Bad Religion: Christians who are sure about the wrong things


Anyone who has known me long knows I was captain of the high school debate team. I can debate any subject for the sake of debate. On the other hand, in real life I don’t particularly enjoy debates whose resolution won’t change the world. And a lot of people who aren’t Christians don’t seem to enjoy the kinds of debates that Christians have become famous for.

Over the last couple of days, my blog trail email box has filled with alerts as two readers of another blog I follow have gone back and forth about evolution. At last count, they’d communicated more than 50 times in what they considered to be an important conversation about whether the earth was a few thousand years old or millions of years old.

The irony: The evolution debate responded
to a post about whether the church was irrelevant

Dispute or celebrate and work?

Of course, I don’t believe that Christians or our God are irrelevant to this world. On the other hand, debates about evolution probably seem pretty irrelevant to a world that’s worrying about things like:

  • Suicides among returning veterans (6,500 last year).
  • High rates of illiteracy among high school students and graduates (graduation rate of 65 percent here in NC; I worked in a neighborhood where only a third of the 18-25 year olds had finished high school).
  • Whether the extreme weather we’re experiencing results from human-induced environmental change.
  • Global shifts in employment that are making it harder for the American middle class to regain its position post-recession. (I recently learned that an American Board-certified heart surgeon from another country is going to open up shop in the Caribbean to provide $6,000 heart surgeries.)
  • The “food deserts” inner cities are experiencing because supermarkets don’t locate where large populations of poor people live.

It’s worth debating
how to solve problems God cares about

I wouldn’t mind debating about how to solve some of those issues. I’m pretty sure God cares about all of them. But I also know we find it hard to approach these topics because they are addressed through political systems. As Ross Douthat points out in his new book “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” we’ve become (as a church) political pawns of the party system. That means we can’t even think as a church about such things because we’re only “allowed” to express opinions that represent our particular church’s “acceptable” political party. So instead we debate for hours about things that prove to the culture that we and our God are irrelevant.

From my point of view, here’s the thing about our ability as humans to understand stuff: it’s really limited.

It’s worth remembering:
we don’t know as much as God does

The most common element in the earth’s crust is granite. The most common illness is the cold. As humans, we have yet to understand how granite is formed or how to cure the cold. If we can’t figure out those small creations of God, why should we assume we can figure out such large answers as how God created the entire world?

Rams have to butt heads. So I guess some Christians are going to spend a lot of time butting heads over issues of limited importance — even though God tells us not to. (“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” [Romans 14:1].)

But it would do the world a great deal of good if we started obeying God, believing in our own limitations (humility), and simply attempting to do the good God has set before us (Ephesians 2:8-10). People might even start to think we are Christians because of our love.

Related links:

Tim Keller: Why Is Christianity On The Decline In America (the gospel coalition blog)

Nicholas Kristof: A Veteran’s Death, The Nation’s Shame (the new york times)

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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2 Responses to Bad Religion: Christians who are sure about the wrong things

  1. Matt Kanrowitz says:

    “Don’t have anything to do with stupid and foolish arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2:23,24. I may be called soon to do some pastoral work in a church with a wide variety of views. I’m determined not to get sidetracked debating gay rights, abortion,presidential politics, or even evolution. I have my views on these issues, but they are just not as important as Jesus Christ, crucified for our redemption and raised to give us eternal life. Paul approached a similar congregation with this vow: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2. Unless we give absolute priority to preaching Christ, all our debates and arguments are in vain.

    • Indeed! I can’t tell you how astonished I was when I suggested to the readers in question that perhaps they were overengaged after their first 38 comments in 5 hours (during the business day!) … and they told me that they weren’t the kind of Christian who considered intellectual discussion to be fruitless. Of course, by yesterday, they’d reached the point of name calling. We are just not as smart as God and so much of this we’re not going to figure out until we see Him … at which point, I’m guessing we won’t really care. The only place where I think you and I have slightly different emphases is that Eph. 2:8-10 is focal for me. Christ died to free me from sin by grace; that he might remake me for the works he’s laid out. And I’m astonished how much of that work is laid out in Scripture, quite clearly. Christians miss a lot by not knowing their OT. God expresses so much of his very direct concern for how we live in this world there … and people don’t see it because it’s mixed up in Lev. and Deut. Someday I should write a study from there …

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