Between Hope and Cynicism

The more I speak to people who suspect the Bible, the more I find that they have rejected what the Bible condemns. False Christianity will always be at odds with Jesus—the humble and winsome internal compass of the Bible.

I enjoy talking to people who have doubts about the Bible because I understand what it is like to struggle with religious Christianity. My effort in these conversations is to introduce Jesus the way that He introduced Himself—as a credible alternative to the self-righteous, corrupt, power-seeking religion of the Pharisees, which translates easily into many expressions of Christianity today.

I struggle to express how their “non-Christian” views of religion are really quite Christlike. But perhaps the black hole of religious Christianity is so powerful that it swallows up even the One who first condemned it.

I deeply resonate with the concerns of my friends whose emotions range from seething anger to polite disagreement with fear-based, guilt-driven, duplicitous spirituality that inspires violence, greed, indifference, self-righteousness and self-indulgence. But I always struggle to see why they need to reject Jesus to question these things. I do not feel the need to reject Jesus to reject religious Christianity. In fact, I have more authority to question religious Christianity because I trust in Jesus.

Timothy Keller, author and pastor, points out that when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against racist white Americans, who were predominantly Christians, he did not feel compelled to reject Christianity. He did not think that the answer to bad Christianity was less Christianity, but true Christianity. He knew he had to go deeper into Christianity, all the way to Christ, because there He would find the authority and conviction to expose people who took the name of God in vain.

“Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor,” says Martin Luther King Jr.

The suspicion and rejection of religion did not begin with the age of reason. It began with the prophets of the Old Testament—for instance Amos, who is quoted here by Dr. King—and reached its fulfilment in Jesus, who was such a threat to the control of religious people that they called for His crucifixion.

When Christians disobey God it is because we can. It is our God-given right to rebel against Him and twist His words to suit our purposes, breeding a deeper sense of cynicism. But it is our God-given privilege to return to Him as well. Then we can live our lives to serve His purposes, nurturing a culture of hope. I think the most challenging question facing our generation is the choice between  indifference and engagement; between giving up and pressing on; between cynicism and hope.

A risen Jesus is the most true and hopeful thing I know for the world. It is not true because it is hopeful. It is hopeful because it is true.

Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

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