Why Distance Yourself from Crazy Christians?

October 25, 2010 — 7 Comments

angry-marky-mark

I’ve been tossing around this concept in my head for a few weeks now and don’t have a clear answer.  How do rational, objective-thinking Christians distance themselves from other preachers that have a large reach, but whose faith looks completely different from theirs? Do we just let it go and live our own lives and let our actions speak for themselves?  Before we can answer this, I suppose, is to ask why anyone would need to distance themselves from another Christian.

Let me start with a story.  My wife was in a natural, non-threatening conversation with a co-worker about faith.  Her friend, who hasn’t been to church in years (but is interested in spirituality), had only seen Joel Osteen on TV and assumed that my wife went to a smaller version of his church.  “I thought they were all basically the same” her friend said.  And her assessment was that Joel Osteen was making some basic, common-sense evaluations and made the assumption that Christians don’t really critically think.

Now I’m definitely not here to take shots at Osteen. I did that once and felt guilty about it.  But the truth is the Gospel takes a much different manifestation in my life than the way he talks about it.  And way more important than my personal differences from Osteen, is that the unchurched have a whole set of presumptions about us Jesus-followers.  Without recognizing these presumptions, it is difficult to have a faith conversation with someone who has different views.  Research shows that people who do not believe in Jesus associate Christians with being hypocritical, anti-gay, sheltered, too political, and judgmental (87% of people according to Barna).  Not the best of lists when talking about an inspiring faith, and honestly is not really something I’m interested in being a part of.

And when I talk about distancing myself from other Christians, I don’t just mean someone like Terry Jones, the man who became famous for his Qu’ran burning threats on September 11th.  I don’t think non-believers assume most Christ followers are that off the mark.  But I do mean Christian leaders whose faith looks so radically different from mine (or yours), but are still largely popular in the evangelical community.

Allow me to use the example of Mark Driscoll.  I know, I know.  Most people in our Christian subculture have a strong opinion of the man, positive or negative.  Mark is a guy who is quickly becoming the leading evangelical voice, but much of what he says drives me crazy.  Like when he talks about being a “Macho Man” Christian and how “there’s nothing holier than two men beating each other in a cage fight”. Or when he called 5 people up on stage at a conference and told them to punch him in the face.  “Man up! I’m serious!” Mark said.  When the other men didn’t punch him, he had them kicked out of the conference for being sissies.

Whaaaat?

Or when he did a sermon on the heresy of “The Shack” (which is a fictional book). Or that he would use church discipline on men who decide to be stay-at-home fathers (How is his wife allowed to speak in church if he is taking everything literally and not in context?). Or how he does a sermon on the fallacies of Rob Bell’s theology.  Or that all yoga is evil. Or Avatar is the most demonic movie of all time.  Or his low view of women.  Or his arrogant-vibe.  Or his use of language.

driscoll-punch

And I don’t mean to single out Driscoll.  In fact, I agree with tons of his content and appreciate the Acts29 Network (especially the Rochester chapter).  I think he does a lot of good.  It’s just combined with a bit of crazy.  And I also know that Mark likes to utilize controversy to magnify his platform, but people read TIME magazine and see that his theology is in the “Top 10 Ideas That Are Changing the World”.  And I’m not sure that God’s holiness requires me to fight other men (see “Prince of Peace”).  But I’m lumped into this category with Driscoll when I believe in the cross.

But there is this line that can easily be crossed. We as Christians who desire to distance ourselves from other Christians can end up talking so bad about other Christian leaders that it ends up making us look like we beat each other up.  Like those previous paragraphs.  Did I end up just causing more disagreements among Christians that don’t really matter?  Because that’s definitely not my goal.

And Lord knows we as Christians get enough criticism from non-followers of Jesus without criticizing each other.  But I don’t want to be in certain camps, either.

And therein lies the tension.

So what do you think?  How do we distance ourselves from other Christians? Is it worth our time? When does it become hurtful to the Kingdom?

PS – I’m not interested in more comments on Driscoll, Osteen, or Bell’s theology.  I’m interested in the questions raised above.

Jonathan Sigmon

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7 responses to Why Distance Yourself from Crazy Christians?

  1. My tendency would be to not spend time distancing myself. And here’s why. I understand your concerns and I share many of them (not as much with Driscoll, but certainly with guys like Washer, Osteen, etc.), but we also share the Gospel in common with most of them (I’m hesitant to say all of them…As Dean Smith would say “Rick Warren preaches the Gospel, folks. Joel Osteen doesn’t.” ). I think people understand divisions, though not necessarily differences, among Christians well enough…and what’s more, I think part of the hypocrisy and politics is that Christians are always taking shots at each other. Why would we even hope they can see the Gospel at work in us?

    I’d much rather the conversation move to say “I don’t agree with Driscoll or Piper or Keller or Warren or Franklin or Furtick on x/y/z but they preach the same Gospel I do and worship the same Jesus I do and none of us have figured out what it means to live that out perfectly, but we’re all working on it and Jesus is going to bring it all together someday.” Rather than creating distance, demonstrate the tangibility of grace and how Christ has not only reconciled us to God, but also to one another.

    • @David – I really like your response. I agree that most “shots” being taken are at each other as Christians. And I think that it is better to go after individual issues rather than individuals, like you pointed out as well.

      Demonstrating that grace to others is so huge too. It’s easy to sit behind a computer and write how awful Driscoll, Osteen, Bell, or whoever is. We can even do it to our own local pastors when we get in a tizzy. But its much harder to actually work on the reconciliation piece – the piece that says “we have much different expressions of faith, but we work together, because in the end, we serve the same God.”

      I like your conclusion and I see this panning out in how you interact with others about faith. I’ve seen your list of (something like) “Reformed theologically, Anabaptist peace-pursuer, A-Millennial” etc. I’m sure I messed those up, but I’ve seen how you try to distinguish your own understanding of Scripture and how you take into account everyone’s background respectfully.

      Thanks for the helpful response. Anyone else have thoughts?

  2. I see the point you make about not wanting to criticize other Christians and create inner rivalries when there is already so much criticism. But, to be honest, looking at it from the outside, I think that some of that criticism stems from this very point – Christians who think differently NOT distancing themselves. This is not to say that you should rip apart every Christian, leader or not, who doesn’t see the Gospel the way that you do. But just because you believe the same thing, or rather, in the same book and the same being, doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t disagree. And I have to disagree that outsiders view the “hypocrisy” and “politics” at play in Christians taking shots at other Christians. Again, as a (relative) outsider, I think the issue that people take with Christians is overwhelmingly due to the loud and often distorted views of “Crazy Christians” as you named above and that they see no one else stepping up to the plate to present a more rational point of view. Creating a bit of distance not only (to me, at least) shows that you have the intellect and analytical skills to not just take what you are taught/what is said by these leaders, but to consider its relevance to your personal view of the Gospel and to how you want to live your life (i.e. yes, you ARE able to think critically), but shows non-Christians (or other Christians, for that matter) that there is another option. Christians get a lot of flack for being “hypocritical, anti-gay, sheltered, too political, and judgmental” and I think this question you raised is the crux of the issue. Too many non-Christians make gross assumptions about the faith of believers based on the extremist remarks of “Crazy Christians” and too many NON-crazy Christians aren’t doing anything to show that they aren’t all like that. Maybe some believe that you shouldn’t have to “prove” that – that it should be evident in your works, etc. And in another time, I would agree. But when ”I thought they were all basically the same” is no longer a rare sentiment, meaning that dialogue with non-Christians is even more rare, I think a little distance could be a great thing – and a game changer.

  3. The one truth is that we are all sinners, so if we decide to stay away from who we see as “crazy” public figures and link ourselves to some “correct” public figures, there will come a day when they all do something the bible doesn’t agree with. I guess I just feel like if we focus on which public figures we agree with and which we don’t, we will tend to ignore the bits of truth that the “crazies” have and accept the lies that the “correct” leaders may believe or preach (Driscoll is probably a really good example of that). When talking to a nonbeliever I think it is way more helpful to talk about your belief in Jesus rather than the public figures you disagree or agree with. It can lead to us relying the words of men rather than the words of God. So all of that to say, I think we need to have a deserning mind and make sure that whatever anyone tells us, it really lines up with the Word.

  4. I think the key is to distance ourselves from ideas and not necessarily from people. I have had some strong words about Mark Driscoll’s teaching (see this post, http://abandonimage.blogspot.com/2010/02/playing-cards-with-mark-driscoll.html), but we must be careful not to negate someone’s faith, attack them on a personal level, or demonize their motives and intentions. I can make it known that Driscoll does not speak for all christians about the roles of women or his Wild West notions of “biblical manhood,” but I can present challenging arguments that counter such ideas, but I must be careful not demonize him as a person, make claims about his motives and intentions that only God could truly know and find a common ground that ultimately unites us as family in Christ.

  5. Sigmundo.

    Great question. Some interesting responses (except that Erin girl’s – what a dork). You know my stance on Christianity and religion in general.

    But I’d say that if you are a Christian, and you believe you should follow the example set by the big JC… well, you have a pretty clear template in this instance.

    I’m thinking the ‘temple throwdown’. Money collectors. Drop kicks off heaven’s top rope, etc.

    The trick? Who gets to play JC, and who gets the the ultimate tongue lashing? And I have no answer (curse my mortal husk). He’d say you’re wrong, you’d say he’s wrong, you’d splinter off into some sort of subset of the larger religion, he’d do the same, you’d get your followers, he’d get his etc etc etc….wait a minute.

    This sounds familiar.

    Baptist.

    Lutheran.

    Presbyterian.

    Anglican.

    And God only knows (literally) how many more.

    And that’s my point. Throughout history, Christians have had ideological differences. They’ve argued. And they’ve realized no one will ‘win’, so they’ve broken off and formed a splinter group around their own interpretation. Same Bible, different reading if you will….

    As an outsider, I’d say that rational, intelligent Christians who do not espouse hate (couched as holiness) need to think about it. Because you’re literally being swallowed up by people who are twisting (misinterpreting? No, twisting) your God’s word.

    That’s my 33.3 cents.

    Ward the Canadian

  6. Two statements and I’ll paraphrase: “Judgment begins at the house of God” and “We ought judge ourselves”

    The issue lies in the fact that were see the church as the emperor with no clothes but are somehow being disloyal when we point out our inconsistencies. I believe that the world sees us as freaks because we are not allowed to tell each other when were are being contradictory. I’m not talking about doctrine per se but I am mainly concerned with us saying one thing and then another that is diametrically opposed to it. I’ll give one example. I go to heaven by nothing I’ve done in and of myself, but you go to hell because of what you didn’t do. Am I the only one that sees such things going on?

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