consider from Eugene Peterson about the quiet faith-filled masses:

    "Assembled in acts of worship, they pray. Dispersed, they infiltrate homes, shops, factories, offices, athletic fields, town halls, courts, prisons, streets, playgrounds and shopping malls, where they also pray. Much of the population, profoundly ignorant of the forces that hold their lives together, does not even know that these people exist…They are, in the words of their Master, light and leaven. Light is silent and leaven is invisible. Their presence is unobtrusive, but these lives are God's way of illuminating and preserving civilization. Their prayers counter the strong disintegrative forces in American life."

    He goes on: "There is no accounting for exactly where we end up: some are highly visible in political movements while others work obscurely and unnoticed in unlikely places." Significantly, he says, they go to church and do not see themselves as the center of the universe.

    "Sometimes what others do looks like disobedience…" There are those who appear to abandon action in the passion for prayer. Others "appear to abandon the passion for prayer in the passion for action. But the faithful who continue at prayer enfold the others and sustain them in the petition, 'Deliver us from evil.'"

    Earth and Altar, p. 21-22

  3. Todd,
    Thanks for chiming in. I think because my post above was fairly vague, it'll be hard to breakdown the conversation to the specifics of what I am referring to. My goal is to do more posts on specific verses, topics, etc to continue the discussion (check back Monday morning). However, I'd love to talk about your concern about using "as their primary 'evidence or reason to believe the claims of Christianity' the number who you perceive have this radical or activist expression of faith."

    We could get into all sorts of discussions about what you or I mean by radical or activist, but we'll save that for later. I appreciate your long quote about quiet faith filled masses, and I agree there are many of those people globally. However, I would also say that I've encountered the "quiet faithless masses" who may not pray for your well being but live similar lives of love and well wishing. And, so I guess what I would ask of you is, if someone outside of the faith where to have only Christians lives to look at (not belief in the claims of the Bible), then: What is the evidence to believe the claims of Christianity? What aspects of the "faith-filled" would you point to?

  4. I agree that the "church is full of sinners" can become an excuse, but we also need it for a reminder of the importance of discipleship. Without discipleship, people don't move forward in their faith development. Part of evangelical's problems stem from this American belief that we can do everything on our own, as individuals. We don't look to others to aid us in our walk. We believe the Holy Spirit can empower us to change all on our own (which, the Holy Spirit can, but He doesn't usually work that way). I've been a hypocrite in the church for years. It was because I was trying to live my life on my own without walking with others. We make it shameful to be real, so we are forced to hide our sins and let others believe we are "good people."

    I don't think it's necessarily bad to have theological excuses like that either. Because, in addition to the excuse of original sin, we also have the excuse of grace and forgiveness. And love. We in the church are supposed to live with grace, forgiveness and love. Again, we fail miserably at operating with those theological tenets, but if we use them, they are where we show our faith. "They will know we are Christians by our love." Still, it takes mature Christians to get to the place of having real love for others (which admonishes and encourages others to grow in their faith).

    So again, I think it all comes back to needing more discipleship in the church. Without walking beside each other, modeling Jesus to others, growing in our faith, we won't have mature believers who can move beyond their duplicitous living into mature love, grace and forgiveness.

  5. Ariah,

    It's so difficult to speak of the "church" as though it were one thing, or evidence for Christianity "out there," though I don't fault you for trying. Where one looks for it probably says something about what qualifies as a bona fide witness in their mind, and that to which they are called.

    Where would I start. With the loud-mouthed evangelists or legal protesters; the 50-years married; those who manage to resist conformity to follow an inner call whether to social causes or to scientific research or to being a police woman?

    For me faithfulness to Christ meant going underground for 20 years (from a visibility standpoint) and raising three kids and going through counseling to deal with anger that was separating me from my son, staying with my wife despite seemingly unresolvable issues, and learning to "be with" my family rather than continuing a wonderful social ministry I had started with 100 volunteers to the poor in my neighborhood, for example. Granted, one should be able to raise a family and live Jesus' kind of life and I've tried, but he wasn't married, was he?

    While I long for more evidence as well, I think I'd get way off base looking for my primary evidence in certain manifestations around me. Ultimately I think we are each providentially given a set of talents, circumstances and opportunities and the evidence comes from how we respond, what we do with what God's given us. Martin Luther King courageously responded to his opportunity to confront the powers. But I have two missionary friends who were given children, one with Downs Syndrome and the other a sudden mental illness, that they faithfully responded to by switching 80% of their time into child care and mostly suspending their previous vocations.

    In fact I believe, from experience, that God gives the Holy Spirit's help to those who respond to that radically personal "cross," whatever ours is to bear — probably not one that leads to crucifixion.

    By the way, you're one of my favorite witnesses, and best evidences for God in the world, in responding faithfully to that which God has given you from your vocation, parenting, where you live, and what you do with that holy restlessness to confront what's not right in the world. Thanks for helping me believe in God.

    1. Todd, Thanks a bunch for continuing to share your thoughts. I think much of what you said is right on. To be clear, I'm not advocating that everyone be a radical public figure or a political activist. I simply see us collectively in the church in the USA, not really living out what I see clearly talked about in scripture.
      Check back tomorrow, cause it'll be my first post where I actually start trying to hash out the specifics.

  6. I believe that is a valid point, many professing Christians today do not know the God they profess. They deny him with works. They honor him with lip service, but their heart is far from him. This much is true. it is the work of Satan to give those who don't want to a reason not to believe in Jesus. There does however, remain a remnant of those suffering for Christ with affliction added from falsehood.

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