Turned Off to “Christian Image” or to Truth?

by Wayne S. Walker

     In an article entitled, "Christian Image Is Turning Youths Off," dated 10/12/2007, Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service wrote:
     Young people have graded Christianity, and so far, the report card doesn’t look good.
     Majorities of young people in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. What’s more, many Christians don’t even want to call themselves "Christian" because of the baggage that accompanies the label.
     A new book based on research by the California-based research firm the Barna Group found that church attitudes about people in general and gays in particular are driving a negative image of the Christian faith among people ages 16-29.
     "The Christian community’s ability to take the high road and help to deal with some of the challenges that this (anti-gay) perception represents may be the … defining response of the Christian church in the next decade," said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity.
     "The anti-homosexual perception has now become sort of the Geiger counter of Christians’ ability to love and work with people," he said….
     Kinnaman said some Christians — including those in the entertainment industry — preferred to call themselves "followers of Jesus" or "apprentices of Christ" because the word "Christian" could limit their ability to relate to people. Even Kinnaman, 33, described himself as "a committed Christ follower," though he has called himself a Christian in the past….
     "When Jesus pursued people, he was much more critical of pride and much more critical of spiritual arrogance than he was of people who were sinful. And today’s Christians, if you spend enough time looking at their attitudes and actions, really are not like Jesus when it comes to that."
     Megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., used the book to say he hopes the church will become "known more by what it is for than what it is against.
     "For some time now, the hands and feet of the body of Christ have been amputated, and we’ve been pretty much reduced to a big mouth," Warren wrote.
     The information in this article is disturbing for two reasons.  First, it is sad that so many young people seem to be turned off by Christianity which, even it its less than perfects forms, is responsible for just about every truly good blessing and privilege that we enjoy in our society today.  I shudder to think what Western Civilization would have been like if its foundations had been in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or especially atheism!, instead of Christianity.  We would probably still be living primitive, superstitious, third-world lives.
     A second reason why the article is so disturbing is the sheer amount of misinformation and misunderstanding that it represents.  I find the reaction to the "anti-gay" charge especially noteworthy.  The radical homosexual-rights people have done their job exceptionally well in the education of our young people via the public schools, television, movies, and other media, in getting them to accept homosexuality as a "normal, alternate" lifestyle and to view any opposition to it as "homophobic."  I recently saw a DVD in a video store entitled "The Bible Tells Me So" which apparently pokes fun at the idea that people would use the Bible to condemn homosexuality.  Yet, the Bible still says that, "Neither fornicators…nor homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). 
     Certainly, it is true that many who have professed and do profess Christianity have not always lived by its principles and thus give it a bad name, causing some to be turned off.  However, as with everything else, people must be careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I have an idea that the present generation has been fed such a diet of relativism ("I’m OK–you’re OK," live and let live, don’t rock the boat or make waves, "let’s all just get along") that any condemnation of sin seems to it to be judgmental and hypocritical, because to them there is no absolute right or wrong, except that it is absolutely wrong to say that anyone is wrong!
     Rather than basing our faith on opinion polls and focus group research, we must go back to the Bible.  Should Christians ever condemn anything?  Noah is held up to us as an example of faith, who saved his family.  He is described in scripture as "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5).  And by what he did and said, "he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7).  Evidently Noah’s preaching must have turned off a lot of other people in his day because absolutely no one followed him into the ark, except his own family.  Yet, he was still in the right and everyone else was in the wrong.
     And then there is Jesus.  Unfortunately, sometimes even those who claim to be "followers of Jesus" can actually be His worst enemies.  To say, "When Jesus pursued people, he was much more critical of pride and much more critical of spiritual arrogance than he was of people who were sinful," is merely an opinion, and not one well-founded on scripture.  Yes, He did criticize pride and spiritual arrogance.  But He also condemned other forms of sin in no uncertain terms.  He told the adulterous woman, "Go, and sin no more" (John 8:11).  He said that she had sinned.  He did NOT say that she was just misunderstood and should be accepted as she was.
     Furthermore, the true followers of Jesus who in the first century were guided by the Holy Spirit to reveal His will to mankind spoke for Him (see 1 Corinthians 14:34).  Thus, their words are just as much His words as the ones He spoke.  One of His servants, the apostle Paul, said, "Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).  The word of God is truth–absolute truth (John 17:17).  Right now, preaching the truth of God’s word is apparently out of season, at least with many, but Paul does not say to change the message to suit the times but to continue preaching the word anyway.
     Why?  Paul continued, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  Boy, does that ever describe the present generation!  It is far more prone to believe fables (all religions are equal, homosexuals are born that way, there is no absolute right and wrong) than it is to accept the truth of God’s word.  Yet, Paul still says that we need to keep on preaching the word, even if it seems "out of season."
     I understand the statement that the church should be "known more by what it is for than what it is against," and basically agree with it.  However, it does not go far enough, because the truth is that you cannot be "for" something if you are not equally against everything that stands opposed to what you claim that you are "for."  So far as I can tell, Rick Warren, and many like him, are nothing but appeasers who have compromised and watered down the truth of the gospel in an effort to make it more palatable to an unbelieving and corrupt society as they strive for huge numbers, with the result that there is almost no difference between what they teach and what the world already believes, except that they do throw a little "Jesus" in every now and then.
     The real problem is not that today’s youth is turned off by some "Christian image."  Today’s youth is turned off by truth itself.  They don’t want "the offense of the cross" (Galatians 5:11).  They prefer the "smooth words and flattering speech" which will deceive their hearts into thinking that they are "apprentices of Jesus" while in truth "they deny Him" by their works (Romans 16:17, Titus 1:16).   The same Jesus who is appealed to as being so loving, accepting, and embracing, once said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  That is a pretty absolute statement!  And accepting Him means more than just looking upon Him as a great teacher.  "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
     Furthermore, the book that Jesus left us tells us, "You who love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10).  By today’s standards, steeped as they are in secularism, humanism, and post-modernism, anyone who hates evil is automatically viewed as being judgmental and hypocritical.  Over 300 years ago, Isaac Watts expressed how true Christians will react to the hatred of society toward them when he wrote:
"Should earth against my soul engage,
And fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world." 
Yes, I must make sure that my attitude does reflect the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ.  But I cannot let the "frowning world" cow me into not exposing the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).
   (—in Truth Magazine; May, 2009; Vol. LII, No. 5; pp. 16-17)


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