Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unpopular Christianity

Jesus said to the crowd at the “Sermon on the Mount” that the gate that leads to eternal life is narrow. He said that there would be few people who find that gate and subsequently, find eternal life. (Matt. 5:13-14) Greek and Roman writers fairly often employed the image of the two paths in life.[1] Such thinking receives its fair amount of scorn in modern, western cultures. What is more, much of that scorn comes from the religious community. Such thinking is continually viewed as legalistic, hypocritical, and often associated with the sect of religious leaders known as the Pharisees. But these are the words of Jesus Christ Himself. In addition, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people who were primarily religious. Yet, according to Jesus, most of this crowd was lost. Most Jewish people in Jesus’ day were religious; respecting God and keeping his commandments were important parts of their culture.[2] We can relate to this sort of culture in America. Our country is filled with churches like this and our churches are filled with people like this. They do not drink beer, fornicate, commit adultery, lie (at least not really big lies), or commit a variety of other sins they think are the worse kind of sins. They have never been born again. They think they are morally good and therefore that makes them a Christian.

There is another component now filling our churches. This element thinks that Scripture is simply a good guide in that it points in a certain moral direction but that it should not be taken overly-literally, even in its prohibitions. These are the people who divorce their husbands and wives at will when they feel they have the ground to do so. They are the churches filling their pulpits with female pastors who denounce and deny God’s ordained role for women. These are the people who think there is nothing necessarily wrong with abortion and who suggest one can be gay and Christian. Essentially, they destroy the Christian standard revealed in Scripture and replace it with one that meets with their preferences. They deny the exclusive claims of Christ, believing that eternal judgment is an outdated doctrine. In their mind, Jesus was not talking about eternal judgment but rather, temporal happiness. For them, it is merely an attitudinal issue that Jesus was concerned about. Christianity is about loving your neighbor in precisely the terms they would define them. Christianity is about social causes, racial issues, gay marriage, income equality, gun control, utopia in the here and the now. Christianity is more of a socio-political movement than it is a supernatural religion making outrageous claims about morality and eternal judgment. After all, that is the stuff that bigots are made of.

Second, this unpopular Christianity, as opposed to pop-Christianity, is something the world actually hates. Jesus did not say that if Christians would be just the right kind of Christians that the world would come flocking to Christ. I realize that men in the emergent church and in Rick Warren’s seeker-sensitive model and Andy Stanley’s psychological version think that Christ is just about relationships and that if we just show people we care, they will want Christ and all that He offers. Where that nonsense comes from I am not sure. I am sure however, that it does not come from biblical exegesis. That much is not difficult to ascertain. Jesus said to His disciples that all men because of the name of Jesus would hate them. (Matt. 10:22) Now, if we listen to men like Perry Noble, Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, and Joel Osteen, we are led to believe that if we are doing it the way Jesus told us to do it, then the world would flock to our churches in groves, literally tens of thousands of people would pound the doors down wanting this Jesus we have to offer. Moreover, we are told that if the world hates you and rejects your message; that the reason is in how we deliver that message. You’ve heard it: man, you just turn people off with that repentance stuff. That kind of preaching just doesn’t work. You need to get with the times if you want your message and your church to be relevant. Yet, in stark contrast to this, Jesus told His disciples not to stop doing what they are doing when men hate them, despise them, and say evil things against them falsely, but rather, to rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. Biblical Christianity is despised by the world while pop-Christianity is embraced by the world and despised by Christ.

Finally, unpopular Christianity brings division and controversy. Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace on the earth. Rather, Jesus came to bring division. (Lu. 12:51) Those who think that Jesus came in order to make it so that we could all stand around, holding hands, and singing “We are the world” while ignoring our serious theological differences (such as exclusion, homosexuality, illicit divorce, Christology, the Nature of Scripture, et al) exhibit a profound ignorance of the very words spoken by Jesus Himself. Biblical Christianity is a profoundly unpopular, and from a worldly standpoint, an intensely disturbing religion. Biblical Christianity leaves no stone unturned. It leaves no behavior to human autonomy. It demands that everything that we are and do be subject to the Creator of all that is. Nothing is left to itself. There is no independence. The idea of individual “rights” simply does not exist in such a system. The demands of the Christ of Scripture are higher than any demands any man could place on himself. The Christian dictum that one must die to oneself if one is to find life is at the heartbeat of Biblical Christianity. It is any wonder why such a system would be so unpopular among the world? It is for this very reason that only those that are the objects of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit do actually come to embrace this profoundly unpopular religion. Who, in their right mind, would ever want to die their own self?

Popular Christianity in the west and especially in the Americas has become a religion that is, in a strict sense, unknown to Scripture and Scripture unknown to it. For decades this religion has denied the authority of Scripture, changed the image of God, perverted the teachings of Christ, and removed every offense from Scripture it could find. Popular Christianity is little more than a psychological subscription to moralistic principles derived from the image of God within man, modified of course, by each individual’s preferences. For some, it is little more than having a clubhouse of friends to chat with on Sundays. For others, it is a means to positive thinking, to better parenting, to career enhancement, and to a better over all self-esteem, albeit entrenched in a subtle self-righteousness that resides hidden deep within, but, nevertheless is at the core of it’s philosophy.

Jesus said he who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life will find it. (Jn. 12:25) Jesus said if you were of the world, the world would love you. But because I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you! (Jn. 15:19) So, Christian, if the world hates you, then rejoice! But if the world loves you, you must be the world too.

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 250.
[2] Ibid., 251.


  1. Hey Dr. Dingess!
    Just wanted to thank you for your refutation of Perriman's Narrative history approach that leaves little room for a catholic (as in little c of course) theology. I hear his short commentary on Romans is the same way.

    1. The battle for truth is a battle that only the second coming will end. Thanks for reading the blog. It is good to know that you enjoyed it.


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