How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

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Beyond Words Take 7 – A Community Networked Faith

In this edition of Beyond Words we will think about our place in a community. Well, actually, two communities: one, Christian; the other, our surrounding society.

First, if we are to flourish in our present postChristian culture we must be deeply networked within our churchour Christian community. We need her safety, her training, her friendships and definitely her worship together. We need to tell our stories to one another, share our lives together, and, always, eat chicken & pizza together. Maybe not at the same time.

The relationships we build within the Body of Christ are critically important for those who might attend church with us. They need to see hugging and laughter and prayer and forgiveness of one another. They need to join in on the fun. They need to see what life in Christ might be like.

Secondly, before you can ever get them to darken the doors of a church you first have to get to know them in the midst of their safe-places, among their friends and within their interests. No Christian should dwell in a void, surrounded exclusively by other Christians. We need to embed ourselves inside our office parties, Saturday baseball leagues, our children’s sports teams, even the PTA & library reading club. God never intended us to hibernate away from our surrounding culture except for times of prayer & fasting.

What He expects us to do is to become beacons of light, enjoying the celebrations of this world with the friends we make in it. If all we have are Christian friends we have somehow lost the intent of the Great Commission to “GO!” We are not given the leisure to WAIT for people to come to us. We are called to enter their world; very much, I think, like Jesus did.

WARNING: If you do this you will get your hands dirty. You will have your faith challenged…, and strengthened. Some well-meaning believers will criticize you for spending so much time among “the heathen.” That, too, is what Jesus experienced. It’s where He was meant to be.  It’s where we are meant to be too.

 

For what it’s worth,

Gary

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BEYOND WORDS – Take 6 – A Receiver Determined Offering

Gary, davis, church, Christianity, culture, faithIn this edition of Beyond Words (Take 6) we will limit our observations to the recipients of our message— the billions of “normal people” across our country and world who span the gamut from cursory familiarity with the gospel to complete cluelessness about anything Christian.

To communicate our message to the diversity of people around the world we need to know their language, their cultural underpinnings, their mores and beliefs. Most missionaries know this. We need to know the extent to which their religious beliefs affect their daily lives. Some may adhere to a particular religion but hold no dedication to that faith whatsoever.

We especially need to know about peoples’ past experiences with the Christian faith— both positive and negative. Some people have had truly terrible encounters with our own “jerks4Jesus” set. Their prejudice seethes deep within. Others were raised in the church and have come to doubt the trustworthiness of any so-called Christians. Still more have had great encounters with Christians and have not ruled out Christianity as a viable guide for life, but…, not just yet.

Then there are differences in the way people perceive life; logical, artistic, as a responsibility, as a game, as a calling, etc. Science prone individuals are not going to put up with a simple gospel; for them, life is full of order and complexity. An artist will want a gospel with vibrancy and life to it. A mother of three— a gospel with some relief and rest. A builder will need to hear a Jesus who is practical that makes common sense.

So if you are asked “What is the gospel?” the correct initial response should be “For Who?” Not that you have to BE all these kinds of people, but at least you should LISTEN to them to understand their world a little better.

Peoples’ life experiences play a huge role in how they will respond to Christianity as a faith, and to individual Christians they may know. They may have already developed their own predispositions to who we are and what we say. To ignore their life experiences is to place your agenda of the gospel over against what God may have been doing in their lives for a long time.

The Truth never changes; but our job is to offer the crux of Christ’s message within the context of their life experiences, where they are on their journey…, not ours. Never forget that.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

BEYOND WORDS: Take 5— a Culturally Sensitive Faith

Oddly enough, cultural sensitivity is one of the least considered factors for Westerners when it comes to the expression and communication of our faith. We seem to have a built-in blind spot in recognizing cultural nuances and their effect on our faith.
For example, we used to use The Wordless Book in gospel presentations. BLACK= Sin, RED= Atonement, WHITE= Purity or Salvation, GOLD= Heaven, and GREEN=Life. Simple, isn’t it. But in most African cultures Black= Life, Red= War, White=Death, Gold= Greed, and Green= Life. One point in common. See the issue? Fortunately, most of us don’t use this simple device any longer.
The point is that the surrounding culture affects our expression of faith and its communication more than we think. To not be aware of these tones of difference opens the door to opening our mouths and inserting our feet. Yes, both of them.
In our postChristian world it would be like telling a person that God loves them when they have no concept of an external reference point. Of some man in the sky who has an opinion about their life, let alone “loves them.”
Developing sensitivity to cultural differences has become tantamount in the practice of our Christian faith. We must learn to adapt our faith to blend with the language formats of the culture in which we live. Otherwise, we will come to believe that people are rejecting the claims of Christ when they are actually rejecting our own insensitive manners.
Do you want to know the first rule of growing a culturally sensitive awareness? It’s a simple principle- Shut-up! One mouth; two ears. LEARN TO LISTEN! STOP TALKING. OBSERVE!
We need to learn what it means to BE a Christian in another culture than our own. And did I mention that also includes most of Western Culture- Europe, definitely, and most of Canada and the U.S. as well. We do not speak the same language of those around us. Our mindsets are radically different.
For what it’s worth,
  Gary

Beyond Words: Take 4 – A Personality Specific Faith

Larson personalityIn this edition of Beyond Words let’s look at how your personality filters your faith.

My wife is sitting across from me just opening a medium-size bag of M&Ms. Different colors on the outside and consistently the same within. Very much like our world’s Christ-followers. Sometimes, even with a few nuts thrown in for variety.

Not all Christians are alike. Not all expressions of our faith are alike. Not all people are alike. Kind of like stating the obvious, isn’t it.

Yet within the decreasing influence of Western Christendom we try to maintain a boring sameness in our faith as is impossible. The reality of divergent races, cultures, and personalities should be obvious. We are all not one. We are a complex multiplicity of beings with a common commitment to Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, we live in an era where some really smart people have done some deep research on the different kinds of people we are. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Myers began their research in 1917, which culminated in the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator Test in 1956 (MBTI). You can take a simplified FREE version of the Test here—

https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

The observable reality that we each have a distinct personality is a great gift from God. For Christians, it means that the gospel can take on different shapes and nuances across a broad spectrum of races, cultures, and divergent personalities. We don’t all have to be the same. Even better, none of you have to be likeme. [Phew!]

You see, when God created us He intentionally built into us divergent dispositions to reflect the majesty of His glory. Thus, we are NOT all the same; nor should we be. If we were, it would be an admission that people are unilaterally boring and that the Lord God Creator of the universe is, in fact, not all that creative.

The myriad of different cultures and human personality traits is proof of exactly the opposite. Therefore we should also expect a plethora of different kinds of Christians— quiet, contemplative, sensitive, exuberant, and nuts. This must be so because the majesty and diversity of the Trinity imprints upon us, not in a manner to rob us of who God has made us, but to empower us within our specific personality design. What a gift!

So, get used to being you, trying to offend as few as possible. You have been designed the way you are for a reason; find out what it is.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Beyond Words-Take 2- Faith Factors

 

One critical question needs to be asked when desiring to connect the Christian Message with people living outside the confines of the Christian bubble. Namely— What are the key elements that determine the expression and communication of our faith in a postChristian society? As a reminder, we can no longer “just give them the gospel.”The gospel” simply has no cultural pinning in a world so long removed from its Christian roots. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words—

communication circles

In the next few EMPulses we will explore these 6 elements in more depth. For now, let us open a cursory unpacking of these ingredients.

First, to express and/or communicate our faith in this postChristian society we must establish a Biblical Mindset within our own practice of faith. Just going to church, saying the right words, and memorizing a few Bible verses conveys only s surface-faith to others.

Next, we need to understand that our faith is Personality Specific. Our personality filters our faith to fit who we are and who we must become. We must not squeeze ourselves into a faith-box. You cannot be like me or any other Christian. You must be you.

Thirdly, our Christian faith is Culturally Sensitive. We dare not continue to import a western faith into a postChristian Europe, emerging Africa, or a diverse Asia. One of the distinctives of our faith is that it fits into the heartbeats and lifestyles of the host-culture. Yet, in our Western, North American patchwork of cultural blends we must here, too, learn to be culturally sensitive.One size, or shape, does not fit all.

Fourth, as we offer people a relationship with Jesus Christ, we must remember that they must hear His offer of life in their context. “The Gospel” must be heard in their life context. Therefore, in many ways, the Gospel is Receiver Determined. How do they see the Christian faith? It is our task to express our faith in ways that they can respond to and receive Christ’s life into their own.

Fifth, the expression and communication of our Christian faith should be Community Networked. First, we should be networked within a healthy group of fellow believers who have a similar passion for the normal people around us. Second, our faith communication should be networked among those God has placed in our path. No need for commando raids or “debriefings” afterwards. We need to immerse ourselves into the lives of those around us who have no concept of the Christian message. [Warning: you may just come to love them.]

Finally, we, as genuine Christians, need to become more aware of the Holy Spirit of God within. We need to become Spirit Attuned. For we do not offer a person merely the Truths about Jesus, we are offering them Jesus Christ himself. We need to attune our spirits to be in line with God’s Spirit and also in tune with the lives of the people we have come to love. We cannot sense the work of Christ in the lives of others until we clean up our own inner-selves. No wonder God works in spite of us so much of the time.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

 

 

Beyond Words Reconsidered – Take 1

Gary, Davis, needinc, amherst, christian, books, At the same time the BEYOND WORDS BOOKSHOP opened in Amherst, Massachusetts, I was developing a training course for Christians on the nature of the gospel, titled, coincidentally, BEYOND WORDS. Since they were about as humanistic as they come I took my course into them and asked if they would display my brochures. When they found out what it was about we all had a good laugh and the brochures were set up on the checkout counter by the register. Let’s just say that the first time we held the course it was, er, fascinating.

That was 25 years ago. Today the course has morphed into something far more expansive, fun, and exciting. But the thrust still concerns the nature and offering of our Christian message to the normal people of this culture. I use the phrase normal people because “Christian” no longer describes nor defines the majority of individuals in Western culture.

The next few installments of EMPulse will re-address our understanding, expression, and communication of the Christian message, the Gospel. This Take 1 concerns itself with the problems we face as our society loses its Christian memory and assumptions.

For the last ½ century we have boiled down “the gospel” to what we believe a person needs to know in order to become a Christian. Knowledge can no longer be the extent of our message to them. We are now engaged in a battle to verify what we say we believe through our involvement with peoples’ hurts, needs, and failures.

We dwell in a society that no longer holds to an agreed concept about the existence and nature of God, an understanding of a definition of sin (other thangetting caught), a knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ, and the ramifications of belief on/in Him. Nor do we dare assume they sense a need for any kind of God in their lives. The thought of needing an external reference point to guide their life-principles sounds weird to them. We need an expression of the gospel that goes beyond words, that challenges minds and touches hearts.

Asking people to “believe on Jesus and you will be saved” is loaded with so many subcultural assumptions that it has become a non-content phrase.

It’s time we reassessed the nature and content of the Christian message for this antiChristian world. To ignore the misgivings in our culture toward Christian cluelessness would be a grave disservice to our Lord Jesus.

For what it’s worth,

Gary