What Can We Christians be Thinking?

There were two posts that really drew my attention while running through my Google Reader account over the last couple of days. The first was from Hannity and Colmes, with hat tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars, via WorldNetDaily. I went and found the actual transcript:

COLMES: What about — what does it say for all those people who do not accept Christ as their personal savior?

WARREN: I’m saying that this is the perfect time to open their life, to give it a chance. I’d say give him a 60-day trial.


COLMES: Like the Book of the Month Club.

WARREN: Give him a trial. See if he’ll change your life. I dare you to try trusting Jesus for 60 days. Or your money guaranteed back.

COLMES: Really? You’re going to give me the money back?

WARREN: Absolutely. Direct to me, Sean Hannity, FOX News Channel.

I know lots of presentations of the gospel message, liberal, moderate, conservative, but I don’t know just how that works in with any possible description. I don’t care how you slice it, the gospel works out to a tough, long term commitment. It doesn’t necessarily make you feel better, look better, or acquire you more friends. If those things are happening in your life, be thankful. But becoming a Christian isn’t going to guarantee them.

I could cite scripture after scripture, but I will simply cite what must be the most important example of Jesus. He certainly “tried God” for much more than 60 days, and his life deteriorated as it went. For him, God wasn’t the path to wealth and fame.

I can only hope that Rick Warren had his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek when he made those comments, but even if he did, it is a dangerous misrepresentation of what the gospel is all about. Something about “taking up one’s cross,” which doesn’t mean a nice little gold one to hang around your neck. There is value in presenting the gospel in terms that are comprehensible in the culture, to as large an extent as possible, but when you change the message–try it for 60 days is a prominent feature of our instant gratification, materialist culture–that’s another matter.

If this sort of thing results in ridicule, the ridicule is well-deserved.

And speaking of ridicule, I dropped by P. Z. Myers’ blog Pharyngula, where he is, unsurprisingly, ridiculing Christians. Myers was the person who asked people to score him some Catholic communion wafers so he could desecrate them.

Now it would be nice to point out Dr. Myers’ errors, or criticize his methods, or point out something unbalanced about his ridicule. Unfortunately, he is ridiculing this list of Christian bashers, supposedly the top ten bashers of 2008.

Let’s see what made the list:

#10 is a musical video. It does ridicule certain Christians, though others would be less annoyed. OK, it’s only #10. Perhaps it was a bad year for Christian bashers.

#9 is Bill Maher gratuitously (?) attacking the Pope, in this case over the sexual abuse scandal. I’d have to say that, while Bill Maher can be over the top–he’s a comedian after all–there would be much more to complain about if the church had not covered up the scandal for years and moved abusing priests from congregation to congregation. It’s probably a little unfair that he didn’t include protestant clergy, who are not immune from such charges, though they lack a single central organization to scandalously cover up for them. They have to cover up the hard way.

#8 I won’t repeat, but it’s a case of gratuitous bad taste. I’m doubting that any Christians were actually injured.

#7 is the desecration of the wafer by the aforementioned P.Z. Myers. While that action was pretty tasteless, stupid, and rude, in my view, I’m pretty sure Jesus was able to handle it quite well and his followers ought to do likewise.

#6–horror of horrors! Somebody made a movie bashing religion. Whatever will we do?

#5–chaplains were fired, according to this report, for praying in Jesus’ name. I say “according to this report” because some such stories turn out to be quite different than reported. Chaplains praying in the public square, so to speak, on government time, need to be prepared to be asked to make their prayers generic. Personally I think that the idea of asking someone to pray, i.e. talk to God, and then telling them what to say, obnoxious at best. I think if you invite a Muslim to pray you should expect a Muslim prayer, a Hindu to pray a Hindu prayer, and a Christian to pray a Christian prayer according to his particular tradition. This one, if true, comes the closest to a mild sort of persecution–losing a government job.

#4–Colorado law criminalizes the Bible. Interesting interpretation, that. How many Christian book store owners or Christian publishers have been arrested, and what did the courts say? Hmm. That’s what I thought.

#3–Barack Obama defames Christianity. Say what? This is number #??!! The claim here is that Obama really isn’t a Christian, by their standards of course, and thus his claim to be a devout Christian is defamatory. Ah the pain and the agony that someone should claim to be something their not! How will the faith ever survive?

#2–VP candidate Sarah Palin is attacked. Again, how shall Christianity possibly survive this? A charismatic Christian is made the vice-presidential candidate of a major party, and people, horror of horrors, criticize her. What did she expect? (Also refer to #3. Can Obama claim similar persecution?)

#1, and we finally get to some actual action. If true, vandalizing property and threatening people’s lives will qualify as persecution. At the same time, I would note that unlike in some places in the world, perpetrators who can be caught will be prosecuted. Does it really qualify as persecution when you can call the police and have the perpetrators arrested? Oh, and what about all those cases where good Christians threaten the lives of those who disagree with them, such as in the Dover trial (see here)?

What can we Christians be thinking? We expect Christianity to be easy (try it for 60 days). We expect to be prosperous, and for some reason, certainly not derived from experience, tradition, scripture, or even from any reasonable thought process, we think we shouldn’t be attacked, criticized, or ridiculed.

Are we cry-babies and whiners, willing to dish it out, such as in attacks on gays and lesbians, but not to take it. Obviously acts of violence should be dealt with appropriately by the legal system, but otherwise, this is very simply opposition. People disagree with us. People don’t like us.

Two things:

  1. Think about places like Orissa and Darfur
  2. Get over it!

PS: As a bonus, they note that Senator Chuck Grassley investigated their finances! The gall of the man to expect tax exempt organizations to engage in tax exempt activities!

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  1. Rick Warren didn’t say the 60 day trial would be easy! If taken seriously, it would be really hard, people agreeing to live a real Christian life even for two months. And this is not really so different from what the early church expected to enquirers to do (but the catechumenate could last a year or so before baptism) or what we now routinely ask people to do through the Alpha course. Surely the days are past when we expect unchurched people to commit their lives 100% to Christ on one night without even having a chance to explore what it is all about. So I applaud Warren’s offer, and suggest he makes it into a new 60 Days or 40 Days book for enquirers.

  2. But Peter, being heavily swayed by PR types of thinking, Warren IS giving a gospel presentation in the form of a blatant sales pitch. How can people not, then, think of this in terms of consumerist gratification? (not to mention that I think actually trying to do this, i.e., really placing your trust fully in Christ for a 60 day trial, is probably psychologically impossible) And if they go into it thinking in terms of instant consumerist gratification, they will almost certainly reject it after 60 days precisely because it isn’t an easy path. I agree that people rarely make an abrupt 180 degree turn to commit their lives to Christ, but just because it is a gradual process doesn’t mean that it bears anything other than the very simplistic coincidence of timing to what Warren is selling.

  3. In the public presentation of what the Christian faith is, we’ve completely lost the clue and the reality of christianity in biblical days.

    Sadly, what keeps flashing in my mind when I hear christians speak or act publicly in America is Ichabod – The glory has departed and they knew it not.

    We’ve reduced the vibrant, revolutionary faith Jesus brought to a pharisaic, moralistic religion. This seems more like living in the old testament than in the new. I guess it’s not just the pharisees that struggle with assimilating the implications of Jesus’ new order. We still quite can’t grasp it.

    The good news is that God is still in control and there would always be a remnant, just as in past ages. However, they wouldn’t be the loud ones, nor the acclaimed ones.

  4. Peter – I’m afraid I disagree. It looks very much unlike a testing period for catechumens who were testing to see if they could do it. I think the offer of “your money back” though obviously tongue in cheek, that suggests this is precisely what I said it was.

    Personally I think it was an unfortunate turn of phrase on Warren’s part, but I think it was precisely the type of unfortunate slip that tends to misrepresent the reality of following Jesus.

  5. Kyle, indeed it sounds like Rick Warren was making a sales pitch. But then it sounds like that in Acts 2, 13 etc when Peter and Paul offer forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. If you are determined to filter everything you see through the paradigm that this might be “a gospel presentation in the form of a blatant sales pitch”, then please be consistent in applying this to every preacher, ancient and modern, and not just to jump on bandwagon of criticising Rick Warren, who has become a convenient target because he dares to pray for Barack Obama.

    I agree that Warren probably doesn’t have in mind genuinely having faith in Christ for a temporary period. Perhaps he is suggesting trusting Christ for healing and provision of one’s needs. I accept that the money back offer is a gimmick. I’m sure what he mainly has in mind is that people should spend 60 days exploring what it means to be a Christian, not just intellectually in terms of finding out what the faith means, but also experientially in terms of living for a period as if one were a Christian, alongside true Christians. What better way to evangelise can you think of?

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