[UPDATE: A new and much improved version of this piece is Seven ways Christians blow it.]
I feel that we Christians too often fail in these ten ways:
1. Too much money. “Wealthy Christian” should be an oxymoron. In Luke 12:33, Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” At Matthew 19:21, he says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” In Matthew 6:24, he says: “You cannot serve God and Money.” Christians are generally pretty huge on cleaving to the word of God. I just don’t see how those particular words could be clearer.
2. Too confident God thinks we’re all that and a leather-bound gift Bible. We should spend a great deal more time reflecting upon the ways in which we acutely displease God (not to mention other people), and a great deal less confident that there’s no reason for us to even consider such a thing.
3. Too quick to believe that we know what God really means by what he says in the Bible. The Bible is an extremely complex, multi-leveled work. We’re sometimes too quick to assume that we grasp its every meaning. Take this passage from Luke 8: 9-10: “His disciples asked him [Jesus] what this parable [of the sower] meant. He said, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’” Huh? And that’s Jesus “explaining” what is generally regarded as one of his most readily understood parables. Are we really all that confident that we always know exactly what Jesus meant by everything he said? Wouldn’t we do well to sometimes admit that the words attributed to God manifested on earth are just a tad … well, Greek to us?
4. Too action-oriented. We Christians could stand to spend less time acting in the name of God, and more time reflecting on the (ever subtle) majesty of God. We need more passivity, and less activity. More meditation, less machination. More reflection, less correction. More contemplation, less administration. More prayers, less airs. More mysticism, less … um … cretinism.
5. Too invasive of others generally. It is my personal, humble opinion that anyone seeking to mix church and state has failed to understand the nature and proper role of either. Being founded upon the principal that all men are created equal and deserving of equal protection under the law is what makes the American system of democracy such a gift to mankind. Attempting to mix the inherently exclusionary imperatives of a particular religion into the resolutely inclusive system of the American constitutional form of government is to work against everything that America stands for. Religion is a personal, subjective affair for the individual; politics and public policy is an impersonal, objective affair for everyone.
6. Too invasive of others personally. We Christians are too often too eager to get up into the faces of others about their personal religious beliefs. If you believe in the reality of hell, then wanting to save non-Christians from going there is an understandable sentiment. But the bottom line is it’s absolutely impossible to talk someone who isn’t a Christian into becoming one; in fact, more than anything else it’s likely to push the non-Christian further from God. We Christians would do very well indeed to spend our time “just” living as Christians, and to let God worry about the non-Christians.
7. Too quick to abandon logic. When talking to others about our faith, we Christians too often resort to a language and line of reasoning that leaves good ol’ fashion logic sitting on the ground behind us, waving a sad good-bye. “It’s true because the Bible says it’s true” is, for instance, an assertion that can’t help but leave the non-Christian unimpressed, since it’s so manifestly illogical. “It’s true because the Bible says it’s true” is no more proof of truth than is, “Apples are the best fruit, because I like them the most.” We Christians need to understand that the religious experience, no matter how bracingly real it might seem to us, is necessarily a subjective phenomenon, and so limit ourselves to talking about it as such.
8. Too fixated on homosexuality. Can we stop already with the gay and lesbian fixation? I know many of us understand our stance on the matter to be unassailably biblical. I know a great many of us are deeply concerned about the “homosexual agenda.” I know. We all know. Maybe Christians could just give that issue a rest for a while. It’s not like gays and lesbians are going anywhere. They’ll all be there when we get back. Maybe — for just a week, a day, a month — we could concern ourselves with something else, and let them be.
9. Too insular. When I became a Christian, one of the things that most amazed me about Christians is the degree to which they tend to hang out only with other Christians. We should stop doing that. How are we supposed to show Christ’s love to non-Christians when we barely know any non-Christians? Time to widen that social base, I say. (Plus, Christian or not, we still want to throw good, fun parties, don’t we? Well, let’s face it: The heathen class has just about all the good music. We might as well invite a few of them to our next party. Maybe they’ll bring their CD’s!)
10. Too uneducated about Christianity. Generally speaking (which of course is the most offensive way to speak about any group), Christians tend to embarrass themselves by knowing so little about either the Bible or the history of Christianity. Believing that the Bible is the word of God, for instance, is one thing; knowing nothing about the long process by which men decided which texts would and wouldn’t make it into the Bible is another. It’s not that all Christians should be full-on theologians or historians. But if you’re a Christian who doesn’t know the Great Schism from The Great Santini, or the Diet of Worms from … well, the diet of worms, then you’ve got some homework to do.
This is the title essay of: