“I can’t stand you Christians, you’re always trying to convert people. Why can’t you just love and accept them where they are, instead of trying to impose your system on them?”
How many times have you heard this type of frustrated statement? It seems like these days critics of the Christian faith make such declarations almost as a matter of course – especially in so-called “enlightened” cultures such as those found in the USA and the greater part of Europe.
Often the response to this sort of rhetoric – whether it is spoken in academic-elitist eloquence as part of a college lecture, or screamed in the face of a preacher on the campus corner – is applause and affirmation from the “open-minded”, “free-thinking”, and “spiritually enlightened” in the audience. Having been a witness to both examples in my own college days I can tell you that, ironically, the word “amen” is more often spoken in response to the above type of statement than in response to the Christian who is doing his able best to present the law and gospel of Jesus Christ in such settings. It would seem the sentiment that trying to share with others the message of Christ (repentance, forgiveness, and a relationship with God in His Kingdom) is viewed by many, if not most, as the cardinal sin in our culture.
Why is this? Several reasons come to mind:
First, the Gospel of Christ claims to be the Truth. To confess Christ as the Truth is to simultaneously reject all rival “truths” as in fact being false. It is a doctrine of exclusivity. If you a) tell someone they need Christ, yet b) they understand that they do not have Him, then they arrive at the reasonable conclusion that c) you want them to change (i.e. you want them to “not be disbelieving but believe”).
In other words, if Christ is the Truth, and those you are witnessing to do not have Christ, then the quite logical implication is that they do not have the Truth, but in fact a lie. This smacks of arrogance to most people – to claim that you have the Truth and they do not. It is for this reason that Christians are often characterized by liberal media pundits, atheist commentators, and agnostic philosophers as “intolerant”.
To understand this, we have to recognize the huge emphasis placed on “tolerance” in contemporary society. But what is meant by tolerance? It would seem that, whereas in the past centuries tolerance was defined as abiding with someone even when you had disagreements, today tolerance has been redefined as not having disagreements in the first place! In the New Tolerance, disagreeing with someone else’s viewpoint is not merely “intolerant”, it is seen as a fundamental attack on that person’s essential rights, a complete undermining of their innate and inalienable value as a human being.
Second, there is a deep need in every human heart for affirmation. We see this with children who set the table or fold the clothes and all the while cast glances at mom and dad as if to say, “do you see? I’m doing a good thing. Please notice!”. This can be misunderstood as selfishness (Why do you need a pat on the head for being good? Virtue is its own reward), but in reality it is very much a part of who we are as human beings. We all long for justice, and we instinctively know that good is rewarded (“well done, my good and faithful servant”) and evil is condemned (“into the outer darkness where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth”).
All of us see, consciously or not, that to not receive affirmation is ultimately a reflection of our character, because if we were good people we would be rewarded. And each of us wants to think we are good people. In a strange, twisted way, folks who insist that we affirm one another in our sins are practicing a form of the golden rule, by not condemning the wrongs of one another, but affirming each other as “good people” the way we want to be affirmed ourselves.
However, the Gospel of Christ does not take prisoners. No one is righteous, not even one – and this confession is an essential part of being a follower of Christ (after all, why do you need a savior if you are righteous by yourself?). So when you witness to someone, it is implicit that you are asking them to recognize the truth of this statement, and that it describes them as a poor, miserable sinner. That is too much for the sinful flesh to take, and if by avoiding Christ we can live without confessing that we are in fact corrupt and fallen (not good people) then in our sin we will choose to do so.
Third, as just stated, we are simply sinful beings, who would quickly choose to live separate from God and His love if left to our own devices. It is so much easier to believe that those who would call us to a higher standard (as epitomized by Christ, and taught by those followers of Him who call ourselves Christians) are simply bigots and blowhards and jerks than to believe that we actually aren’t really living a good life after all.
It is for these reasons that sin itself is not condemned in our culture (don’t judge me, man!), yet the condemnation of that sin is condemned.
Abortion? How dare you interfere with a woman’s right to choose!
Premarital sex? They are two consenting adults!
Gay marriage? Don’t be a homophobe!
And since Christians are seen as the epitome of sin-condemners because we are witnesses to Christ, whose perfection demands that followers of Him recognize our own imperfection and depravity, it should come as no surprise that the world hates us, just as it hated (and continues to hate) Him.
(End of Part 1 – in Part 2 we will look at the various reasons why the opening statement is inconsistent and illogical – in Part 3 we will look at how we should respond to someone who makes this type of statement)