Newsletter #536 – Are Christians Really Different?

wineI was raised in church where Christians were described as being “in the world but not of it.” We learned that movies, dancing, playing cards, alcohol, tobacco, even friendships with non-believers were all taboo. There seemed to be an us-versus-them mentality subtly assuming that we were superior. Even then I wondered if “the world” just saw us as being weird.

 Things are different now. In a stimulating blog post last week (Mereorthodoxy.com), Brett McCracken asked “Have Christians lost their sense of difference?” McCracken is a twentysomething writer and managing editor of Biola Magazine. He writes that when he goes to parties with Christian friends, and then parties with non-Christian friends they are “observably indistinguishable…. We are the same in the toxic cynicism lacing our speech, the obscene language, the general negativity, the way we dress, drink, and smoke, the movies and TV we watch, the music we listen to, the pop culture we consume, and the way we cordon off ‘spirituality’ in a manner that keeps it from interfering with our pursuits of pleasure….And we wonder why so few bother with a Christianity…that offers nothing radically different or new.”

Christian counseling and coaching students often want to bring their beliefs into their careers. Professors urge them to memorize and practice methods, models and popular views of integration. But Christian commitment and faith-practice integration is not so much evidenced by the Bible verses we quote, the rules we live by or the methods that we study and seek to apply. What counts more are the characteristics that we reflect: moral excellence, knowledge about God, self-control, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the others (Gal. 5:22,23; 2 Peter 1:5-8.) Nobody will bring a genuine Christian perspective to counseling, coaching, leadership or even ministry unless he or she is living a vibrant Christian life (difficult to define as that is). We don’t make an impact by being weirdly different from others or by throwing in a few integration techniques while we blend with the secular crowd.

To build on Brett McCracken, would any observer be able to pick you, me, or any other Christian counselor, coach, or leader from their non-Christian counterparts? “In what ways are we embodying the call to be salt and light, a city on a hill (Matt.5:13-16)…called out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2:9)? Are we “more often blending in with the dark than with advancing the light?”

What do you think? Please comment.

20 Comments

  1. Gary, what a spot on observation. As a counseling student, the one thing that stands out to me in all the literature is the “person of the counselor”. As Christians what sets us apart is our “who” not our “do”, (who we are in Christ as opposed to what we do). Thanks for the thought provoking insights.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Connie. I teach a course on the integration of faith and counseling/psychology. My students (and the faculty where I teach) seem caught up in the idea that integration depends on memorizing methods, models and “views” of integration. Bottom line I think the core is who the integrator is. Thankfully at the place where I teach they let me break out of the “views” approach that was popular in the sixties but abandoned in the 1980s before its recent revival.

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  2. I think the centrality of the discussion should rightly be “What counts more are the characteristics that we reflect.” I would modify the next sentence to read, “Nobody will bring a genuine Christian perspective to anything unless he or she is living a vibrant Christian life.”

    Early in the advent of personal computers before the advise of “reboot” and “back-it-up” we were taught GIGO, “Garbage In Garbage Out.” It seems that only makes good sense for a Christian’s life too.

    Coming from an almost identical set of Christian descriptives I looked forward to the freedom of life choices and relationships outside of the church as the taboos began dropping away in the nineteen sixties. Only I found myself shocked and even horrified as I found many friends making their new choices in ways which to me seemed undiscerning at best and more likely even damaging.

    Modern Christianity it seems separated what we do from what we think assuming that we can entertain ourselves and tantalize our emotions with debauchery without suffering an effect on our lives, our relationships, and our walk with the Lord. We still affirmed that the scripture was authoritative while totally ignoring such commands as Philippians 4:8 about our thoughts.

    One of the doctrines whose implications we disdain is that of the sinful nature of man. It is politically incorrect. It is absent in most Christian discussions on behavior. It’s mention is shunned or silenced in the public arena. Yet rightly understood it holds powerful implications on freedom from bondage, victory over addictions and bad habits, and our road to personal disciplines. Perhaps dropping the doctrine that sets us apart for the other philosophies about the nature of man has also dropped our distinctiveness

    Reply

    1. I agree with what you wrote. Have you noticed tendencies in you (like I do in me) to reject distinctives and slide into the crowd with all kinds of rationalizations? Maybe Paul struggled with this in Romans 7 and 8. But the scriptures tell us to be different. Sometimes I think the best place to start this is not with discussions X-rated movies and drinking but with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). We know Christians when these characteristic “fruit” are evident and a lot of other things fall into place from there. For example purity and self-control shape a lot of other behaviors. .

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  3. Gary, I agree with your assessment of where we are as Christians today.

    Peter challenges us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12)

    We are called to “out-live” those who don’t know Christ, so that they want what we have in Him. We call ourselves “followers of Christ,” but do we follow Him? If we’re genuinely following Jesus and abiding/remaining/living in Him, He will transform us, building His character into us.

    In Luke 9:23, Jesus said , “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

    Lord Jesus, that is my desire and heart’s cry. I choose to follow You daily! Please continue Your transforming work in me!

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  4. Hi Gary, I am just about finishing an excellent book on the situation in the RC Church: Evangelical Catholicism, Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. His stress on going back to theological basics, like the Creed and the examples of ´this is what I believe, never mind what others are saying´ strikes me as much what I have found in the protestant-evangelical world. The reality of the Cross in one´s daily life, as Rob quotes, is something we need to stress more. Even if it hurts us.

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  5. What an excellent summary of our current situation. Could it be the pendulum is swinging back? Finding that right blend of standing on our faith with respect to others’ spirituality is concerning at best. When I am coaching, I am focused on the client’s goals/dreams. But as any coach knows, powerful, thoughtful questions can help a client assess where they are, as well.

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  6. Good points, Gary. This has been much on my heart lately as I see some struggle with what it means to be “in the world, but not of the world.”

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  7. Hi Gary. What you metioned is so true. As christians we need to reevaluate our idea of living the gospel. Next week I will be teaching a seminar here in Lima-Peru, on How to live as an insider (living our faith in a way we impact our non chrisitan friends). we need as church, to challange our fellow brothers and sisters to live a real chrsitian life, showing the fruit of the Spirit. That will be an impact. More than marching, blogging, protesting or something else.
    Keep doing the good work my dear friend!

    Reply

    1. It is so good to hear from you. I hope your course went well. I have good memories of our times together, mostly in Lima. When are you coming north of the equator again? we need time together again.

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  8. Excellent post Gary.
    Indeed our testimony flows from who we truly are and as we progress in our Christ-likeness, the lives we vibrantly live.
    Reminds me of the Saint Francis of Assisi quote:
    “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

    Reply

    1. Good reminder. I teach students who will work in settings where they cannot mention the name of Jesus because our “land of the free” does not let us be free with using the name of Jesus except as a curse word. Sometimes I quote St Francis.

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      1. I met a young lady headed back to Dakar as a missionary tonight. She was on fire as she spoke of her one convert at the university there. This young lady and her convert friend risk their lives for their faith everyday in Islamic Senegal. One of my favorite roles as a coach are the fatherless teenagers I take free-diving and spearfishing while sharing life. I feel safer risking waters where great white sharks roam (one bumped a kayaker only three weeks ago), than what these brave young Christians risk. Thanks again for sharpening my iron.

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