Christianity: Why It’s Being Trampled Underfoot

I think the Internet makes it more difficult than ever to be myself. Messages bombard me, persuading and cajoling and berating.

“Listen to this!”

“Agree with me!”

“Think the way that I think!”

Even worse, if you’re a people-pleaser like me, you find your true identity evaporating in an attempt to keep everyone happy, to prove to everyone that you somehow agree with them. In an era where your beliefs make you smart and important in the eyes of those with whom you agree, it is tempting to walk that subtle line of conformity. It is far too easy to be devastated by the unkind contradiction of a stranger.

We are a culture where the individual is quickly defined by what she believes. “He’s a democrat.” “She’s a libertarian.” “He believes in legalizing same-sex marriages.” “She’s pro-life.” “He’s an Eagles’ fan.” “She doesn’t like Nutella.” And after hearing even one of these pieces of information about someone, it’s so easy to fill in the rest of the gaps, to turn them into a caricature, to reduce them to a flat character about whom we know everything we could possibly need to know.

Beliefs: the litmus test of our culture.

And, as has been the case in far too many instances, Christianity conforms to culture. Christians of every ilk set up idols of particular beliefs, polarizing themselves into camps of Correct and Incorrect. This, it seems, is where we find ourselves in the waning days of 2012: grasping desperately for beliefs, as if holding dearly to the right ones is the last thing keeping our civilization from complete and utter annihilation.

Beliefs have become our salt and light. Taking the “correct” position on every issue imaginable has become our way of declaring the Good News. It’s no wonder church attendance is dwindling and the broader culture is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Christianity – when the message of Good News has been watered down to consenting to various positions or beliefs, the Good News transforms into the Right News. Which is actually rather annoying, and not much fun to listen to or to help spread.

Most of us Christians today, mistaking “right belief” for saltiness, have lost the very trait of saltiness about which Jesus spoke: love. Helping the poor (and not JUST voting for the candidate whose policies we think will benefit them). Jesus’ saltiness means having a love for our neighbor that transcends whatever belief system we espouse.

When Jesus encouraged his followers to be salt and light, these words weren’t couched alongside some sort of list of correct beliefs. No, his exhortation to be salt and light comes during his Sermon on the Mount – it’s mixed in with wisdom on the importance of the posture of one’s heart; he names as “blessed” people who are merciful and meek and peacemakers (adjectives describing action, a way of life), not those possessing or understanding of correct doctrine.

Jesus more closely associates salt and light with good deeds than good beliefs. Soon after the salt and light metaphor, he challenges the cultural paradigm of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy and says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He never said, “Make sure someone knows what you believe before you help them.” He never said, “Love them only after they fully understand that you believe what they are doing is wrong.”

This is salt and light: not right beliefs, but love.

I’m afraid for Christianity today. I’m afraid that we’ve gone so far down the path paved by “correct” beliefs that we have lost the only trait that could make us truly salty: radical love, not only for the poor and downtrodden, but also (perhaps more incredibly) for one another.

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Are we Christians good for anything anymore? Can we still be salt and light through our deeds, our acts of love? Or, leaning increasingly on our beliefs to serve as that which makes us different, are we suitable only to be trampled underfoot?

33 Replies to “Christianity: Why It’s Being Trampled Underfoot”

  1. Also for one another, indeed.

    “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    Our best testimony is to love one another. And we don’t do that very well pretty often. :(

  2. Beliefs as the litmus test of our culture – so true, and so sad at the same time. You’ve nailed it with this piece.

    How do we turn it around? We’re so bad at loving one another. Judging belief systems is so much easier.

  3. UGH! Your recent blog here puts my recent blog in check. I scrutinized our culture of compromised and mixed beliefs, but it’s short on love. A humble thanks.

  4. “Most of us Christians today, mistaking “right belief” for saltiness.” Amen brother. It has been dispiriting, to say the least, to watch friends become enemies over the most ludicrous things. No one every agreed with another on everything. And this matters little. What if we could let go of our beliefs and act like we’re called? Be pretty cool.

    1. When we’re not threatened by the beliefs of others, our differences become interesting fodder for deep discussions. But because right-belief is held up as the highest standard, we tend to be defensive when someone disagrees with us. It’s a difficult cycle to break free from.

  5. This is the perfect reflection to read. It’s so prevalent in election time, but I think it’s a must-read. Standing ovation. And yes, I’m standing up in front of my computer.

  6. Great stuff Shawn. I don’t have much to add, but something I learned during my Greek translating days is that the word we usually translate in the NT as “believe” is actually the verb form of have faith. So believing is technically “faithing” in the Greek. That linguistic tweak could be a huge deal in my eyes. Having faith in God and believing something about God isn’t always the same thing, and then when we get tangled up in beliefs and believing as the cornerstone of Christianity, we lose the relational, love-based importance of having faith in God. And by the way, it’s been a few years since my Greek courses, so if an NT scholar notices an error here, let me know!

  7. Shawn, I think what’s “happening” with Christianity is the best thing that could happen to it. It has gained so much bloat that it needs to explode back to its core. Sometimes things need to die in order to be reborn (I wonder where we got that from?) and I think that is what is happening to much of north american evangelicalism. Others have become disillusioned and I believe this is good. Good for God, good for faith, and good for us. I think many are realizing that the way modern day Christianity has been erected was out of sand. Now there is space for a more grounded and authentic faith, that includes doubt and unknowing like Rollins suggests, as well as a refreshed understanding of “belief” really meaning “faith” as Ed just wrote.

  8. I grew up in an activist culture. Everybody I knew was into taking some sort of action. What I found was that actions which are not motivated by right beliefs are often unsustainable and frequently go awry. And why do we need to create a false duality between beliefs and actions? I think Scripture teaches that right belief leads to right actions. Our problem is not so much that we focus on believing the right things, but that we’ve mistaken intellectual assent for belief. People say “I believe this” because they want to fit in (or because they want to be different, that’s also a powerful motivator right now) but all they are really doing is indicating a willingness to verbally agree on something. It is not truly a “right belief” until it changes the way you live. In John 8:31 Jesus says “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “Holding” to his teaching requires some level of belief that his teachings are trustworthy (even if it’s a small kernel of belief in a sea of doubt) that then produces actions that are in line with his teachings.

  9. I’ve never thought of that passage like that before. I think we have lost any saltiness we’ve had. Or, have we displayed it at all? Do we possess it ourselves? I’m not sure. I’m at the point where I’m not even sure if most Christians even know what the Gospel is. I sit in church services and 90% of the time, I find myself confused and disheartened. All the formulas aren’t working anymore. In my heart, I know that I’m searching for the river of life, and that’s Jesus. I kind of feel like I’m at the beginning of some sort of breakthrough. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, and I’ve grown up in church, and I’ve had real experiences with God. But I think I’m not alone when I say that I’m not satisfied with the way our Christian culture has become. I want to know God, not “Christianity”. Does anyone relate to this feeling?

    1. Me, me, ME! I relate! And guess what…..? God wants you to know Him, not “Christianity” – so it would seem, Kamber, that you might be on the right track, though it will feel that you fell completely off track. Jesus didn’t “fall in line” with the religious of His day either!

  10. Good questions, Shawn. And really important ones. And this comment thread is amazing. Way to make us think!! I’ve been in the midst of an internet discussion of sorts this week as the result of two posts appearing on the same day at the new channels of A Deeper Story that took somewhat opposite positions on matters of ‘belief’ and practice. But you know what? I think (I hope) that we ended up extending grace to one another and giving each other the benefit of the doubt, choosing instead to believe in each other’s good intentions rather than disqualifying the other on the basis of opposite beliefs. VERY stretching…

  11. Let’s be sure not to assume or generalize things about persons who focus on “correct beliefs.” Given our current modernist/rationalist culture it is very understandable to have that approach. We all exist somewhere on the spectrum between only wanting to hold a set of “correct beliefs” and expressing God’s pure love. And, we will often vacillate along that spectrum within a given week or even day. What is important is to honestly assess where we are on that spectrum and then find ways to make progress towards expressing God’s love.

  12. I am so thankful to be a part of a community that understands this and does not fall into the trap of labeling. We believe there are two impt things. Love God and love people. Period. Living this way completely changed my life. I went from “knowing about God” to truly knowing God. When you do that, you no longer get caught up in wanting to prove you are right. You love on people and show Him to others through loving them. A great reminder that it starts with us.

  13. Pingback: Love is Not God

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