For the past year or so I’ve had the privilage of getting to know Tom Davis, a no-nonsense friend of Jesus and humanitarian rabble-rouser. He can be gruff-around-the-edges sometimes, but he has a heart of platinum and is loads of fun to hang out with.
If you like readin’ books, you can check out a few of his that have come out in the past couple of years: Fields of the Fatherless, Confessions of a Good Christian Guy, and Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds.
And if you like coffee, you should treat yourself to Saints’ Coffee, which is organically grown, fair trade, and directly supports oprhans worldwide! It doesn’t get any better than that, folks. (Seriously…cancel your Gevalia subscription and try some Saints. You’ll be glad you did.)
So: Tom is no stranger to controversy, and this past week he’s been setting this here internet a-buzz with his article entitled (as my blog entry title suggests) Why Christians Suck. Except Beliefnet censored it, reading instead “S**k” throughout. Which somehow feels far more salacious and tawdry, y’know?
Anyway, here’s some of what Tom has to say:
“Each Sunday, millions of Christians in America gather to worship the God who commands us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We belt out praises to the God who tells us that “pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans in their distress.” We kneel in pious prayer before the Almighty God of the universe who describes Himself as loving, gracious, merciful, and generous.
Then, we walk out the back door of the church, step into a world in need, and proceed to withhold the love, grace, and mercy that’s extended to us.
We might as well give God the middle finger. Outside of a tiny minority of Christians, we have become a self-centered group of priggish snobs.
In short, we s**k.”
Well come on, Tom! Tell us what you really think! He does this, unpacking his prognosis right here. But Tom doesn’t leave us hanging – oh no. He shows us a remedy to Christian suckishness in his companion piece How to do What the Bible Says.
So how is it that the brewer of Saints is so keen on the Church’s sins? A few years ago, I would have said “Now wait just a minute, Mister!” After growing up in guilt-inducing religion, I was refreshed to find teachers who explicated the refreshing nature of grace; that no matter how sucky Christians behaved, Paul (for instance) always addressed the churches as “holy ones” in the New Testament. Holiness is the core reality of the new creation, regardless of the more external trappings. So my thinking on this has been kinda like John Eldredge’s, pointed out in this 2004 Christianity Today interview:
[Eldredge] challenges Christians who apply Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”) to their post-conversion hearts. “Not anymore it’s not,” he writes in Wild at Heart. “Read the rest of the book. In Jeremiah 31:33, God announces the cure for all that: ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ I will give you a new heart.”
And what about the seemingly humble assertion that Christians are just sinners saved by grace? It’s a Big Lie, Eldredge writes in Wild at Heart, adding: “You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God.”
I believe so much in the gratuitous holyfying nature of God’s manifestation in Christ that I have an entire section of my links directory dedicated to it. I believe it, saints. But at the same time, I can’t camp out here any longer. That I am beloved by my divine Abba before I lift a finger and no matter how sucktastic I am is a core reality that helps me get out of bed in the morning. But the Gospel, as Brian McLaren helped point out to me, transcends justice-avoidance. It isn’t Thank God Jesus died for me so now I can live for myself. The transforming energies of death and resurrection are dedicated to our new creature-ship, to seeing heaven’s reality more and more on God’s beloved earth.
These two vital realities must be held in creative tension. We shouldn’t be guilt-trippin’, but neither should be sitting around like slugs on a log. In my Bible, Paul and James aren’t enemies. Both are friends of the God found in Jesus Christ, who has given us every grace and enablement to live a life marked by transformative good deeds.
Grace & Justice to you this day,