I am sick of American Christianity. Not all of it, perhaps, but a great deal of it. I know that is an intemperate remark, but when it comes to the character of American Christianity in this election year, the last thing I am is temperate. I am sick to death of a religious system that is not worthy of the name it bears.
The most important stone in the foundation of Christian faith is the bedrock belief that the infinite and omnipotent God has come to us in Jesus Christ in order to make it possible for us humans to be reconciled to God. That is either the most magnificent reality which it has ever been the privilege of the human mind to contemplate or the biggest pile of rubbish ever foisted on a gullible public.
I firmly believe it is the former. I completely understand, however, why so many thoughtful people, looking at the state of contemporary American Christianity, are obliged to conclude the latter.
And when you consider the facts, can you blame them?
Christians assert that God exists as the creator of everything. In the words of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in God, the… maker of… all that is seen and unseen.” The creed, which Anglicans recite every Sunday immediately following the sermon, goes on to declare that we believe in “Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made.”
Then the creed and the New Testament affirm that this same Jesus, after nine months within the uterus of the Virgin Mary and by way of a natural birth, lived thirty-three years as a man, normal in every respect except that He did not commit sin. Finally, after thirty-three years, His life came to an end when, as a result of trumped-up charges, He was judged a threat to the state, was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, and was crucified. Because of His death and subsequent resurrection, human beings have the prospect of eternal life as citizens of the peaceable kingdom of God.
So what do we do with this good news and this great privilege? We squander it.
We argue. We bicker. We envy. We lie. We hold great meetings where we call down the power of God to heal physical infirmities while we cannot seem to engage that same power to resolve the theological and ideological differences that divide us.
We preach justice, but we practice parochialism and political machination. We preach holiness, but we tolerate wrongdoing as long at it serves our interests. We preach simplicity and self-sacrifice, but we practice materialism and self-indulgence. We preach unity and concord and love, but we practice envy and territorialism and ill will toward those who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters.
When I compare the essential nature of Christian faith (magnificent, spectacular, cosmic) with the character and conduct of contemporary American Christianity (petty, mundane, trivial), it would make me laugh if it didn’t make me want to cry.
I am sick. I am disgusted. I am disillusioned. Possessed of a spiritual reality of unparalleled splendor and scope, we allow ourselves to fall prey to self-destruction. We ought to be bearers of news that is precisely the message of hope and forgiveness and restoration which a world in pain needs to hear. Instead, we exemplify a religious system devoid of power, lacking in unity, and characterized by parochialism, rancor, and strife.
I once heard John R. W. Stott say, “Non-Christians don’t reject our faith because they find it false, but rather because they find it trivial.” I don’t think there is a sadder indictment of contemporary American Christianity than that. It is consumed by triviality.
For God’s sake, brothers and sisters, the work of the kingdom is not a competition. It’s not a zero-sum game. There is no need to guard our little jurisdictions and zones of influence with such territorial intensity that we effectively destroy the unity of the body of Christ. The work of the kingdom is not an individualistic enterprise. It is a common work based on a common faith and energized by a common Holy Spirit.
If it is possible to be simultaneously optimistic and disgusted, that describes my state of mind. God is great, and God’s power—the power of love, peace, and justice to overcome hate, violence, and fear—will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, we who claim to be the people of God are doing all we can to impede God’s purposes and to delay that day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And it makes me a little sick to think about it.