My wife and I like to tour open houses. Mostly we come away with a deeper appreciation of our own modest home (there are a lot of weird houses on the market), but there was one a few weeks ago… hoo boy. Three stories. Spectacular panoramic views from every floor. Five bedrooms, a game room, an office, a gorgeous yard. And the asking price was “only” $2.5 million! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go home and do the math. (Shocker: we couldn’t afford it.)
But now, in my imagination, it’s 2025. My Christian bestseller is in its third printing, and I’ve got the money for a house like that. I buy it. I move in. I enjoy myself and live in fabulous luxury, leaving undone much good that could, instead, have been done with that money… just one more Christian hypocrite.
Notions of hypocrisy and greed run rife through the modern outsider’s view of Christianity, and not without reason. Our faith calls on us to give, yet only 3% of us tithe and only a quarter give anything. While championing marriage and fidelity, many of us are unfaithful and divorce. We ask for grace when we fall short but give none when others do. I have to stop and ask myself… where have we gone wrong?
I am not going to pretend that I can answer for the misdeeds of all professed Christians, but perhaps there is some insight to be gained simply from examining my own. Do I live up to the teachings of scripture? Do I even practice what I myself preach? And if not, can my faith still have any value?
Not living up to scripture
Jesus requires me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Scripture assures me that friendship with the world amounts to enmity with God. In the zeal of his faith, John the Baptist moved out to the wilderness and lived on locusts and wild honey.
Obviously, apart from Shane Claiborne, few modern American Christians make such a commitment. Certainly I don’t. My modest house is a fabulous palace by the standards of much of the world. I own enough clothes and shoes to fill a closet. I am never seriously hungry. I have not committed the full weight of my existence my pursuit of Christ’s teachings, and it is reasonable to question whether that proves my faith is hollow.
My only defense is, some is more than none. I am doing my best. We give less than we possibly could, but more than a lot of people, and we do that because we believe the scriptures that urge us to do good in the world. I try to be patient and loving and kind. I’m coming along. I used to be a lot worse at it than I am now, and the Bible gives me a lot of tools I wouldn’t otherwise have.
It is possible to quote passages from the Bible that point to the total commitment it requires, and then to point to the shortfall in my own life as a fatal flaw in my faith. OK. But then what? I am not going to renounce such good as I am doing. I am not going to repent of my efforts to be more Christlike.
Instead, I will live my faith like I live every other area of my life. I believe in Capitalism, and don’t feel I must abandon it because in real life it needs commonsense regulation and a social safety net. I believe in the scientific method even though there are things we still don’t understand. Despite its many flaws, I believe in my country (though this election cycle may not be bringing out our best). There may be many parts of our lives— friendships, family, faith— that, though little and broken, are still good. Yeah. Still good.
To be continued…
Next week: Not practicing what we preach