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How to Avoid Christian-the Straw Man

Rachel Held Evans builds Christian-the straw man

A tweet came across my Twitter feed a few nights ago that caught my eye. Rachel Held Evans, a person not usually friendly to conservative Evangelicals retweeted a post by an Evangelical. Her comment that quoted the article read, “Rarely do I see white evangelicals even attempt to see the world through the eyes of others.”

There was something interesting about that. There was truth in what Evans and the writer was saying, at least in the quote. There was also something troubling about it.

The truth

It is true that Evangelicals don’t often try to get into the shoes of those with whom they disagree. It’s a deficiency we must own, to be sure. We often lack sympathy for those who are hurting. It’s too easy to remain in our comfort zone and point an accusing finger than it is to get into the mess with someone. That’s especially true if it’s someone we’ve already presumed to have been the cause of their own malaise. Furthermore, we excuse ourselves with the thought that if we walk a mile with them though, we might be accused of participating with them in their sin, or even worse, being a liberal!

What’s obvious about the tweet is true. People need help. We know it. But, we do nothing meaningful about it.

The world sees that. Make no mistake. Evans broadcasted that observation in her tweet.

The insinuation

The statement Evans was making seems like a broader accusation though. My previous description is way too palpable to be all that there was to it. Evans’ disparaging tweet was saying more about Evangelicalism than it was about any particular Evangelical. And, make no mistake, when someone like Rachel Held Evans uses the term Evangelical, she doesn’t mean it in the broad sense of the word. She’s not including the liberal mainline denominations or the run of the mill nominal Christian.

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Evans uses the word Evangelical to describe operational conservative Christians. It’s meant as a pejorative.

More than that, what people like her mean to communicate with statements like this one has more to do with Classical Christianity than the layperson who is a committed Christian.

What Evans says and what she means to communicate are concurrently destructive to both Christians and Christianity. They are not concurrently true.

Evangelicals are not necessarily the truest representation of Christianity

Many people are confused, even Christians. There are lots of folk out there who believe that to be a Christian is to follow a set of moral beliefs. Christians believe drunkenness is immoral; sex outside of marriage is wrong; people ought to go to church. Christians believe that abortion is wrong (Evans’ golden calf). The list goes on.

Although this list is accurate, this is not what Christianity is in its essence. These moral beliefs are real Christian beliefs but they are not how we should be identified. We are Christ-followers, thus the word Christ-ian. We follow the teachings of Christ. The previous list is merely some of those teachings.

The reason so many non-Christians identify us with a set of beliefs rather than the person who teaches those beliefs, is we as Christians don’t always do a good job of following Jesus. We know the rules and set ourselves on a path to follow the rules. We just do a bad job of knowing and following the Rule Giver. When we conflate the two, we confuse the unbelievers.

Christian-the straw man

It’s not entirely our fault and I’m not going to say that each time someone like Evans makes a derogatory comment about Evangelicals that it’s because we’ve somehow confused her understanding of Christ. The fact is, it’s easy to attack Christians. It’s not so easy to attack Christ.

It’s well known that Christians are often hypocritical. Sure, we confuse and conflate our great Faith, but don’t let that fool you. Lots of skeptics like Evans are well aware of that. They know that although we don’t always get it right we worship a person who does. That’s a more difficult target for 140 characters or less though. It’s easier to pick on us  and ignore the 500 pound Jesus in the room.

We are to them the ultimate straw man. If you want to tear down, deconstruct, disprove, or just dilute Christianity, build a bigoted, self-centered, hypocrite with anti-cultural straw and burn him to the ground.

How big-a-boy are you, anyway?

So, how do we get around these kinds of attacks? How do we engage with people, especially on social media, when they attack our inconsistencies rather than what we truly believe?

You might be surprised to hear me say, “don’t back down!”

Here are two quick statements that don’t need lots of explanation for most of us.

One: Invite them to a challenge.

No, don’t pull out your dueling pistols and ask them to count off ten steps. Pull the trigger on Jesus. See how they like looking down the barrel of the Alpha and Omega.

If you know your Jesus, and you should, it won’t be difficult for you to turn the table in just about any situation. Jesus is the ultimate tough guy and his word and his character speak for themselves.

In fact, you’ll find quickly that most folks don’t like to argue with Jesus. They may mischaracterize him, but they assume that whatever he says is gospel truth. (Which is an interesting almost innate characteristic of many unbelievers.)

What’ll happen is instead of debating whether some particular set of beliefs are right or wrong, you’ll suddenly find yourself talking about what Jesus thought about it. That’s not always true, but it is more than not, and it’s a much more comfortable conversation for most of us.

Place Jesus in the spotlight instead of ourselves and suddenly our argument has turned 180 degrees and we’re talking to a person who assents to value in the words of Christ.

Hmmm. That sounds like a no brainer to me.

Second: Invite yourself to a challenge. Begin following Jesus.

I know, doctrine and dogma are essential to the Faith. Don’t forget, I’m Reformed Presbyterian. But, all doctrine must flow seamlessly with Jesus of Nazareth or it is false doctrine.

Following Jesus brings much more consistency than living out the Westminster Confession of Faith. In fact, following Jesus should be consistent with the WCF.

Jesus puts shoes on the WCF though. He brings Calvinism to life. He is the epitome of the Creeds. Jesus is the origin of all true doctrine. Why not follow him?

If we do so, with the great Creeds and Confessions as our guide and the Word of God as our infallible rule of Faith and Doctrine, they’ll be a smaller chasm between what we believe and how we live. They’ll be less hypocrisy, self-centeredness, and bigotry. Straw will be of short supply for the skeptic to shape us.

 

Donnie
I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice
http://www.southernbyhisgrace.com

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