Baker, 2007. (Available in Australia at Koorong books)
Yes and no is how I respond to this book. Yes, we all have failed to properly represent Christ to a watching world. Yes we have been ungracious, hypocritical, uncharitable, and many other things at times, thereby unnecessarily turning some people off to the gospel.
But no, that is not the whole story. Imagine if one could be free of all these negative traits, and present the good news of God in a totally loving and gracious manner. Would that mean everyone would flock to Christianity?
Well, we don’t have to imagine very hard – it has already happened. Jesus came and lived among us, representing God perfectly, full of grace, love and beauty. And guess what? While many people flocked to Christ, many people rejected Christ. The most perfect example of Christlike behaviour was met with mixed results.
That message almost never comes through in this book. It is all about how we fail to measure up in the eyes of non-Christians. Indeed, the book begins with these words: “Christianity has an image problem”. Is that it? Is that the simple reason why people don’t become Christians?
It may be part of it, but it surely is not all of it. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Indeed, he also said this: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matt 24:9).
Rejection of the followers of Jesus is bound to happen, just as Jesus was rejected. So in one sense, no matter how loving, gracious, tactful and diplomatic we might be, we have no promise that this will result in the successful reception of our message.
I have written this up at length in my previous article: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/04/02/on-rejecting-christianity/
Here I wish to focus on just two of the book’s chapters. Six reasons are offered as to why people reject Christianity. The two highest ranking ones were “Antihomosexual” and “Judgmental”, which comprise chapters 5 and 8 of this book.
I have written on both of these topics quite often, so pardon some repetition here. As to the issue of homosexuality, my response is again, yes and no. Have some believers been un-Christlike and unloving in their dealings with homosexuals? Yes.
But again, that is not the end of the story. While many of us can and should lift our game here, there is more to it than just that. At the moment one of the major assaults on faith and family is the militant homosexual lobby. While we need to seek to lovingly reach individual homosexuals with the gospel, we also must deal with the public policy side of things as well.
That is, there is a very real place for standing up for the God-given institution of heterosexual marriage, and resist the demands for same-sex marriage and homosexual adoption rights. The case for that has been argued fully elsewhere by me and others.
And to affirm the Biblical mandate that human sexuality is only permissible within the confines of heterosexual marriage is something we must strongly affirm. To take such stands will of course offend and alienate many homosexuals, and their various supporters. How can it not?
But as always love and truth must go hand in hand. We can seek to lead all people, including homosexuals, into the kingdom, while taking a stand for biblical truth, which includes the core belief that we are all sinners in need of a saviour.
That message will of course offend. Paul can speak of the offense of the cross for example. Speaking truth in love will always be controversial, divisive and offensive. And when Paul tells us that no unrepentant homosexual will enter the kingdom of God, just as no unrepentant adulterer or thief will enter it (1 Cor. 6:9-11), that is truth we must proclaim, even though many will take offence at it.
If our only concern was to get non-Christians to like us, and to eliminate any image problems we might have, then all we have to do is gut the gospel of its radical demands of repentance and holiness, and we will get along swimmingly with everyone.
But to speak the truth about a holy, just and righteous God who demands repentance and a changed life (with the help of Christ) will always cause an image problem, and will always lead many to want nothing to do with biblical Christianity.
I find the chapter on judgmentalism to also be problematic. Consider how the term is defined: “To be judgmental is to point out something that is wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down, excluded, and marginalized”.
Is that bad? Is it unbiblical? To be honest, it seems to be a perfect description of just what we find in Scripture. Consider the story of Jesus and the rich man as found in Matt. 19:16-30. This seems to portray the very thing that Kinnaman is condemning.
In this pericope Jesus pointed “out something that is wrong in someone else’s life” (the rich man), and what was the result? The rich man went away sad, we are told, because Jesus was judging his love of riches. That sounds a lot like making the rich man “feel put down, excluded, and marginalized”.
The truth is, whenever we proclaim that a person is alienated from God because of his sin and selfishness, and that he needs to repent and ask for forgiveness, that is going to result in such feelings. It cuts right across human pride to point out such things, and the first reaction many will have is, “you are being so judgmental; you are putting me down!”
So in one sense this can never be avoided. The cross judges all people as sinners, marginalising them and putting them in a box. The good news is, however, that there is a way out of our fallen, condemned position. Indeed, it is impossible to preach the good news of the gospel without first preaching the bad news.
That will offend many, it will alienate many, it will cause many to hate the gospel. But that is what we are called to do. Sure, by all means let us seek to be as Christlike, as winsome, and as tactful as possible. But rejection, anger or indifference will nonetheless still be the reaction of many.
Perhaps I can tie these two chapters on homosexuality and judging together with a story of a former homosexual who came to Christ. The first half of his story as a homosexual and his dislike of Christianity would have nicely fit in a book like this.
But the second half of his story would not likely be found in a book such as this, and one wonders why. His story is entitled: “Thank You For Offending Me”. Here is an abbreviated version of his story:
“Let me just say a hearty ‘THANK YOU’ to my wife, and my parents and family, and my friends, who cared enough about me to offend me! I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I consider the ramifications in my life had the people in my world bought into the lie that to love me was to affirm my homosexuality. When I left my wife to pursue homosexuality, she boldly told me that she knew God could work in me and in our marriage and that she would not pursue divorce. She protected her interests but always professed her love for me and her desire to work through this together.”
He concludes with these moving words, “Today my marriage is restored and has grown beyond my imagination. I have three beautiful children and am living out the call on my life to vocational ministry. Healing has happened in my family relationships, and I am closer to that cadre of friends than ever before. As I listen to people debate the ‘gay’ issue and talk of affirmation and inclusivity of homosexuality, I wonder where I would be today had Stephanie accepted my claim that I had always been gay and would always be gay and pursued divorce like I wanted her to do. I wonder where I would be if my parents had joined PFLAG [Parent and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] and supported me in my quest to live homosexually.
“I wonder where I would be if my friends had encouraged me to divorce Stephanie and had rallied around me in my homosexuality. I wonder where I would be if my pastors and spiritual shepherds had encouraged me to accept the very thing I needed to lay before the cross of Christ. I shudder at the thought. I know it must have killed them to think of losing me, but they loved me enough to take that risk. THANK YOU, dear friends, for your offense to me. At the time, the Truth you shared was the aroma of death to me (II Cor. 2:15) but today it is the sweet fragrance of LIFE.”
I write his whole story up here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/02/22/caring-enough-to-offend/
His story offers the full picture, the proper biblical balance, which seems to be lacking in this book. It seems this book is more concerned about making excuses for sinners than for standing up to the harsh and radical demands of the gospel. I am sure that was not the author’s intention. But it ends up coming across that way.
So if I have to rate this book out of five stars, all I can do is give it two stars.