Please stop the bandwagon. I’d like to get off.

3 12 2010

I know it’s trendy. I know you think it’s shocking. But it’s not. It’s overdone. It’s lost its impact. And I’m sick of it.

I am tired of articles and opening chapters of books that follow this tired formula. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that I am beginning to wonder if there actually is a formula for randomly generated intro chapters. See if you recognise it. It goes something like this:

I used to be a Christian.
Now I’m not.
I’m embarrassed to call myself a Christian.
Here’s why:
[Insert a handful of extreme examples of fundamentalism gone wrong]
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a follower of Christ.
I’m just embarrassed by the name.
And the connotations the name carries.
Let’s rename ourselves [insert some trendy name, which is probably also the title of the book]
If we do that then everything will all be fine.

You see, whilst the analysis may at times be insightful, and some of the solutions offered extremely provocative, I am so sick of the premise that I struggle to get past chapter one.

The ‘I used to be a Christian – but I hate the name – now I’m just a follower of Christ by another name’ thing used to be shocking. It used to make the reader feel uncomfortable. Now I read articles like ‘Anne Rice quit being a Christian’ and I don’t think ‘woah, that’s powerful!’ I think ‘chalk that up as the tenth this week!’

It’s not that I think the content of the books is always wrongheaded, although often it is. It’s not that I think that the authors are trying to sell us some wishy washy liberal distraction from preaching the gospel and building churches, although some of them are. I’m just bored of the premise! It doesn’t shock any more.

What is the most shocking or unexpected twist in a film that you can remember? The first time you watch it, it blows you away; you never saw that coming! What happens the second, third, or fourth time you watch the film? You get numb to it. It loses its power. What would happen if you took that scene and transposed it into a dozen other films? Every time a kid wanders onto your screen and says ‘I see dead people, all the time’ you’ll instantly know where the film is heading.

It’s stale. It’s done. I’m bored. Let’s move on.

The best opening I have read recently is in James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. Buy it and read it just for the opening chapter. Don’t skip to the end of the chapter; read it through! See if it doesn’t achieve what the ‘tried and tested formula’ above aims to. See if it doesn’t kick you in the gut and leave you gasping for air. See if it doesn’t make you turn the page faster than you have ever turned a page in your life!

Like I say, many of the books are great, just not as shocking as they think they are, and I fear that by jumping on the ‘bandwagon of embarrassment’ their effectiveness is significantly reduced. But for what it’s worth, here are three verses I’d just like to throw into the ring for consideration next time someone fancies copying and pasting this formula.

In the New Testament the word ‘Christian’ appears three times:

In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.’
(Acts 11:26)

Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”’
(Acts 26:28)

The title ‘Christian’ was given to the early believers by the unbelieving public. It’s always been a label applied to us by people outside, loaded with particular connotations. Why should we expect it to be any different today?

The term ‘Christian’ has always been a way of differentiating us based on what we’re not. For the early church they were not Jews, they were Christians. It was a boundary marker and a necessary distinction. Why should we expect it to be any different today?

‘Well then,’ you might say, ‘if it was a label given us by unbelievers, intended to separate and categorise us, are we not entitled to reject it or feel embarrassed by it?’

And I would reply, ‘Well, you may well have a point, but consider the third New Testament reference’:

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.’
(1 Peter 4:16)

Where has that attitude gone? There was a day when people were proud of the name.

When persecution, misunderstanding, false accusations and lack of respect abound, by all means let us clarify, build bridges, nuance our statements, draw the lines, disassociate with particular views, readdress the balance. But can we do it in such a way as to avoid being ashamed, and still be proud of the title?

It would make Peter happy, strengthen your case and alleviate my embarrassment-fatigue!

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One response

7 12 2010
lou

its funny, I’m embarrassed that I often don’t live up to the label of Christian! More than anything I would like people to see me and think, wow that person is a reflection of Christ! hehe Great article Liam

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