Why do people reject Christianity? It is a good question and there would be many answers one could give to it. What has become quite popular in Christian circles of late is to blame Christians for unbelief. We have done a lousy job in representing our Lord, and that is why so many reject Christianity.
Consider a recent book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian (Baker, 2007). Based on research from the Barna Group, it discusses “what a new generation really thinks about Christianity – and why it matters”. It suggests that many young Americans are rejecting Christianity because they perceive Christians to be insensitive, hypocritical, judgmental, etc.
What these writers – and others like them – are saying is that in large measure it is our fault that people are not becoming Christians. Until we get our act together and become far more Christlike, we will continue to repel people instead of attract them.
Here I wish to explore such claims in a bit more detail. Are these claims right? My short answer is, yes and no. Yes, we are all far from where we should be here. Since perfection is not attainable in this life, we will all fall down in this regard, and our witness for Christ will always be tainted by our own sin and selfishness.
So yes, we have often been our own worst enemy here. We have failed to represent Christ aright, and we have let unbelievers down in so often misrepresenting Christ, or worse, portraying him in an ugly and reprehensible light. So we can all improve here big time, and we certainly need to.
But in another sense, there is far more to this issue than our shortcomings as ambassadors for Christ. There is another major component, namely the fact that many people do not become Christians simply because they do not want to – they prefer living in their sin and selfishness.
One of the recurring themes found in the Gospels and Acts is the story of people rejecting Jesus and the disciples – for all sorts of reasons. We find it happening all the time as we read these five books. We are told that Jesus and his followers caused division, caused offense, caused controversy and caused public disturbances.
Many people not only rejected Jesus and his message, and that of his disciples, but they in fact became enraged and wildly opposed to the message of the gospel. Many utterly rejected the Christian message because they rejected its basic claims.
The idea that we are sinners in need of a saviour does not go down very well with most people. Indeed, it cuts right across human pride to even suggest such a thing. Thus it should not be surprising that many people will refuse to accept Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus had already made it clear that people would reject him. He mentioned this many times, and his discussion with Nicodemus as found in John 3 is a classic example of this. Note what he said about this in verses 18-21:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Here is the final word on all this. People prefer sin and darkness to righteousness and light. That is the bottom line for so many who refuse to embrace the Christian message. Sure, we are often poor reflections of our Lord, but in many cases, even if we were terrific reflections of Christ, people would still reject the gospel.
Indeed, the most Christlike person in the world, Jesus himself, was rejected by many. Obviously he was not misrepresenting Christ. And as a man without sin, he could not be accused of being hypocritical, unloving, ungracious, and so on.
The authors of unChristian begin their book with these words: “Christianity has an image problem”. The truth is, based on what I have just said, this has been true for the past two thousand years. Christianity has always had an image problem.
It has always appeared to be out of sync with where people are at. It has always appeared to be unattractive to people for the past two millennia. This is for the simple reason that we are all sinners who gravitate toward self and away from God. We do not want to come to the light – instead we reject the light and withdraw from it.
People reject being told they are sinners in need of salvation. They find this offensive, intolerant, judgmental and narrow. Always have, and always will. Thus no matter how much we improve things on our end (and we should always be working on this very thing), there will still be plenty of people who will choose to reject the Christian message.
No matter how nicely and attractively we package the message, there will always be some people who will be uninterested, un-open, and/or resistant to it. Jesus obviously was the most attractive carrier of his own message, and yet people rejected him.
Thus it should come as no surprise that not everyone will come flocking into the Christian fold, no matter how pure and pristine our representation of Christ is. While a Christlike presentation of the Gospel will always be superior to an un-Christlike one, some people will not be persuaded no matter how cleverly we deal with our “image problem”.
So by all means yes, let us attempt in every way to become more like Christ. That in fact is what we are called to do. We are to be conformed to the likeness of the Son (Rom 8:29). We are to seek to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
We all desperately need to become more like our Lord. No question about it. And there is a place for listening to unbelievers and learning why they reject Christianity. But to only listen to their version of events is to only hear half the story.
The other half of the story I have outlined above. People are sinners who do not want to admit their sin, nor turn to the only source of remedy and release. That, at bottom, is the basic problem, and in that sense, no amount of repackaging on our part will fully deal with it.
Yes, let us seek to be as Christlike as we can, but always bear in mind that this is no guarantee that people will therefore lay down their arms and submit to the Lordship of Christ. In that sense, we will always have an image problem, just as Jesus had an image problem.