The 6 Worst Things About American Christianity

American Christianity1

America is wonderful! We have religious freedom to express our beliefs and worship according to our preferences, but there are also very distinct problems associated with American Christianity. Here are some of the main ones:

1) Infighting

Instead of unifying believers, Christ has become a symbol of discontentment and divisiveness. Theologians publicly humiliate each other, pastors hatefully condemn those they disagree with, denominations split over minor differences, Facebook is used as a platform to spread hurtful comments and derogatory memes, Twitter accounts are used as vicious tools of attacks, and people spew degrading opinions and gossip—often without provocation. Disdain reaches hyperbolic proportions, and accusations of being a “heretic” and “false prophet” are freely given to various individuals who simply have new, bold or different ideas.

American Christians have forgotten how to dialogue and respectfully disagree. We’ve abandoned concepts like grace, humility and love and have devolved into critics instead of encouragers, instigators instead of peacemakers, debaters instead of friends, and reactionists instead of innovators.

Related: Is Evangelicalism Headed for a Split? by Tony Campolo

We crave independence and avoid teamwork, and prefer communities who share similar theological, political and social beliefs. Exclusiveness is preferred over acceptance, and we religiously bolster our personal ideologies instead of readily listen to others. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches as we destroy ourselves and the gospel we represent.

2) Unfair and Inaccurate Associations

American Christianity is obsessed with labels. We ascribe names, descriptors and titles for various theologies, denominations, movements, political ideas and social ideologies.

We judge individuals based on the flimsiest of associations in order to fulfill our superficial stereotypes. Therefore, someone who likes Rob Bell must be a “Liberal Universalist,” while someone who admires John Piper must be a “Calvinist.” Mystery and ambiguity is mistakenly perceived as ignorance, and so we categorize everyone—including ourselves.

We live in an age where the term “Christian” means a million different things to a million different people. To make matters worse, non-Christians have their own associations—often warranted. Therefore, an individual claiming to be Christian can be misinterpreted as being Homophobic, Conservative, Anti-Science and Sexist, even though those descriptions may be completely inaccurate.

Christian groups and organizations reinforce negative perceptions through campaigns, lobbying efforts, institutionalized doctrines, public comments and actions, making it harder to break down preconceived stereotypes that our popular culture and media continue to associate with Jesus.

For believers, the term “Christian” is just the beginning label, a generic description meant to be broken down and dissected. What type of Christian are they? A moderate? Liberal? Egalitarian? Lutheran? Charismatic? What style of worship do they prefer? What translation of the Bible do they use? The classifications could go on forever.

American Christianity is a complex and diverse array of beliefs and ideologies, and every individual is unique, but we prefer to reduce everything through labels, forfeiting truth for the sake of compartmentalization and simplification.

3) Speed and Shallowness

Our fast-paced culture of celebrity, noise and entertainment has trumped our ability to patiently meditate, pray and reflect. We ignore meaningful content if it’s boring. Time is money and we value being engaged in the here and now. Our country is addicted to technology, and we use our smart phones, tablets and laptops to constantly interact—but we fail to take the time to process our actions.

Related: The Nationalistic Corruption of Worship in America – by Craig M. Watts

We communicate in real time as news constantly breaks around us, and we’ve been trained to Tweet, Post, Text, Call and Blog at the speed of light. Controversy is a welcome diversion that distracts us from issues (or people) that really matter.

The most popular theologians and pastors now have their own web platforms, and we expect them to engage in every newsworthy event—no matter how significant (or insignificant) it may be. A Christian author may spend years of exhaustive work and research in order to write a book, but we’ll manage to ruthlessly and publicly tear it apart within minutes of publication.

Brave New Films

Mistakes are made, statements are shouted, relationships are ended, and it’s often too late to retrace our steps and retract our sins. We sacrifice contentment, care and thoughtfulness in order to quench our insatiable desire for social interaction and cheap entertainment.

4) We’re Privileged

Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?” Any theology, idea or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zones isn’t easily accepted.

Many American Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. But when people are persecuted, abandoned, ignored or powerless, their perspective changes and they become open to different paradigms. These new paradigms are invisible and seem illogical to those that live comfortably.

5) Consumerism

We have turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

The message of Christ should be available for free, to everyone. The best worship, pastors, teachers, ideas, inspiration and resources should not be reserved for only those who can afford to pay for the latest albums and books, buy tickets to conferences, pay tuition for Seminary, or submit a fee for retreats—you get the picture. As Christians, we need to be intentional about fighting our cultural habit of commercializing everything, and be willing to generously offer our gifts and resources freely to everyone—with no strings (or charges) attached.

6) Obsessed with Power

American Christianity has historically had vast institutional, political and social power.

Power-hungry Christians view their faith as a battle, a series of wins and losses. Control and influence is valued above all else, and Christianity’s success is measured by research, statistics, attendance and the success of church-supported laws at the state and federal level. Success is hardly gauged by the fruits of the Spirit or by how well we’re following Christ’s example.

Also by Stephen: Am I A Christian Bigot?

A thirst for power results in Christians who prefer political might over spiritual strength, legal enforcement over personal choice, conscription over evangelism, punishment over grace, fear over hope, and control over love. In extreme cases, even violence and aggression is viewed as a necessary means of gaining power.

But “Christianity” in America is no longer an institutionalized tradition that people automatically do on Sunday mornings— this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces us to care less about power and more about the gospel of Christ. Jesus routinely sacrificed worldly power for humble service and love. Is selfless love something that American Christians are ready for? We’ll soon find out.

In the meantime, let’s pray that American Christianity is transformed to reflect the love of Christ—in order to humbly serve the world around us.

(Disclaimer: Don’t worry, there is a Best Things About American Christianity as well…)

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About the Author

Stephen Mattson

Stephen MattsonStephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. Paul. Follow him on Twitter @mikta and on his personal blog stephenjmattson.comView all posts by Stephen Mattson →

  • Jonathan Starkey

    Christianity has a fear of man, and not God.
    (I feel this article addresses what it hates about what it perceives “western/conservative/right wing/middle class” Christianity to be everyone this site is angry at. I want to hear an honest criticism of post modern/neo-liberal /red letter/Christianity.)

    • bluecenterlight

      Maybe God is calling on you to write one, I would be glad to read it.

    • bluecenterlight

      I think we spend a lot of time snipping at each other in unproductive ways. I thought about wanting to hear an honest, heartfelt, critique from someone on your side devoid of 144 character gotchas, and decided to write one myself. Some thoughts on what I feel about the state of the church.

      The church

      I am afraid that we are becoming a
      people who approach the world with a list of rules. There are rules.
      But are we suppose to be a club open only to those who follow the
      rules? If that is true, then no one should be allowed. We have become
      a church that makes their sin acceptable and despise the sin of
      others. We have become those who look for gimmicks or enemies in
      order to light a fire under a sea of lethargic lazy Christians who
      invest more time in watching reality TV shows and shopping for new
      gadgets then loving a lost world. Red letter Christianity to me is a
      refocusing on the simplicity that is in Christ. That if we are going
      to interpret scripture it has to be done through the lens of Jesus. A
      focus on me living out a life trying to please Him because He has
      saved me from the depths of my sin, not because I’ve checked off my
      compliance to a list of rules. If this becomes a political movement I
      am not interested. A left wing political co-opting is no better than
      the rights. But I think the church has become so beholden to right
      wing politics that any move to the middle is going to look to some as
      a move to the left. We have tried everything from seminars, tape
      series, retreats, mega churches, small groups. Only to find ourselves
      wanting. We have turned to the home church structure to address the
      problems of the mega church, only to produce the same environment
      just on a small scale. A galaxy of observers orbiting a few doers.
      Christianity was never suppose to be learned about, observed from a
      distance. It is suppose to be lived. But the starting point has
      always been everything, we will experience God to the extent of our
      willingness to push all our chips in, if we are sparing, so is God.
      So what does a healthy church look like? I don’t know, I just know it
      doesn’t look like this. As to our major contentions, justified
      violence, and homosexuality. I don’t know what the answer is. I am
      willing to die rather than take a mans life. To some this makes me an
      idiot, but it is my personal conviction that I have wrestled with and
      did not come to easily. Maybe I will get to heaven and God will call
      me naive and that I should have blown that sucker away. I guess we
      will have chuckle about all the misguided pacifists. But I would
      rather have that conversation than why I sentenced someone to an
      eternity separated from God because my life was threatened.
      Homosexuality, is complicated. I don’t have an answer for it. I
      suppose in the same way I don’t have an answer for my own sexual
      immorality. I remember being 6 years old and seeing that iconic
      Farrah Fawcett poster and thinking, “ that makes me feel funny and
      I don’t know why” lol I have not stopped lusting after women
      since. And while that makes me a red blooded American male ,it still
      makes me a sinner in the eyes of God. To me there is no difference
      between myself and a homosexual. As I get older and get more years
      under my belt in the Lord, I get better at mastering it, but I am
      still not perfect. But where would I be if I never started my journey
      with Jesus? I think my role on earth is to introduce everyone to the
      one who has the power to change their life, what they do with it is
      up to them. Just as ultimately it is up to me what I do with my walk.
      I can only be honest about my own struggles. But this scenario has always bothered me…A gay couple, who love
      only each other for all their life, and love and serve God with
      everything they are, they die, does God reject them? The truth is, I
      guess it’s possible. Martin Luther King died bleeding on a Memphis
      balcony an adulterer, no chance for repentance. Although, I would
      have to say he had to have been tortured, and was probably in a
      constant state of repentance. But the kingdom of God is no place for
      adulterers, or any sexually immoral, scripture is clear. So I suppose
      he could be separated from God. I just don’t believe that to be true.
      Is it possible the day he asked for Christ’s forgiveness he was
      forgiven once and for all for anything he might ever do in the
      future. Maybe he was not an adulterer, but someone who was forgiven
      but hadn’t quite washed the stench of his old self off. Some of us
      have a lot of stench to get rid of, lol. And it will be a lifetime
      process of trusting God by letting go of everything to Him. We all
      hold something back, and I think it is the problem with conservative
      Christianity that we have turned our difficulty in handing everything
      over to God into a list of easy (for us) to follow rules that make us
      feel comfortable. I believe God is about to do something amazing and
      beautiful with his Church, I believe we are going to become glorious,
      as opposed to the sad, little, cynical people we have become. Except, I
      think God is going to strip everything from us to bring that about. I
      think it is only in despair that the blinders fall off and we become
      people who weep. Not for what this country has become, not for what
      my culture, my city, my neighborhood, my neighbor has become. But,
      what have I become? I will weep for that, but I will not indulge in
      self pity or lost time. I will stand up and make a mark for Him. The
      world can do with it what it will, but I will let as many people know
      as I can that they are loved by someone who gave everything to set
      them free from the bondage of their lives , and it will be a lifetime
      journey filled with success and failure, but for God sakes start that
      journey. I feel an urgency, something in the air that says it’s time
      to get people in the boat. We are fishers of men, I think we have
      been too focused on cleaning and gutting them as we catch them. I
      believe there is a harvest coming that the nets are going to be so
      full they cannot be contained, we are going to be overwhelmed, crying
      for help. And you are right, it could mean anarchy, orthodoxy
      despised entirely without reaching back to which is good and
      unchangeable. The church could become a place filled with dirty,
      messy, sinners who make life complicated and don’t fall into easy
      categories. I guess we have to trust God is in charge of this, and
      all I can do is be everything he has called me to be.

      • There is Hope

        Amen, simple and honest. Great post friend. Keep doing what you are doing, grow and spread his love, it is a journey to the finish.

  • Jonathan Starkey

    This article reflects the stream of thought of almost every child or person I know who is rebellion against the Church.

    I’ve found myself in a sandwich between the “religious” who told me I was going to hell for my tattoos, and their postmodern offspring.

    When I was hurt by the “religious,” I fell into the hands of their angry children. Who were developing their own form of “inclusive loving Christianity.”

    I see this article as being the stream of thought from the latter.

    • Dennis L

      7) Jonathan’s answer and it’s snarky “I’m right and can find zero truth in 6 points (oh did I tell you I’m right)” sarcastic tone. That’s enough to keep most people away!

      • Jonathan Starkey

        Maybe there is truth in the six points, but there is also truth that this site spends a lot of time talking about them.

        Like I said, I would like to see an honest review of the red letter culture.

        • Jonathan Starkey

          By red letter people. Have an easy time pointing out the faults of others. At the cost of not being able to see your own faults.

          • Dennis L

            Ironic, they are just like you and me!

          • bluecenterlight

            The only true objectivity is subjectivity rendered conscience of itself :)

        • Dennis L

          My guess the review would only be “honest” if you agreed with it so I’m not thinking anyone will be too compelled to write it. There’s fault and problems with every site and every article. It’s disturbing you simply cannot find one good thing in this man’s 6 points. I think, if anything he’s TOO nice, which probably comes from having to face his peers at the university and in his local church.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            It’s just post modern christian bashing apologetic, disguised as empathy. That’s why it’s ironic.

            And your the one who is being “SNARKY.”

          • jonathan starkey

            Here is a good honest assessment from copied from Christian Piatts article:
            RLC= The first group, the unaffiliated, is largely uninterested in conventional religion, embracing humanism, non-specific forms of spirituality, or post-institutional forms of community. Their concern with old-fashioned religious questions is waning, as is their commitment to religious structures of the past. They are, by all reports, angry at the admixture of religion and politics
            that has roiled American life over the last three decades, and prefer
            more inclusive, less dogmatic but more pragmatic politics.

  • Jonathan Starkey

    Ironic: The article kind of does/embraces, all the kind of bad things it’s trying to point out.

    • otrotierra

      How so? Show us, with direct citations please, how Stephen Mattson embraces all the bad things in six points.

  • Drew

    I see these as problems in American Christianity but not the biggest problems.

    The biggest problems are false idols, teachers, and doctrines. In a postmodern society where all truth is valid and there is no absolute truth, false idols, teachers, and doctrines are everywhere. As you mention, nobody can even define Christian anymore, because anyone will call themselves a Christian regardless if they are or not.

    In that light, infighting is actually wonderful. Often infighting is really just contending for the faith. With postmodernism worship and so many false idols, teachers, and doctrines around, you are going to have Christians standing up to the wolves and wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    • SamHamilton

      Good point Drew. But do you think this is something that is applicable to America or isn’t it something that has always existed in every time and place?

      • Drew

        Definitely not unique to America, although I think they are more of a problem in American than in some other places.

    • Dennis L

      I think the average pastor has lost his way. Many have become self promoters and protectors who dream of the next book and conference speaking spot. Don’t get me started on the “worship” crisis we’ve created. I would love to see a Christianity where for the next 100 years no one can make a dime off of following or serving Jesus. Won’t happen but I’d sure like to see how different it would be. I know a lot of pastors who’d not be serving anymore.

      • Drew

        On one hand, I must say that I do enjoy the prolific writing and speaking of some pastors, and that a lot of pastors give the proceeds of their speaking or writing engagements to the Church or to charity.

        However, like you are, I am also concerned about the increasing number of “performance pastors” that spend all their time speaking and writing rather than with their flock. If I ever left my mid-size Church, it would be to join a smaller Church where the pastor has the ability to be more involved with the flock.

      • Drew

        Funny you should mention this. Recently I added Greg Laurie on Facebook as a fan page and saw a post for a sermon he was doing last night (Thursday). After worship, he spent about five minutes hawking his wife’s book and then said his wife would be interviewing on mother’s day. Then he jumped into the sermon. To me, it was wholly inappropriate to be hawking a book from the pulpit, saying it would make a great “mother’s day gift.”

        • chrystine

          That is one reason why I personally would never feel comfortable in a large congregation, and for me that means over 200.

  • SamHamilton

    These are pretty good, thanks. I think Drew brings up another decent problem with American Christians, but that has always been with us and always will. It’s not limited to America either.

    On infighting, I don’t necessarily think people disagreeing about the faith is inherently wrong or a negative. It’s how we disagree that is the problem. We do it very publicly, using modern technology in a nasty way at times. That’s the problem, not the infighting itself.

    And on labels, I completely agree. We are too quick to assign labels. I prefer just to go with “Christian.” Let other people define themselves rather than sticking a label on them that they might not agree with. But on that subject, what about “Red Letter Christian?” Is this label, when self-applied, anything more than saying “I care about what Jesus said, as opposed to those other Christians who don’t?” I think this movement needs to think about this particular label.

    • Drew

      Agreed – there is a difference between contending for the faith and just being a complete jerk. However, a lot of folks will say that the slightest whiff of contending for the faith is being a complete jerk, that it is heresy to say the word heresy. I disagree. The Bible clearly states that we are to call out false teaching and false teachers. Jesus does so himself (quite strongly) in Revelations.

      • bluecenterlight

        The problem is everyone thinks they are contending for the faith. The right, the left, warmongers to peacemakers all think they are carriers of the “truth”, of course they really can’t all be. I think we need to spend more time living out our convictions vs. contending for them.

  • No man, woman or child is perfect thats why God gave us the ability to ask for forgiveness. Todays world is corrupted, societies are mixed cases of disfunctional human beings with no morals, ethics or self respect for themselves, parents, and the elderly. There is a big difference in accepting people to be different but to impose those lifestyles on people who live a normal lifestyle is far fetched.

  • Eurruela

    Why put stock into all the information that is out there. If people are promoting anything but the gospel of Christ are they are really right?. It’s either we live by the fruit of the spirit or not. Gods Love is that simple. All he wants is a relationship! There are so many books, websites, Organizations that promote Red letter Christians. We are all Christians. Just confused by the imposter in ourselves to justify our belief to suit our purpose and not Christ. Go argue your points. I will smile and live in Christ Love. It won’t stop the pain of this world. But it makes the journey thankful. I do thank God for the freedom of guilt for my Sins. That is the Christian I want to be. Amen

  • Although this article has some ponts that are valid, it has more points that are not. In my opinion, this article only tells one side of the story and the side it tells seems to be a dangerous one. The article has overtones of a far left nature and in my opinion basically says if we don’t accept “new” or in other words “progressive ideas, then we are not living as true Chrisitans and I wonder why the author specifically pointed out “American Christianity “. Can it be perhaps that America is the last stronghold of the word, one the progressives and this author can’t wait to break ! I warn anyone reading this article to beware and know as Chrisitans, you do not have to accept ANYTHING that is not in the words of our OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. The only thing I see wrong with American Chrisitanity are those like this author, who have basically sold out to “NEW IDEAS”, and have not for self serving reasons adhered to the true word of GOD and are ready to shame those who do.

    • Richard

      I would not say that America is
      the last stroghold of the word. If anything I would say that the church in America has become deluted and tainted. This is something I’ve felt for the last ten years or so. And this may be the case everywhere there is Christianity. I heard a sermon by Paul Washer where he says the Christians from other countries would not even consider most American Christians true believers and would be confused at what we believe. I would also recommend listening to some of Paul Washers sermons due do his exclusion of right or left American politics and his old fashioned offensive strictly biblical teachings.

  • Little one <3

    I’m a fairly young Christian, I have stumbled into this website and, I’m a little hurt that you people think that christians are like this. The true Christians do NOT think this way or do these things. There are groups of, well as I put it, True Christians out there. I dont care for titles or money or power like you explain in this article, and the christians I know are the same way. Dont loose faith or beleive everything you read on websites and such. Not everyone is like this. And I know that I was luckey enough to find the Christians I am with today. If you dont want to listen to me You dont have to. I just wanted to tell you my side. From a true Christians point of view. <3

  • jjjj

    7) you think your special

  • Kent Harris

    Just like gold fire allows for the impurities to be cleansed. In the days ahead as things move toward the End Times the elect through the Holy Spirit will shine like a beacon in the darkness. At Christ’s Second Coming we will hear ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’

  • believein1

    How about pride, nationalism, jealousy, hate, ego, racism? I think the author of the article is too deep into American Christianity to even realize it

  • Joe Retief

    Somebody in America said: “American Christianity is false. Its
    materialistic, idolatry, and garbage. A mockery of Jesus. Give me a
    break. Pick and choose their prosperity jargon. What happened to the
    fear of God, holiness, the cross, obedience and repentance. EXACTLY.
    False teachers!”

    The American Pentecostal and charismatic churches teaches the errors and false doctrine of: 1.
    a Crossless Christianity, 2. The prosperity gospel, 3. Dominionism, 4.
    Hyoer-grace. These movements – although there are still some really good
    charismatic churches around – they have produced heresy upon heresy(!) – as the norm, not
    the exception.

  • OutsideTheGate

    The only one I’d disagree with is ‘Unfair and Inaccurate Associations’. You’re in denial. :)

    People might use labels to categorise, but they’re not mere labels or associations, because they’re concrete realities. It could be argued that the utter disunity and mass of contradictions show that Protestantism is closer to reaching the complete fulfilment of its worldview the more it becomes a solipsistic world of ‘me, my bible, and Jesus’, which is how my Evangelical friends talk to me about their Christianism (Relativism), when they’re trying to convert me out of my ‘Romanism’.

    The sheep have scattered because you ain’t got no shepherd, just thousands of sheepdogs rounding up coteries of like minds around their common beliefs about their own truths.

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