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What Happened To The Christian Brand?

There’s a lot of discussion regarding the label “Christian.” It used to be a label of peace, love, compassion, and acceptance. There was some fire and brimstone too, back in the day, but that faded. Today, however, the word “Christian” can actually detract. It turns people off. That’s a heck of a shift! What happened?

In an article entitled, The “C” Word: Why I (and other Christians) Resist The Label, Mark Sandlin notes, ‘Christianity’ has many more negative connotations than positive ones, at least in the minds of the general public. Want to try a few of them on for size? Hypocritical. Irrelevant. Anti-homosexual. Judgmental.

Sandlin is not pointing out new sentiments. Christianity is getting blasted from a number a fronts. It’s lost credibility and influence in political, social, and cultural spheres. It’s now losing influence in the spiritual sphere. Is there any hope?

I’ve been wrestling for years with Christianity. In many ways it’s the most attractive religion. Jesus is one cool dude with a killer message – no one has even come close  – 2 billion plus followers. In other ways, one can easily get lost in confusing theology, eschatology, creeds, and traditions. And one can certainly be put off by its practitioners.

So how does one spread the Good News that Jesus intended? How can it be done authentically, and in a way that honors people versus push them away? One way is the attraction model (via whole-life discipleship). This is what AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) does. It relies on attraction versus promotion. AA relies on the power of attraction from the radically changed lives of its members. And it works really well.

But the goal off AA, simply put, is don’t drink. The goal of Christianity is less clear. Lots of folks grew up in a church that taught (and still teaches): you’re a sinner, repent, and believe. Voila! You’re saved! It’s all very personal, missing all the Kingdom of God stuff. The half gospel doesn’t hold up to even a cursory glance at the Gospels. That the saving grace message has maintained and matured into standard doctrines is a little scary. It’s not to say it should not be there. Rather, the presentation needs some reworking, and the primary message of Jesus needs to be the focus.

What’s the primary message? It’s this: the long-awaited and promised Kingdom of God has begun ushered in by Jesus Christ. It’s available free of charge, right now. It’s pure gift. It is the hinge upon which the world turns. The gospel message is found in the life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Its purpose is reconciliation via new creation – including you.

We can argue, quite easily, that Christianity has been off message too long. Broadly, many of us suffered under the guilt poured on us from Catholicism. The Protestants seem shallow and focused on doctrine versus the gospel. All the other denominations cloud things further. Is there any truth in all these messages? Sure, but there is a communication problem. The fact remains that we’re seeing the negative ramifications of incomplete, misguided and, in some cases, incorrect, Christian teaching now.

I’m not interested in watering anything down. I’m interested in understanding and delivering the message of Jesus in a fresh way (contextualization). We need to wrestle with the gospel afresh. A focus on the Kingdom, and how we live this out today will help.

I was discussing Christian doctrines with a friend recently. I was pointing out how they appear quite restrictive and perhaps questionable in light of Jesus’ teachings. He said the following, which I thought was quite profound, and might be a way of getting at some deeper truths.

Here’s his comment from a post at HolisticFaith.com:

…Nor have I ever heard of any protestant theologian attack Mother Teresa personally about her theology because of any disagreements they may have had with her faith or the Catholic church. Why? Because her life was so steeped in ‘God’s Kingdom Living’ it spoke for itself.

If we want to get away from all the worry, fear, fighting, and dogmatism that fragments the Church and pushes people away; if we want to see the Church, omnce again, as a shaping force in the world that Jesus exemplified – then let’s talk about the Kingdom.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson

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