Jaded, World-Weary Cynicism and “Authentic” Christianity

Jaded, World-Weary Cynicism and “Authentic” Christianity

When I was a little younger and a little less mature (read: before marriage and kids), I spent a lot of time reading high-toned, fancy classical literature, smoking my Camel cigarettes and drinking like a fish and discussing “worldly” secular philosophy with like-minded friends like someone who actually knew what they were talking about. I didn’t, of course, but that wasn’t the point. I affected a worldly, jaded cynicism which my experiences had not truly earned, thinking it made me seem more wise.

How foolish youth can be.

Since then, I’ve thrown off that goofy mask, married a wonderful woman who has given me two beautiful little girls, and rediscovered the faith of my childhood with a feverish zeal I once ascribed only to the marginally sane. I’ve in effect become one of the silly believers I used to denigrate while drinking rum & coke with my buddies. How this happened is a story in and of itself that may end up written some other time. However, I feel it necessary to qualify what I’m about to say by making sure it’s understood that I’ve been there, done that, and got plenty of pithy tee shirts to show for it.

My pastor said something to me about a month ago that rocked me back, and it’s been the last month churning in the back of my mind what this phrase really means. We were discussing the SBC conference and all the administrative and policy goofballery that goes on and how ultimately disconnected from the needs of the new generation the convention actually is, and he sent me an email with this little gem inside, “[Young Christians] want an authentic Christianity that relates to the needs of our world.”

So what is authentic Christianity?

Well, there’s two definitions (courtesy of dictionary.com) that I think we ought to look at. Bear with me while I build this. The first is, “not false or copied; genuine; real.” Is a photocopy ever really as good as the original? No, they’ve always got little inconsistencies, little blemishes here or there which give away their clone status. So it is with “false” Christianity. No matter how much you try to hide it beneath clever preaching, the stench of eisegesis, which is the deliberate misinterpretation of scripture to fit a prejudicial view, will inevitably seep out and drive away those whose faith has not yet been infected by the apathetic scriptural lethargy that so often permeates congregations. In effect, such preaching hamstrings the spiritual growth of a congregation by driving away the very souls through whom Christ shines most clearly.

The next part of the definition of “authentic” that I would like to apply is, “entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy.” Again, this has direct bearing on the ability of a congregation to grow healthily. If your preaching, if the Christianity that you teach is less than trustworthy, you can forget any dreams of a young, hip congregation, as most of my generation of Christians are very cautious listeners (anecdotal, all of my friends are, hence this is my belief), made so by years of being lied to by the baby boomer generation in TV news, politics and even by our parents in many cases. If these new, fiery-zealous Christians get one whiff of the scent of dishonesty, they’re gone.

Well, we’ve taken care of what “authentic” means in relation to faith, but we haven’t really taken care to define that faith. I briefly thought about quoting one of the several Christian creeds out there or linking to the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement, but I think I’d rather put it in my own words.

The Christian faith has, as its absolute pith and core, four concepts. First, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, revealed word of God. Without this bit, everything else fails, since the Bible is our only account of these events and is a uniquely self-corroborating document. Denial of any part, no matter how small, unravels the whole. It is either wholly true or wholly false, no middle ground. Secondly, that we, without exception, are a fallen race incapable of the perfection that was present at Creation. There is ample evidence of this without ever leaving your home, but it requires looking in the mirror honestly, and a lot of people never make it past this point. Next, because we are incapable of that perfection, we are therefore unsuited to being in God’s presence. We are in dire need of a savior, someone to cleanse us so we can be fit for communion with the divine and eventual entry into His kingdom after our mortal death. Third, that savior arrived in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of God’s Son, His human incarnation, Jesus Christ. When Christ died, he did so with the weight of the sins of the world, past, present and future, on His shoulders, paying the price for them for any who will accept it. At last, this gift, this grace, is freely given to any who confess their sinful nature and accept His cleansing faith.

There are a lot of secondary things that I think are very, very important in order to truly understand what’s above, but they are exactly that: secondary things. Things like understanding of the Trinity, the mechanics of grace (Calvinism vs Armenianism, and Grace-Alone vs Works), and the exclusivity of Christ as the source of salvation are examples of these. Very important, but not the kind of things we should break fellowship over. I’m sure many will argue with me on this one, as I’ve just thrown to the sideline a pet theological topic, but the undeniable truth here is that Christ is the only thing necessary for salvation. None of our pontification since then matters a damn in comparison.

Authentic Christianity, then, is a preaching and teaching of this faith whose character remains consistent with that of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ as revealed by the inerrant word of God. It is a Christianity that promotes and produces faithful disciples who are steeped deeply in the word of God, humble, strong and courageous in the convictions of their faith and able apologists for their beliefs in whatever culture they choose to minister. Christ was explicit in that He wants us to teach all nations to be disciples.

This is why it saddens me when I run into the kind of jaded cynicism I’ve seen lately. I’ve met people who seem to take a sick sense of glee in destroying the zeal of a new Christian. “Take care with that light, there, you might burn yourself,” they chuckle knowingly. Well, I’m gonna lay this out pretty harshly and let you all be the judge.

This jaded attitude towards the fire of a Christ-fueled faith is the most dangerous thing a new Christian faces, and has destroyed the authenticity of the faith in our culture.

Often we talk about the shock a new Christian feels when they discover that they continue to sin even with the salvation of Christ. It’s a bucket of cold water over our heads, bringing us back to the reality that sin is an infectious disease whose cure, though complete and without fail, produces a transformation over time culminating in the final ascension after our mortal death. While we’re here, we must continue to struggle with sin, though it does get easier with time and closeness to Christ. This shock is a healthy realization of truth, and can strengthen a Christian who is willing to face up to it.

However, it is an entirely different kind of shock when a world-weary, cynical elder of the faith tells that new Christian to “tone down” their zeal for their newfound salvation. It can take any number of forms, from, “Aww, that’s cute son, but real theologians don’t get all that excited,” or as simple as a brush-off from church staff to a new Christian volunteer. It’s simultaneously a simple buzzkill and something far more sinister.

You see, to anyone who has wandered the wilderness of the absence of God and found their way back to the open arms of Christ, the comfort and freedom of that salvation is… well, it’s the most important thing. Period. No qualification needed. The zeal for Christ’s ministry overtakes every priority in your life, especially when you realize that in order to love your family, your wife and your kids, the way they deserve you have to love God first.

When that zeal is killed in its infancy by the aforementioned cynical elder, what replaces it is a distrust of other Christians. It stunts the growth of new Christians as surely as tying a cinder block around their necks. Suddenly they become afraid of sharing their thoughts for fear of being wrong and being patronized by the “wise” elders. They volunteer less frequently and eventually cease altogether. Eventually what replaces the zeal is that same jaded cynicism about all other Christians’ faith, the formerly-new Christians become a part of the problem and the cycle continues.

This cynicism is addressed several places in the Bible, such as Job 12 or Revelation 3:15-16, and always with the utmost in revulsion. Christ himself dealt with the ongoing cynicism of the Jewish leaders of the time, countless times using their cynical attempts to entrap him in some philosophical error to both expose their unbelief and teach us some truth. Never once does Christ say, “now, in order to avoid persecution, you should hide the light of the Holy Spirit and try your best to be inoffensive about the gospel.” In fact, quite the opposite!

13″You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14″You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Christ himself blows the idea of a “cynical faith” being in any way Biblical out of the water. I mean, come on, there’s even a childrens’ song about letting your light shine! If we, as the leaders of the next generation of Christians, can’t acknowledge the need for zealous confession and profession of Christ as Lord, how hypocritical do we look before our children?

This cynicism is one of the smells of inauthenticity that I discussed before, and is probably the single most insidious battle we face as Christians on our home turf today. The home front in the war for the souls of mankind here in America is more active today than it ever has been, such that ministry here at home is as necessary if not more so than anywhere else in the world. In order for us to reach the committed Atheists, the Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and simply “lost” in our communities we have to first be clear about what we believe, and understand it as best we are capable. Next, we have to decide to BE that beacon, that shining city on the hill, to which people look in times of great fear and distress. The only way to do that is to pick up the zeal we left behind and act as mirrors for Christ’s illumination of the truth.

Reflect Christ, and they will come.

9 Comments

  1. Wow, that’s a really awesome post Evan (btw, this is Bera). I’m glad to see that you’ve returned to your faith, to me it’s so central in my life. Keep up the good work, bro.

  2. Oh, I did want to leave you with a nugget that I had heard a long time ago:

    The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s apathy.

  3. Thanks Bob.

    Feels great to be back, actually. Christ is now the center of my life, the rock on which I stand, and somehow my life, regardless of the rocking of the boat, seems nice and stable. Imagine that!

    I’m actually studying and preparing for a life of ministry, as I’ve been called by my creator to do so. I seem to be gifted by His grace to be a teacher.

    Also, I’d agree with that quote. At least with doubt you have to actively acknowledge God. In order to not believe in Him, you actually first have to acknowledge the possibility. *grin*

  4. mo7888

    I would love to hear you expound on a particular ‘secondary’ item of importance that you listed ‘the exclusivity of Christ as the source of salvation are examples of these’. I am interested in your thoughts as to why this item would be ‘secondary’? Enlighten me…..

  5. There’s a progression of belief that is very common in the lives of most Christians. First and foremost, people come to see the need for salvation in their lives. Next, they try various functional saviors, from marriage and children to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. These idols’ failures point to the true savior, a savior they may have met in the form of a Christian friend or even as simple as a character in a movie who happened to show Christian values. That savior is Christ.

    Pause – Notice what we’ve done here? I just arrived at Christ without the Bible directly causing that arrival. Sure, it indirectly informed the result, because our knowledge of our salvation flows from the Bible… but you can arrive at a saving knowledge of Christ without ever having touched one, through those who have!

    Armed with this saving knowledge of Christ, you begin to read the Bible. Christ says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes before the father except through me.” (John 14:6) Reading this passage coming from the place I just described, what Jesus is saying here seems as naturally true as if he’d told Thomas, “The sky is blue and water is wet.” This exclusivity doesn’t extend from some elitist attitude or theology of the “elect,” but from the very nature of who Christ is and what those other idols and false ideologies aren’t. That is to say, Christ is the incarnation of God on Earth, then sent so He could be the sacrificial atonement for a sinful mankind.

    Now back up and reapproach that scripture as a complete outsider to the faith, or even better, as a searcher looking for acceptance, the father-like relationship between us and Jesus. This passage looks and sounds, first of all, like the kind of ludicrous claim a madman would make. Christ is claiming here to be the singular, ONLY, path to communion with God, but not only that, claiming to BE God himself: “If you really knew me, you would know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7) (As C.S. Lewis asserts, either Jesus was a charlatan, a raving lunatic, or precisely what he claimed to be. There is no middle ground.) It can be a major turn-off to any potential believer to hear this sort of thing, because it leaves them thinking about Christianity like some sort of Country Club or Masonry Lodge. It is of course not, but that doesn’t stop that initial impression from being made, perhaps to the eternal damnation of a soul.

    All this to say that first, in order for this scripture to make any kind of sense to the reader, there must be a faith invested by the Holy Spirit. That’s what I mean by secondary. There’s a lot of truth in the Bible that is nigh-inaccessible until there exists a God-invested faith in the reader. These truths are not only inaccessible but can even be an impediment to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and growth of that faith that is planted, in a seeker’s heart. We therefore have to be careful that we don’t dress up the gospel of salvation, in our excitement to share it, with all of the other truths that become much clearer and easier to understand after we accept the BIG Truth that is Jesus Christ. Through faith, things are made clear. Without that faith, it becomes a case of leading a horse to water only to watch it die of thirst. Our goal is to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ, not bludgeon them with truths that will be all too apparent once they have made that transition.

    Hope this helps, buddy. 🙂

    (Edit: Added a conclusion, sorry was rambling there)

  6. mo7888

    Let me take a shot at this….. I have some differences of view but, as of this moment, I am of the opinion that these differences may be more semantics than ‘real’ differences.

    In your opening paragraph you talk of people looking for ‘functional saviors’ (excellent term btw), I agree whole heartedly with you on that fact. It is apparent to anyone who ‘pays attention’ that lost people are searching for something (even if they don’t know what that something is). I believe it is in our created nature to do just that (of course we could go a whole new tangent here but I digress). Next you assert that the failures of this ‘functional savior’ points to the true savior. I would assert that the failures of the ‘functional savior’ only point to a failure on the part of the object that did not satisfy their hunger for a relationship with the one true God. If that person was to come in to contact with a ‘Christian’ friend or simply witness then the equation changes due to this new interaction, but that contact plus the failure of a ‘functional savior’ do not equate to Salvation. Our difference here may not be a difference at all.

    The main part of your post that I am having difficulty with is your suggestion in the next paragraph that this person is now ‘Saved’ because of 1) having some encounter in the past with a friend or ‘movie character’ who displayed Christian ‘Values’ and 2) the person has been failed by their ‘functional savior’. Is there not more to salvation than that? Is not there a moment when a person comes to repentance? Maybe I am misreading your intent?

    From there you go on to talk about how there are many things a person cannot understand about the Bible until ‘after’ their Salvation experience when the Holy Spirit works within them. I couldn’t agree more. There are many things that Christians young and old (Spiritually speaking) don’t understand. The Holy Spirit reveals things to us as we are ready and if we search for them. Many Christians from traditional backgrounds seem to think that the ‘search’ is over when Salvation occurs….. Of course, this is not the case. Salvation is the beginning, not the end…that’s when things really start to get interesting. When the scales fall off the eyes and Biblical truths are revealed to a Christian is just makes one hungrier for more…… but now I am taking the topic in a different direction and digressing again….. 🙂

  7. My point in that paragraph you identified is that people can come to a saving knowledge of an acceptance of Jesus and his sacrificial atonement for their sins without ever having read the first verse of the Bible. The functionality of salvation hasn’t changed, just the medium of its presentation.

    When you realize (as in you’re consciously aware of) the failure of every other functional savior in your life, the eyes necessarily turn outward for help. This state, by the way, is the perfect fertile soil for the seed of faith to grow. It’s its natural manure, and I believe it is the beginning of the depth of conviction of sin brought about by the Holy Spirit.

    Of course there’s more to salvation than just the conviction of sin and a heart-made-ready, though! With any luck, or more truthfully the providence of God, the seeker will see the transformation wrought in the life of one of His servants, and for whatever reason, be it the urging of the Holy Spirit or some more human desire to possess the peaceful power exuded by the truly faithful, they stop that servant and ask, “What makes you so special? Last year you were cursing, I heard you lie more than once, and I heard you used to rail and curse at your kids a few years back, too. How come people seem to think you’re such a good guy now? What’s changed?”

    If we’re on our toes and ready to do God’s work, we can lay out a quick witness of God’s power in a few sentences and begin the conversion process of a new believer. I think it’s our duty to BE ready at any time for this sort of thing. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you like that before, but I’ve had more than one person approach me almost exactly like that, and within the last 6 months. (Different litany of sins, same result) I didn’t have a bible on me, and I have no idea where the words came from, but I was able to sit down and map out the simple, straightforward path of sin, depravity, salvation and grace for them.

    That’s what I meant by bringing people to a saving knowledge of Christ without ever cracking a Bible. You do it by becoming a living testament to the transformative power of faith in Christ. By the time they come to you asking, the conviction of sin is ripe within them. All you have to do is show them what they already know. Sin has a history. It never produces positive long-term results. Their own heart is telling them these things, so leading them through that conviction of sin and labeling the things they’re feeling is like turning on a light. “A-ha!” the heart says.

    Reaching the hardened hearts of the determined lost isn’t really what we ought to be about, honestly. There is nothing I can say to convince a staunch Atheist of his error. Nothing. When I was in those shoes, Christ could have peeled back the sky and personally spoken to me, and I’d have gone to a clinic to have my head checked. The very best thing we can do for these people is to, again, be a living testimony to the power of Christ’s faith, so that when the Holy Spirit has finally softened their hearts and convicted them, we can stand ready to help lead them to the Cross.

    (continued in next bit to answer your last paragraph)

  8. Agreed on the scales falling off the eyes. That’s a great description of the awakening that occurs.

    To try to present the deeper truths and unsolvable mysteries of the Bible to a budding not-yet believer without having first led them to the Cross is a major blunder. I mean, can you imagine prior to your true conversion if someone like me had sat down with you and tried to explain the ongoing argument between Calvinists and Armenians, or Jesus-as-pacifist vs Jesus-as-warrior? I imagine your head would have exploded and your return home to faith in Christ would have been at the very least delayed. I know mine would have been.

    We run a very great risk of completely shutting the doors of a heart with that stuff if we introduce it too soon, and this actually is one of the biggest fears I have as a teacher and writer of this sort of stuff. God help me if I manage to unwittingly destroy the suitability of a soul for Christ’s inhabitance. The responsibility you take upon yourself as a leader of the faithful is, well, it’s incredible. Being a pastor or even just a sunday school teacher places a man in the same place occupied by every other leader of the faithful since Abraham. No matter how small the flock, responsibility for the spiritual nourishment and instruction of even ONE soul is a responsibility too weighty to handle without the support of God. Prayer and constant, deep Bible study, are therefore of vital importance if for no other reason than to maintain and strengthen the relationship you share with your Savior and through Him your Creator, so you He can be strong through you.

    Before I stop this and go back to work, let me sort of define the way I “triage” biblical truths. I don’t have just two hands, that which is vitally important and that which is not. That would cause me to devalue a lot of important truth, since very little is truly WORTH breaking fellowship over.

    1. Deal-Breakers. These are truths that are hills I’m willing to stand and die on, things that I will HAVE to break fellowship over since I believe without them no fellowship is possible. This category ONLY holds the fundamental truths of salvation. Some examples would be the existence of Sin in the world, the impossibility of creation to fully self-correct, the divinity of Christ and the power of His sacrifice to cleanse and “justify” us before our Creator. And before you say it, yes, several of these points are impossible to reach without…

    2. Vitally-Important Truths. These are things that I’ll rant and rave about, but I won’t break fellowship over them, because I feel as long as we’re both talking about the same Jesus, we can manage to find common ground at some point. Usually disagreement on these truths stems from one party or both refusing to be intellectually honest about one thing or another, because of the bald-faced nature of the truths as presented by the Bible. Examples would be that Christ calls us to love God first and foremost, and then love others as we love ourselves, or that the Bible is a God-breathed, living document, a shard of the mind of God. Neither of these is required to ask for and receive salvation, but they are vitally important nonetheless and should follow on fairly closely.

    3. Theological Pontifications of Man. We’ve reached a lot of very neat conclusions in our interpretation of Jesus’ teachings and later the Bible as a whole, and a lot of them are very important, including some we swear by today. None of them however are worth dismissing someone from the Christian brotherhood. Things like the always-annoying Calvinist vs Armenian argument, continuationism vs cessationism, etc. These things are such minor arguments in the greater scheme of things, especially when put into context against the power of the Gospel. Are they important? Possibly. Even likely, but never are they important enough to tell a fellow believer, “You’re just not a Christian unless you believe women should be subservient to their husbands,” or, “You’re just not a mature believer unless you believe in the 5 points of Calvinism.” Neither of these things are critical to my salvation, and neither of them affect the functionality of that salvation in my life! What does that tell you about their importance?

    Now, where you put some things will depend on where you are and what you cling to, but if you’re honest, you have to look at those things you hold dear and ask, “Why is this thing, this idea that is objectively NOT critical to my salvation, so important to me?” You get to that point, like I am now, and you start to let go of a TON of the baggage and window-dressing we attach to Christ. Certainly the Bible is THE source of our knowledge of our salvation, and a fount of truth, as God is Truth… but I’m not about to spring that on someone I want to bring to the Cross until we’ve established the basis between us, so I have a foundation upon which to build those truths.

    Hope this helps, buddy. 🙂

  9. mo7888

    That does help make your views much clearer too me. Thank you.

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