Thinking Out Loud

June 26, 2014

“That’s So Typical of Christians…”

I Like Your Christ - Gandhi

  • “I know what Dutch people are like”
  • “I know what left-handed people are like”
  • “I know what red-haired people are like”
  • “I know what people from Arkansas are like”
  • “I know what French people are like”
  • “I know what lawyers are like”
  • “I know what landlords are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

  • “I know what Christians are like”

No, you don’t; you know a few, not all.

We are a community of the broken. We are fallen. We are flawed. So naturally you are going to see us at our worst as well as sometimes at our best. You’re going to see us not living up to the standard we should. You’re going to see us when we’re “moving toward the cross” and when we’re “moving away from the cross.”

Ideally, we are people of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness… Ideally, we are people of grace. Ideally, we reflect the character of the Christ we follow. That’s what we call “positional truth.” In terms of “practical truth,” we miss the mark, often by inches; often by miles. Just as suddenly, we sometimes get it right.

But we’re also not all the same. We have good days and bad days. We have people among us who are a real embarrassment to us, and people who truly model the life of Jesus in everything they do.

We are a community of faith. You don’t have to be “pure” to get in. You don’t have to “clean up real good” to join. It’s a “come as you are” party. And people do.

There’s no status, no seniority, no gender, no ethnicity; nobody can claim “spiritual dominance,” or “spiritual oneupsmanship” over any of the others. It’s as long and wide and deep as any cross-section of the broader society.

In fact, there’s no generic portrait of a Christ-follower that captures us all. There’s no homogeneity. There’s no ‘Mecca’ to which we must travel. No rites or rituals in which we must participate. No prescribed term of missions service we must all complete. No earthly head who speaks for all of us. No secret mantra we all recite.

There is respect for elders, yet sometimes “a little child will lead them,” and truths are spoken “out of the mouths of babes.” Younger brothers — even youngest brothers — are sometimes served by older brothers. Newcomers can make as viable a contribution as seasoned veterans. The next generation is free to reinvent the wheel. The generation after that is free to rediscover the ancient practices and classic disciplines.

It’s an upsidedown kingdom. An insideout kingdom. It’s a family. It’s “two or three gathered together” in a living room Bible study; it’s a multitude of people on a grassy hillside listening to a summer conference speaker. It’s elegant cathedrals and small country chapels. It’s quietness and solitude. It’s the making of a joyful noise with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

There’s the doctrine — what is believed. There’s the ethics — how that belief is lived out. There’s the experience — what happens to us when we believe the orthodoxy and live out the orthopraxy. There’s the ‘macro,’ big picture version of Christ-following; and there are people focused on the ‘micro’ issues, or a number of individual ‘micros.’

There are those who have locked in for life. There are those who will leave and then return. There are those who will drift away. There are those who will look in, but as one looking through a window from the outside.

Some will give tirelessly to this — in every waking hour. Some attend services at Christmas and Easter. Some give substantial parts of their income. Some give the minimum required to stay on a membership list. Some grew up with this faith. Others came as adults. Some nurture their children in their beliefs. Others feel their kids need to choose, to ‘take ownership’ of their concepts about God.

Personalities are factored in: While one person may be demonstrative about their faith, another might be reticent about their personal beliefs. Whereas one person might be given to an emotional, relational kind of worship; another might prefer a formal liturgy, a quiet, controlled worship environment.


…do you still think you know what Christians are like?

I’m part of this, and I don’t. I just know that I’ve joined myself to a company of people who are trying to live a new life in a new way; a group of people who I otherwise would have nothing in common with.

Now, we have everything in common.


  1. Good post. I used the same quote in a post just the other day.

    Comment by I 53:5 Project — June 26, 2014 @ 7:34 am

  2. While I agree with you, I disagree as well. We, as Christians, are called to a common purpose and should have a common practice: selfless love and sacrifice for others. If we are not known for that above all the other nice things you mentioned (attending services, giving money) then we have failed to life up to Christ. You are right in saying that we are called to live life in a new way, but also in the same new way. The Christ-like new way. People noticing our overall failing at this is not their fault, it’s ours. We can only strive every day to better represent the life that Christ has called all Christians to live. We are, after all, trying to be just like the same person and so should show that singular character to others. Blessings on your journey.

    Comment by sacredstruggler — June 26, 2014 @ 7:35 am

    • What I am trying to say in this particular piece is that there is no single picture of what we look like; that the stereotypes don’t fit. But yes, the broader message of our faith is that we are trying to conform to the image of Christ; to have his character reflected in all that we are, both individually and corporately.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 26, 2014 @ 7:48 am

      • I understand. That’s what I have difficulty with. If we must have one thing in common, we must be like Christ, known for sacrificial love. Something that Gandhi did not see. I agree with Gandhi, and find him to have been far more “Christian” than majority Christians. When asked what he stood for people would say, non-violence, standing up for the oppressed, and certainly his sacrifice to do so. Is that not a Christ-like testimony. If you asked people on the streets what Christians are known for, honestly, the answers would be quite unfavorable on the whole. Since we are trying to make people experience Christ, empirical truth or positional truth means more than technical truth. Not trying to bust your balls, just saying that it’s not their fault if they can’t see Christ in us as a whole. I don’t either. I think we’re lost. And I think it’s okay to say so, if people know that we think this isn’t the way we, as a whole, want to represent Christ maybe they won’t think this is what Christ looks like. *Fingers crossed.*

        As far as, convictions issues ie. drinking wine, or wearing knee length skirts, or taking communion on a weekly or monthly basis…. we really aren’t known for that stuff. I guess it’s about what you think we’re being judged on when someone says that we don’t look like Christ.

        Comment by sacredstruggler — June 26, 2014 @ 7:57 am

      • I think we are judged on superficials, but also on other things. And I’m not even sure if “judged” is the right word. Maybe pigeon-holed!

        This piece actually appeared here five years ago with a different headline and without the Gandhi quote. I wondered as I prepared it how the quotation might color peoples’ reading of what followed.

        Many of the phrases in the article are borrowed from other authors’ attempts to define Christianity, as well as allusions to scripture.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 26, 2014 @ 8:03 am

      • Out of personal interest, have you ever seen Lord, Save Us From Your Followers? It’s by a Christian man about what we’re talking about. He asks people on it what they think Christians are known for. It’s very interesting. Here’s a clip. The whole thing can be found on youtube if you are ever interested.

        Comment by sacredstruggler — June 26, 2014 @ 8:04 am

      • I’m going to be traveling the rest of the day. I’ll check out the clip when I get back. Thanks.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 26, 2014 @ 8:40 am

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