If you were to go to Times Square in New York City—which recently fell to the bottom 10 (No. 91) of the Barna Group’s list of most Bible-minded cities—and throw a rock, I bet you’d hit someone who could answer in detail the question, “What is Jesus against?”
Well for one, He is against throwing rocks (according to John 8:7, at least), so don’t actually do that. The point, though, is that the majority of Americans, religious or not, could probably point to one or more things they’ve heard that the Almighty is against.
The scary thing is that, without even so much as tripping over a Bible, I would wager that the average person could tick off a litany of issues and actions they are sure Jesus opposes. From the preponderance of Christian-generated headlines and sound bites, we can pretty much guess what non-Christians think about Christians’ views of a variety of political issues only based on a slim portion of evangelicalism’s reactions in the media.
For instance, I’ve come across several articles throughout various news cycles informing the public that Franklin Graham is hotly opposed to something—and these articles never so much as add a mention to the remarkable, transformational, Spirit-filled work that his organization (Samaritan’s Purse), is doing across the world.
Now, this isn’t me making a judgment call for or against any of these issues. Honestly, I believe it is the responsibility of every Christian to read, analyze and pray over Scripture to discern His will for us as we journey through life. Yet it raises the question: Are we as evangelicals winning any for Christ by perpetuation the “God is anti- (fill-in-the-blank)” message in the larger media?
I really don’t think so. And Baylor University professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader have research that could back that supposition up. In one of the most comprehensive research studies of Americans’ perception of God in the past 10 years, these Baylor University professors conclud that we look at God in one of four ways: 1) “authoritative” (31 percent); 2) “benevolent” (25 percent); 3) “distant” (23 percent); and 4) “critical” (16 percent).
At face value, these statistics aren’t exactly jarring. When you consider the fact, however, that a sweeping majority of Americans (a cumulative 70 percent) associate God with arguably negative character traits, it’s time to start asking what sort of ambassadors we have been for Christ.
After all, based on these perceptions, who would want a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the incarnation of an “authoritative,” “distant” or “critical” God? Not me.
In fact, growing up a Catholic school kid in the Northeast, I used to get the heebie-jeebies when learning about Jesus’ sacrifice, thinking it an odd and seemingly unnecessary act from a scary, wrath-filled God. And I even thought evangelicals were morose, modestly dressed folks who showed up to boycott various cultural events and refused to celebrate halloween.
After all, that’s the only part I got to see of them in the media. I don’t think we should be quick to place blame on the mainstream media. For the most part, they are merely transmitting what Christians say when the cameras are pointed at us—when we’re not actively working to espouse this message on our own media sources, that is.
So what can we do about this broad brush, painting our Lord Jesus as a “God-of-the-against”?
Well, what if we retired the “God is anti-” refrain pouring from bully pulpits, and instead took a strong position on what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is for?
I feel you getting nervous. I’m not suggesting we be proprietors of sloppy grace or ignore sin and allow this world to skate down a slippery slope to hell.
I’m saying that maybe we can take a lesson from people like Hillsong NYC’s pastor, Carl Lentz.
In an interview during the initial rise of his popularity, the media seemed poised to railroad Lentz with one-dimensional, yes-or-no questions on some of the most divisive issues in our culture. This would normally be fodder for backlash, inevitably dimming the shining Gospel message of love and redemption that is held at Hillsong.
Lentz looked through the smokescreen of this question and cut right to the heart of the matter. On if he would use the pulpit to preach against social issues, he simply said, “No, because we try to be like Jesus.”
“Very rarely,” he continued, “did Jesus ever talk about morality or social issues … Often, people want to talk about behavior modification, and our church isn’t about that … We’re about soul transformation.”
He insisted, “We have a stance on love, and we have a conversation on everything else.”
This makes sense. It doesn’t mean we hide the controversial parts of faith, but we can engage in conversation over them, rather than issuing condemning blanket statements.
After all, in Mark 16:15 Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”
I don’t know about you, but someone bellowing from the split-screen of a cable news station that everything I’m doing is wrong does not seem like good news. However, the notion that I could have a relationship with a Savior who loved me so much He would literally take a bullet for me is good news. The idea that I don’t have to live my life mired in guilt or shame is good news. The message of love, of hope, of peace and of grace is the best news I’ve ever heard.
Let’s stop leading with what Jesus is against. Let’s talk about what He’s for: having a close, personal relationship with each of us.
Chase Miller is a Christian impassioned (obsessed) with social justice, community development and dynamic, impactful ministry. Chase lives in Philadelphia and operates youth programming in Camden, NJ. Follow him on Twitter @Isaiah6D1.