Alternative Christianity

I was having a conversation with a friend at work last night when he used the term “alternative religion.” It is a phrase that is used quite often, especially when referring to one of the many New Age religions that have become popular in the last few years. It is a phrase that has struck a chord in me over the last few weeks. I am convinced that what this world needs isn’t more “alternative religions,” but rather an “alternative Christianity.”

Let me explain.

I have had countless conversations with people that have rejected Christianity; including many that have done so in favor of a so-called alternative faith. When I engage these people in dialogue I can’t help but notice a common theme. Most of these people seem to take issue with Christianity as an organized church rather than Christ. There are a million such stories and I’m sure everyone has heard them, if not experienced one first hand. Either they were turned off by a particular pastor that told them they were going to Hell every Sunday … or they had a fundamentalist parent that used Christianity as a weapon. Maybe they got tired of “fair weather” Christians that donned halos every Sunday only to sprout horns by Monday afternoon. Perhaps they had Christian friends that were constantly shaming them for not measuring up to some unattainable example. In my case, I shy-ed away from Christianity for much of my life because I felt the church turned men into wimps. Real men weren’t allowed to exist in church without being neutered.

Most people reject Christianity because of reasons like those listed above rather than Christ. A book I am reading puts it this way, “People don’t have a problem with Christ, it is the ‘ianity’ they have a problem with.”

There are several good reasons to reject Christianity as an organized religion. Televangelists. Fake Christians. Sermons packed with shame. Hell used as a threat. Denominations arguing over everything from music to attire. Lets face it … most of the time, Christians can’t get along with each other; why would we expect anyone else to be attracted to our faith?

When I read the story of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, I can’t help but notice that He was the original alternative to religion. One could draw countless comparisons to the pharisees of Jesus’ day with the organized churches of our day. Jesus’ opinion of the organized religion of His day was clear, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25).” Jesus could of been talking to our own church leaders when He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:15)!”

People that are exploring alternative religions need to understand that, in many ways,  the organized Christianity they have rejected bears little or no resemblance to the original message of Christ.

I saw a statistic the other day that said 80 churches close every day in the United States. While more people are claiming to be “spiritual” less are claiming to believe in Christ. This frightens me tremendously. There is something about these alternative religions that is attracting people and something about Christianity that is turning them off. The modern church needs to reclaim the original message of Christ as an alternative to what is negative about religion in order to reach people in His name. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but there are several things the church needs to do differently.

1. Reclaim Christ: The church needs to embrace Christ and make sure He is always at the center of its message. Churches have a knack for focusing on morality and politics without ever mentioning Christ. I’ve sat through whole sermons where Christ was never mentioned and Scripture was never read. Christ has got to be the center of everything the Church teaches.

2. Less Discipline and More Discipleship: For most people, church has become a list of “thou shalt nots.” There is a whole grocery list of things that people have to give up to be a Christian, or else face punishment at the hands of the church. Drinking, cussing, sex, gambling … any of these things may leave you in the pastor’s doghouse. Churches do a good job of telling people why they are going to hell when they should be providing opportunities for them to learn how to disciple Christ. As people align themselves with Christ, they need to learn how to live like Christ.

3. Focus on What Makes the Message of Christ Unique: Man-made religions are very similar. Participants must achieve some sort of enlightenment before they are worthy to reach glory (in whatever form that may be). Either they need to live better, meditate more, or achieve higher levels of knowledge. Christ’s message is unique. Christ taught that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and available for everyone. Christ didn’t require people to accomplish anything before they entered into relationship with Him. Christ accepts people as they are and loves them unconditionally. The only thing he requires is faith and belief. Once someone believes, their eternal ticket is punched … then comes discipleship (see above).

4. Less shame. Too many churches try to shame their members into relationship with Christ. Shame has no business in a life with Christ. There is no room for shame amidst God’s grace and mercy. Guilt that urges one to seek the forgiveness and grace of Christ may be beneficial at times, but shame is never appropriate.

5. Scripture. Church leaders often seem to apologize for and marginalize the Scriptures. Difficult passages are often ignored or altered in an attempt to make Christianity more palatable to our society. I am convinced that Scripture can withstand any criticisms that can be leveled against it. For the Church to survive in our post-modern culture, it must remain true to Scripture and preach the truth with love.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. I am sure that more could be added and maybe I will want to alter some the above as I consider this subject more, but I am convinced the organized church in our country has drifted away from the original mission of Christ. I am encouraged by some of the church leaders in our country. Take Mark Driscoll for example … his church is located in the most un-religious area of our country (Seattle, Washington); however, Driscoll has managed to built a super church while staying true to Christ and Scriptures. I am not intending this site to become a Mark Driscoll fansite, but perhaps his example should be modeled elsewhere.

I hope no one takes this post to be anti-church. I am certainly not against attending church. My wife and I try to attend as often as we can and I truly enjoy our home church. I believe disciples of Christ should join together and worship our God because He deserves it. I believe my home church does a half-way decent job of staying true to Christ and Scriptures … with that said, the church as a whole seems to be in need of a face-lift.

Lord, I pray for your church in the United States and the rest of the world. I pray for its success and ask You to bless it to become more true to Your message and original intent.  I pray for all of those people who have felt ostracized, marginalized, or “freaked out” by the church. Father I pray for Your will to be done within the church and pray that all those who are attracted to “alternate religions” consider  an “alternative Christianity.”

Amen


7 thoughts on “Alternative Christianity

  1. Ty April 13, 2009 / 1:39 am

    Great post, Clark!
    I’d like to add some to your observations, but of course I’m not speaking for you. If you agree or not, have other arguments, I’d love to hear them.

    Here are some things I believe Christians, including the church, need to work on to help along those who are on the fence or flat-out turned off:

    1.) Be less combative. Christians are only human, but many of those who don’t walk the path of Christ are out-and-out afraid of Christians, if not physically at least emotionally. Some of this could maybe be blamed upon the media; TV news just loves to show some crazy-eyed preacher spouting about everybody going to hell. But there are plenty of personal experiences, too. I’ve spent too much of my life in Appalachia not to be familiar with the fire-and-brimstone crowd.

    2.) Don’t be so dismissive of logic. This not only includes science, but simply the ideas of logical deduction and to some extent intellectualism. Acquinas was an intellectual, as have been many fathers of the church. But today, there seems to almost be a movement to “dumb down” religion. Yes, followers are to some extent to try to be child-like, but not everyone is willing or able to make such a leap. I’m not suggesting Christians have to accept everything they’re told by scientists and their like, but … well, see No. 1 above. And if Christians want to confront scientists, they only look foolish when they try to do so on the scientists’ own ground. Christianity isn’t something that can be proven through modern science, at least not yet. It’s not meant to be. Probabaly never will be. “Because the Bible says so” is fine for you to believe, but it’s not going to be a good incentive for those who haven’t experienced God’s grace as of yet. And without science we wouldn’t have medicine or cars or a million other things, such as the Internet where this blog can appear. And if you are so concerned about what schools are teaching your children, I suggest homeschooling or private schooling, though I think you’d be best by just sitting down and talking to your kids about your beliefs.

    3.) Stay out of politics. Yep, this one’s the one that could make many folks angry. I realize many Christians are voters. I realize they believe their system of belief is under attack. But I don’t ever remember once Jesus talking about who to vote for or not to vote for. The man just didn’t seem that interested or concerned with politics. And yes, as a citizen of the Roman empire he would have had some voting rights (though probably not full citizenship rights as he wasn’t a citizen of Rome itself nor of the Italian penninsula). Many people would call me a liberal on this point. Fine. Whatever. Those of you who know me know better, though I wouldn’t classify myself as conservative either, more middle of the road. But, in my opinion, nothing publically hurts the Christian agenda (if it can be called that) more than a bunch of politicians on the tube spouting off like they’re ministers. They’re not. They’re politicians. Which means a good number of them are crooked anyway. And they very often don’t know what they’re talking about.

    4.) Show compassion. Christ was good at this one. Yes, he got fired up from time to time, but it wasn’t often and was rarely over-the-top (so to speak). A number of Christians don’t seem to show compassion. They either try to force their agenda and get mad when they don’t get what they want, or they’re dismissive or downright cruel to those who don’t follow the path. Christians are supposed to show compassion … to everyone. Yes, I said everyone. It’s in the Bible. Look around for it. You’ll find it eventually if you’re reading and paying attention to the whole thing and not just the stuff about going to hell.

    5.) Less evangelism. Yes, I said “less.” I don’t mean the churches need to stop spreading the message or that they shouldn’t try at all. But don’t be quite so zealous about it. For one thing, it makes churchgoers look like a bunch of bug-eyed cultists. For another thing, even the Bible talks about knocking the dust off your feet and getting on down the road. If a person isn’t interested, they aren’t interested. Use common sense. Sometimes a person just needs a talk or a prayer or a little nudge, but other times a person just needs to be left alone. Yep, believe it or not but by NOT forcing religion down someone else’s throat, you might actually stand a better chance of drawing them into the church.

    Just my thoughts. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone. Not meaning to. This seems to be a pretty open and frank blog, so I’m just trying to speak frankly.

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  2. Steve April 14, 2009 / 12:21 am

    Very interesting post, Clark, and interesting comments from Ty. I won’t really argue with any of the stuff above, because I agree that many Christians and churches turn people off and make them unwilling to even look at Christianity.

    I feel like I get more out of the New Testament and Jesus by reading and thinking on my own, and talking with brainy people, than I ever got out of church or from anyone’s attempts to inflict their religious views on me. That’s not as arrogant as it sounds, I hope … it’s just that most people who proselytize at me do it so [darned] badly that it’s embarrassing, and for a good many years it made me pretty much tune out any talk of Jesus whatsoever.

    I think the Christians who proselytize quietly, slowly, by degrees and through thoughtful intelligence do a far more persuasive job than the kind who walk up to you in the mall and ask if you’ve accepted Jesus, or who type in all caps while arguing against science in an online forum.

    Which brings me to my own suggestion for reforming Christianity into something more people might be drawn to consider: Christians themselves should do a much better job of arguing with the idiots in their own ranks.

    Here’s why I say this. I have participated in various online forums over the years, usually ones focused on science and politics but also forums devoted to religion. There is a very lengthy collection of silly things Christian forum posters routinely say (by routinely I mean every damned day) that, if allowed to pass as the majority Christian view, make Christians look like dunces. I think these people make Christianity look like a dummies club, and reasonable people do not join dummies clubs.

    Here are the kinds of things I’m talking about. Knowing this is a Christian-oriented blog, I apologize in advance if any of these tick you off, but I’m prepared to point out in detail why each one of these typical Christian statements is provably incorrect if anyone wants to argue. Like Ty, I’m hoping that the open-mindedness and direct talk that seems to be the norm here will allow everyone to take the following in the spirit of lively conversation.

    Christians say things like these listed here all the time:

    1) There is no morality without the 10 Commandments.
    2) Atheists hate God because they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.
    3) The ACLU is out to shut down all mention of God in the public square, those atheist bastards!
    4) Darwin made up the theory of evolution because he hated God, and a conspiracy of atheist scientists have kept that theory alive all these years despite very little supportive evidence.

    I could go on, but I won’t. Here’s the problem, as I see it. There are plenty of people who consider themselves Christians who would disagree with each of the assertions above. I’ve talked to them. Read emails from them. Gotten letters from them. Read the books they’ve written. I know they exist.

    And yet … once someone starts arguing along the lines presented above in an online forum, the only people who present any counterarguments to the statements above are the atheists, agnostics, Pagans, Deists, etc. Intelligent, open-minded Christians themselves scatter to the four winds, leaving it all to be a debate between Christians who spout silly stuff and claim to be speaking for all Christianity and people who chose some other path long ago.

    To an outsider using reason and logic, the Christian spokesman is summarily decimated in the ensuing argument, because the types of claims they are making are easily proved false. The only way the Christian rep can continue the fight at all, typically, is to pretend the evidence and objections raised by the other side simply do not exist — not a good way to convince smart people to give Jesus a try.

    And because there typically is no rational being involved to defend Christianity in such conversations, Christianity loses in the eyes of rational outsiders.

    To me, it would make sense for intelligent Christians to address these issues head-on in an intelligent way. It would make sense for an intelligent Christian to jump in and say, “Whoa, dude, I’m with you and Jesus and all that, but I know a little about atheism and it’s not all about hating God or being scared by some loud preacher when they were three years old or just wanting to screw around all day.”

    Or maybe, “Hey, I like the 10 Commandments, but humans figured out most of those things before those were written and they figured them out in places where the Bible was not even known. Maybe God works in mysterious ways after all, and there are other valid means to figuring out morality. But to say that people wouldn’t know not to kill one another without the 10 Commandments is not accurate.”

    Or how about, “Um, guy, the ACLU has defended the rights of Christians to preach in public parks, and the rights of kids to pray in school or take Bibles to school, it’s even defended churchgoers who wanted to pass out pamphlets against homosexual rights in front of Wal-Mart.”

    But, alas, such things are seldom said in online forums by people professing a Christian faith. It’s always the agnostics/atheists/Pagans/Buddhists/Wiccans/Deists etc. The Christian in the argument often doesn’t take such types seriously enough to consider their arguments, and instead just spouts off even more stuff that just makes Christians look like dingbats.

    I don’t know why Christians don’t jump in and prevent other Christians from making the whole lot appear to be anti-intelligence, but it’s a trend I’ve noticed as long as the Internet has been around. I suppose it probably is something along the lines of, “Well, at least they’re out there fighting for Jesus, so let’s leave them be.”

    The problem is, I think the truly aggressive and obviously unlearned types of Christians do far more damage to their cause than good. Some damage control from actual Christians would go a long way to helping those outside see that the anti-intelligence crowd does not speak for the entire faith. And I think that kind of grass-roots effort is important, because far more people will see that and engage with it than will ever read a book written by an evolutionist who believes in God, or a book by a Christian minister who is willing to admit that other faiths might have some merit to them from a moral standpoint at least.

    I don’t think a lot of people these days are willing to look at ANYTHING from the library that might upset their worldview apple cart — but they will read an online catfight just for the entertainment value. It would be good for Christianity, I think, if more rational Christians decided to engage rather than leave the floor to the types who primarily use Christian faith as a hammer to smash people they don’t like. I know plenty of wise, thoughtful, intelligent Christians. I just don’t often see them putting the smackdown on silliness online.

    Just my two cents. I hope it all made sense. I’m on beer number three. (Harpoon Celtic Ale — a very nice variation on the Irish Red theme; followed by an Anchor Steam Beer — an American classic; and lastly a Geary’s London Porter — one of the more recent additions to my list of favorites.)

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  3. Clark April 14, 2009 / 7:09 am

    Good replies guys … I will respond to Ty’s first and Steve’s after I have gotten some sleep.

    I’ll reply to Ty’s in the same order he wrote them.

    1.) Be less combative – I agree with you on this point. Some of it could be blamed on the media I suppose, but I think the church as a whole should take the brunt of the blame. Hell is part of Scripture and I do believe it should be taught, but I do not believe it should ever be used as a threat. Christ certainly never did that. Christians have sat by far too long while the church has tried to brow beat people with fire and brimstone.

    2.) Don’t be so dismissive of logic – I don’t know if there is a “movement” to dumb down Christianity. It may seem that way in some corners of rural America, but I read a lot of Christian authors and there are many who can keep up with the best of them intellectually. I agree that Christianity has nothing to fear from logic or science, unfortunately, many Christians (and in some cases, the church as a whole) act as if they are scared to death science may someday disprove what they believe in.

    3.) Stay out of politics – This is a tricky one. I don’t believe the church should never be allowed to express its opinions when it comes to politics, but I do think there is a point when it can cross the line. I’m not sure how do describe what that point is, but I think we all know it when we see it. I don’t believe in state-sponsored religion and I don’t believe in a religion-sponsored state, if that makes any sense at all.

    4.) Show compassion – I don’t disagree with that as well. the perfect model for compassion is Christ himself.

    5.) Less evangelism – I don’t know if I would say less evangelism or less “bad” evangelism. The church tends to skip straight to forcing religion down people’s throats while forgetting that they should first enter into a relationship based on love and mutual respect before religion should ever be presented at all.

    Good points Ty … I think we’re pretty much on the same page.

    Clark

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  4. Clark April 14, 2009 / 4:02 pm

    Now to respond to Steve’s comments:

    >it’s just that most people who proselytize at me do it so >damned badly that it’s embarrassing, and for a good >many years it made me pretty much tune out any talk of >Jesus whatsoever.

    Steve … I agree. I think if I had met a genuine and thoughtful Christian earlier in my life I may have become a Christian much sooner than I did.

    >I think the Christians who proselytize quietly, slowly, by >degrees and through thoughtful intelligence do a far >more persuasive job than the kind who walk up to you in >the mall and ask if you’ve accepted Jesus, or who type in >all caps while arguing against science in an online forum.

    Again I agree. It seems to me as if the church often gets things backwards. They want people to convert so the church can enter into a relationship with them. It should be the other way around … the church should be willing to enter into a loving relationship with someone whether that person is willing to convert or not.

    >Christians themselves should do a much better job of >arguing with the idiots in their own ranks … I think these >people make Christianity look like a dummies club, and >reasonable people do not join dummies clubs.

    >Christians say things like these listed here all the time:

    >1) There is no morality without the 10 Commandments.

    The church often makes the mistake of claiming to be morally superior to others. Here’s the problem with that. The gospel can not (and should not) be reduced to moralism. To do so drastically twists Christ’s message into something it wasn’t. First off … obviously morals exist outside of Christianity, there are countless examples and to argue otherwise is just ignorant. Secondly, every time the church claims to morally superior, we’re made to look that much worse when a Christian makes a mistake. Its for this reason that the media loves a good story about a preacher gone bad. My third point is the most important one, Christ taught that no one is morally adequate enough to deserve God’s grace. To teach otherwise reduces Christianity to just another man-made religion. It isn’t about what you can do to deserve grace … if it was, Heaven could be “purchased” with good deeds. In essence, God could be bought. Good works are nice, but there is nothing any one person can do to deserve God’s grace … period.

    >2) Atheists hate God because they don’t want to be held >accountable for their actions.

    How can atheists hate a God they don’t believe in? If there are Christians that feel this way, it is kind of pointless.

    >3) The ACLU is out to shut down all mention of God in the >public square, those atheist bastards!

    I probably disagree with you on this one to some extent. I am not a big fan of the ACLU. I can cite as many examples (if not more) of the ACLU damaging the rights of Christians as you can to the contrary. With that said, I agree with you that the ACLU isn’t the “biggest” enemy of the church and that many Christians spend too much of their time obsessing over ACLU and the political left in general. I don’t support the ACLU, but I believe you have every right to if you feel the need.

    >4) Darwin made up the theory of evolution because he >hated God, and a conspiracy of atheist scientists have >kept that theory alive all these years despite very little >supportive evidence.

    You and I have debated evolution extensively and I don’t see the need to do so again. I will say this … I don’t believe in evolution as it is currently presented in the classrooms. My disbelief in evolution actually has very little to do with my faith. Here’s where the church gets it wrong though … they have made evolution a “hotbed” issue that they refuse to budge on when in all honesty, it doesn’t matter to the cause of Christ. You can be a Christian and buy evolution lock, stock and barrel if you choose to. The church has made it appear that if you believe in evolution you can never join our exclusive club. I believe that if you believe in evolution, you may have to answer some tough questions and do some soul searching as you study the scriptures … but there is no reason it should keep you from following Christ.

    >To an outsider using reason and logic, the Christian >spokesman is summarily decimated in the ensuing >argument, because the types of claims they are making >are easily proved false. The only way the Christian rep >can continue the fight at all, typically, is to pretend the >evidence and objections raised by the other side simply >do not exist — not a good way to convince smart people >to give Jesus a try.

    I am not sure what to make out of the above. I agree there are certain Christians that may be “decimated” by logic or reason and I also agree that the church as a whole has sometimes acted as if it has something to fear from science, logic, and reasoning. I have seen several examples of Christians (even those that you dismiss as dumb) defend those points you don’t agree with using reason, logic, science, and class … in fact, I have seen enough examples of it that I believe the church should embrace logic and reasoning (much in the same way that the apostle Paul did).

    It is when the church gets so stubborn in defending their points that they forget to turn the arguments over to Jesus that they get it wrong. It doesn’t matter much if you and I disagree about evolution as long as I continuously turn the debate back to Christ. If the church alienates those who choose to believe in evolution and ostracizes them, they are actually defeating the cause of Christ.

    I would agree with you that the church, and Christians, should do more to speak intelligently and thoughtfully (although I disagree with you if you are asserting that I always have to agree with you to be considered thoughtful or intelligent).

    > It would be good for Christianity, I think, if more rational >Christians decided to engage rather than leave the floor >to the types who primarily use Christian faith as a >hammer to smash people they don’t like. I know plenty of >wise, thoughtful, intelligent Christians. I just don’t often >see them putting the smackdown on silliness online.

    I don’t know if I would use the word “smackdown,” but I do agree that the attitude of the church as a whole needs to be adjusted when engaging with people that are outside the faith. And perhaps intelligent, wise, and thoughtful Christians should be more vocal than they are.

    Good points Steve.

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  5. Steve April 14, 2009 / 4:24 pm

    Clark: No worries … I do not define “thoughtful and intelligent” as “always agreeing with me.” Lots of thoughtful and intelligent people disagree on things, and that’s fine.

    On the ACLU: I don’t always agree with them, either. I got a letter from them not long ago because I disagreed with them onsometing and said so in a column. But it’s one thing to disagree with the ACLU on some points, even on a lot of points, and it’s entirely another thing to portray the ACLU as the Antichrist and act as though they are just a bunch of hopelessly evil people. Such statements — which are constant — do not make Christians appear to be reasonable, observant, reality-based human beings. I probably disagree with you as to what constitutes “damaging the rights of Christians,” but that’s not really central to the discussion we’re having now, I guess.

    On evolution: I agree with you there is no reason a person can’t understand evolution theory and still accept Jesus. My point, rather, was that when some Christians loudly and blatantly spout off a lot of stuff about the falsity of evolution, and in the process reveal they don’t really know anything about the theory of evolution, they don’t do Christianity any favors.

    For example, the attempts to get Creationism and/or intelligent design into classrooms, despite the lack of any valid scientific case for either notion, hurt Christianity more then they help, in my view. If people look at what a Christian says about science, and sees statements that are way off from reality and yet uttered with total confidence, it tends to make a reasonable person doubt whether that Christian knows what he’s talking about on other matters, too. In my view.

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  6. Clark April 14, 2009 / 10:33 pm

    Thanks for you comments Steve. I agree with much of what you said. I especially agree with the following, “… it’s entirely another thing to portray the ACLU as the Antichrist …”

    I think the church has often been too eager to demonize certain groups … the ACLU, homosexuals, science, & etc. I think the more the church demonizes people, the more it alienates those people from Christ. I am certainly not suggesting that the church needs to water down the Scriptures and pretend to agree with everyone … but it does need to be sensitive when engaging those who are outside the church (especially when presenting opposing views).

    Clark

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  7. Steve April 14, 2009 / 11:12 pm

    Yeah, demonizing people is no way to win them over.

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