Christianity is about 2, 000 years old and there are now two billion Christians in the world. We have a track record of doing some very good things, and also some not so good. With that in mind I started thinking about what I really love (and hate) about Christians. Surprisingly, what made my list of the best and worst that Christianity has to offer were sometimes the same things. You may come up with something completely different, but here are three of my biggest loves and hates…
#1 – HELPING THE POOR
I love that some Christians devote their lives to doing what they can to alleviate the pain and suffering of those who are less fortunate than they are. Of course there have been some superstars like Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa, but even those extraordinary overachievers can’t make up for the rest of us who don’t do nearly as much as we could or should. Because of that, the first thing I hate about Christians is that we don’t give enough to the poor. It’s been said that Christians have built more hospitals than any other religion, but unfortunately because of our long history of violence we’ve also put more people in the hospital than any other religion.
Tithing (giving ten percent of our income to the church) has been the standard since Old Testament times, but according to a recent Frances Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership analysis of data contained in the Annual Christian Megacensus, just seventeen percent of adult American Christians claim to tithe (and only three percent actually do). A 1997 report by the United Nations estimated that the cost to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide would be $80 billion per year. An easily attainable goal if all adult Christians would tithe, or give an equivalent amount to any organization that works in poverty relief, but it seems that we’ve got a long, long way to go. Comedian and television host Stephen Colbert put it this way, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
#2 – ACCEPTING JESUS AS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR
The second thing I love about Christians is our willingness to accept Jesus as our Savior. It definitely requires a certain amount of humility to acknowledge that we can’t overcome sin by ourselves. Along with that acceptance comes the comforting thought that we’re getting a free pass into heaven that we don’t have to do anything to earn, other than to just say yes to the saving love of Jesus. But what I hate is that although we’re great at accepting Jesus as our Savior we’re often not so great at following Him as our Lord. The Bible frequently refers to Him as both our “Lord and Savior” because it’s supposed to be a package deal. Some Christians will argue that we don’t need to do anything because we’re saved by grace and not by works, and quote Ephesians 2:8-9 to support their claim, “ For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift from God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” The problem with this logic is that it ignores the very next verse that says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved by the free gift of grace, but we should also be doing the good works that Jesus asks us to do as a way of saying thank-you, not as a way of paying for the gift. We really need to stop doing end runs around some of the things that Jesus taught just because they aren’t convenient or don’t fit our personal agendas. To quote Jesus in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?”
Television personality and agnostic Bill Maher made a lot of Christians squirm a little in a segment on one of his shows when he called us on not actually following the peace teachings of Jesus. He said, “For almost 2, 000 years Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try to figure out how ‘Love thy neighbor’ can mean ‘Hate thy neighbor’ and how ‘Turn the other cheek’ can mean ‘Screw you, I’m buying space lasers!’” He followed that up with “Non-violence was kind of Jesus’ trademark, kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales.”
#3 – EVANGELISM
The third thing I love about Christians is that some of us really do try to live out The Great Commission given to us by Jesus in Matthew 28:9-20 where He says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Some of us evangelize a lot, and some of us are way too timid to say anything about our faith to anyone. The flip side of this is that I hate how terrible many of us are at evangelizing when we do choose to do it.
I had a personal experience where someone I’d recently met asked out of nowhere, “Are you born again?”. I felt a little cornered, and sensing that she wanted a yes or no answer I panicked and mumbled something like “Yeah, I guess so” which probably wasn’t the kind of response she was looking for because the conversation abruptly ended and she walked away, apparently writing me off as one of those Christians who isn’t very passionate about my faith. If I had said no, at least she would have had the satisfaction of launching into her spiel. What I actually wanted to say was, “If you’re asking if I’m born again as in someone who goes to a church just like yours, answered the altar call that you answered and prayed the prayer that you prayed, then no…I’m not born again by your definition. But if you’re asking if my life has been radically changed by Jesus, and if I have a child-like faith, and if I try to make everything I think and say and do less about what I want and more about what my Father in Heaven wants, then absolutely yes…I AM BORN AGAIN!”
There’s a fascinating video circulating on YouTube (see below) where outspoken atheist Penn Jillette, of the entertainment duo Penn and Teller, talks about someone giving him a Bible. What’s interesting is that it’s a great example of how profound an impact we can have on someone when we evangelize in the right way. In the video Jillette says that a man attended one of his shows and returned the next night, waiting outside the stage door with some other fans. The man clearly demonstrated to him that he truly appreciated his talent and wanted to do something good for him in return. Jillette’s response afterwards was surprising. Even though he didn’t agree with this guy’s worldview, he appreciated how genuine he was, and so he posed the question – if you honestly believed someone was going to be hit by a truck (or in this case go to hell) how much would you have to hate them to not try to save them? He said, “I know there’s no God, and one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that, but I’ll tell you, he was a very, very, very good man and that’s real important. And with that kind of goodness it’s okay to have that deep of a disagreement, and I still think that religion does a lot of bad stuff but man…that was a good man that gave me that book.”
To sum up:
We don’t do enough of what we do well.
We don’t do everything that we know we should do.
We don’t interact with non-Christians in a way that makes them want to join us.
We need a Christianity that’s less about proving how right our theology is and more about love. Less about judging other people’s shortcomings and more about inviting them into this beautiful way of living that we can all share because of Jesus. When Shane Claiborne was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if he thought he was going to hell, he didn’t give him a complex theological answer to his question. He just said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.”