The Destructive Labels of Current Christian Culture

I’m really afraid that, in our current Christian culture, we attribute certain labels to part of what it means to be a Christian that often end up overshadowing who we really are: believers in Jesus. Let me give a few examples.

Calvinist/Reformed. This is the subset I’ve run into most in recent years, especially in the college-age setting. Thanks to popular evangelical leaders like John Piper, being considered a “Calvinist” is what’s cool, what’s hip and apparently what’s biblical. If you’re not a Calvinist, well, you’re missing out on some serious things. A church I went to in college had a pastor on staff whose goal, as he explained to me one time and to my surprise, was to help people learn about the Calvinist/Reformed viewpoint and help them understand that it was true. You’ve got to know the five points, you’ve got to love reading commentaries and you’ve got to be super stubborn about what you believe.

Republican. This is the one that is a little more subtle. While some Christians will openly declare that, in a way, you must be Reformed to be a Christian, this is implied. If you’re a Democrat and you go to an evangelical church, you might be in trouble. Even if you have just a couple liberal tendencies, you might be in trouble. All for more gun control? Agree with some parts of the welfare system? For goodness’ sake, you’re not up in arms about the gay marriage case in the Supreme Court? Watch your back.

Baptist/Presbyterian/etc. Something about all the recent hoopla surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention bothered me. There seems to be this pride in being insert-your-denomination-here that could lead to an exclusivity and arrogance very similar to the Calvinist/Reformed group. It’s the same concept: you don’t do it our way, you’re doing it wrong.

At the end of the day, these labels and these groupings are incredibly destructive in my view for a couple reasons.

Exclusivity. Christianity is by nature an exclusive religion. You must be saved in order to receive the blessings and be called part of the crew. But once you’re part of the crew, what’s the point in formally dividing things up even further? I understand that people interpret Scripture different ways and, in some of those instances, the different interpretations aren’t salvation issues and are thus OK to wrestle with and discuss. But the “you must be one of us” attitude that comes with it is unloving and un-Christlike.

Arrogance. It’s my way or the highway, these people say. If you don’t buy all five points, are you really a Cal…I mean, Christian? There’s a lack of humility that leads to listening and humbly seeking to understand another vantage point on an issue. The pride then shows itself when comments like “so proud of what the Southern Baptists are doing” and “here’s what Calvinists get right” perpetuate themselves all across social media.

Wrong identity. Our primary identity should never be the fact that we belong to a certain political party or a certain theological viewpoint. And while those who claim Calvinism/Republicanism/Baptist may not say that their primary identity is those things, their actions display otherwise. Since our identity is easily shaped and shapes so much of what we do, it’s really easy for those factions to morph from a bit piece of our life to everything we are and everything we’re driven by, which then affects our words and actions.

To be transparent here, I’ve been that Calvinist snob as recently as a year ago. I was that Republican snob in middle and high school. I was never really that Baptist snob because, by the time I understood what the denominations meant, I had some kind of understanding that you could be a Christian in different denominations.

Here’s the thing: Calvinist/Baptist/Republican/etc., those are all identities we give ourselves. By virtue of being self-given, those identities are faulty and will never be satisfying in this life and most definitely not in the next. We are who God says we are, and He doesn’t say that we’re Calvinist/Baptist/Republican. He says we’re loved, forgiven, adopted, called, being sanctified, one day glorified.

The point of the Gospel is that we don’t have to look for our identity in anything else: our sin, our political views, our theological views, our gender, etc. We simply have to look, as cliché as this is, to the cross. There all our answers are found.

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Christian Pressure: Perhaps the Worst Kind

There’s something incredibly unique about growing up in a Christian environment, whether that be a home where your parents are believers, a church that preaches the Bible, a Christian school. There’s usually a steady dose of God and the Bible, a certain vocabulary that usually includes words like “saved” and “repent” and a certain pressure that can be either intentional or unintentional.

Pressure: the exertion of force upon a surface by an object, fluid, etc., in contact with it. Whoops, wrong kind of pressure. To force (someone) to a particular end; influence. Either way, you get a glimpse of what happens when there’s pressure on someone. It’s an exertion of force. Force is a negative word, unless you’re talking Star Wars of course. You might associate the word “force” with someone making someone else to do something against their will. 

I’ve observed in the Christian world, particularly the evangelical subculture, there’s often a pressure to be a certain way, to use a certain vocabulary. And it’s not necessarily an intentional pressure.

Let’s talk about a couple places where that pressure can be prevalent. By the way, this is from my perspective. I’ve learned recently that I feel lots of pressure in a few of these areas, pressure that’s not necessarily good.

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Social Media

The above video is quite poignant in its humor. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen those kind of posts on Instagram. Several times on my own, I’ve taken a picture of my quiet time layout and said something to the effect of: “I love getting in the Word outside/at Chick-fil-a/in the morning.” Those posts usually get a lot of likes and comments. And don’t get me started on the Bible verses! As the guy in the video says, “Because after all, what’s the point of having devotions if no one knows about it?”

I’m not saying that everybody who posts these kind of Instagrams/tweets/etc. has this approach. But for some, or maybe it’s just me, there’s a pressure to “like” it if 75 of my other friends have or I feel like I need to post something like that as well so 75 of my friends can “like” it too. I mean, if I don’t “like” it, am I denying that it’s truth? There’s almost a contest to be the “most holy” on Facebook. When I was younger and dating, it was making sure that people knew how awesome and godly my girlfriend was. When I got to college, I wanted to make sure I shared the most deep and thought-provoking theological truth so that people would know I was deep and thought-provoking in my theology.

Again, I don’t want to say that everyone who posts stuff like that is just trying to be super holy and get everyone to think of them that way. But there can sometimes be this unspoken pressure to be a certain way on social media so people know that you’re a Christian. Is that really the kind of pressure that we need?

The Most Popular Evangelical Conference/Book/Speaker/Musician/Retreat/Missions Trip/Internship

So what if I’m not a huge John Piper guy? What if I don’t want to watch the free livestream of the CROSS conference? What if I don’t particularly care if Hillsong releases a new CD? Does that make me not a Christian?

I’ve written about hero worship and how I think it’s a little too prevalent in the evangelical subculture, but I think it extends to more than just people. I’m talking about the posts like this on Facebook:

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I probably won’t watch any of the livestream. It’s an awesome conference with an awesome message and an awesome goal, but I’m not going to go out of my way to watch it because I genuinely have no desire to. But I bet I’ll see a bunch of my friends tweeting about it and talking about it. And that’s OK! I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever. Do it! But might there be an unwarranted push from a lot of the evangelical world to push things like this into the conversation in an unnecessary way?

What good does watching a livestream under pressure do? What good does reading Jonathan Edwards do if I don’t have an open heart for it? What good does any kind of pressure in this area do? Does it change hearts? Don’t think so.

How You Pray/Study the Bible/”Do Life” with Other Believers

There’s some good to being smart with spending your time. We’re instructed in Scripture to be consuming God’s Word, praying and encouraging other Christians. But how much time you are spent doing those things is a pressure I’ve experienced.

For instance, how much time should we spend in Bible study? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? I’ve heard different opinions. How should we study the Bible? Just read it? Use five commentaries? Original languages? I’ve heard different opinions. How long should we pray at a time? 10 minutes? 35 minutes? Three hours, like Martin Luther?

studying-the-BibleTo be honest with you, I wonder: does it really matter? As long as we’re growing in Christ and actively pursuing obedience, I don’t think it does. The last few months, I haven’t used a commentary in my Bible reading. I haven’t cracked open Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I’ve just read Scripture and taken a couple notes in the margins of my Bible. And I’ve learned and retained a lot.

We should not be pressuring people to do the Christian life a certain way because people are different and, for the most part, the Bible doesn’t spell out how we should do it. We should just do it! Arguing over the specifics is, in the long run, not as helpful as we make it out to be.

Politics

I saw a post on my Twitter feed today about an article asking if President Obama was a Christian and examining evidence for and against the contrary. Does it matter?

Some Christians are all about the politics game nowadays, and if you don’t agree with what they say, well, are you really a Christian? If you’re not passionate about stopping same-sex marriage from becoming legal, do you trust the Bible? If you’re not all about warning the world of the dangers of diminishing religious liberty, are you really aware of current events the way you should be? If you’re not about protecting the Constitution, do you really love America?1000509261001_2008586720001_BIO-Barack-Obama-SF-FIX-Retry

I feel like this is more of the older generation than mine that causes this pressure, often exerted on my generation. I’ve experienced this firsthand on a couple occasions, and if I had said what I really thought, I think I might have gotten a couple sideways looks.

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Here’s my answer to the pressure: There is nothing that makes you a Christian except the fact that Jesus was perfectly obedient on your behalf and you believe in and trust Him with your life. That’s it! You could be a Democrat who thinks gay marriage is OK or never read your Bible and still be a Christian! This is true! Because being a Christian is one of those things that you are not what you do, because we will never perfectly do what we are called to do.

There’s only one requirement to not be condemned: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So the pressure that is often felt, whether intentional or unintentional, is not warranted.

It’s something that I’ve wrestled with a lot in the last year as I graduated from college and moved back home. Outside of the pressures of being in school, I’ve had opportunities to evaluate why I do what I do. And I’ve learned that I’ve lived under far too much pressure. You can’t really grow under that kind of pressure. There’s freedom in Christ. Live it.