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If Christians should not be cynical what should they be?

The writer cautions against naivete, cynicism and its opposite extreme - idealism.

  • Andrew Byers
  • International
  • February 21, 2013
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So is there anything going on in Christianity recently to make us cynical? Let’s think … oh, yeah there was that end-of-the-world thing over Christmas. In spite of how confident the claims about the exact day of doom were, the globe did not so much as hiccup. That kind of fiasco is the fodder for cynicism toward the Church, not just among atheists and agnostics, but also among Christians.

And let’s not overlook the grim reality that so many people have suffered unspeakable loss from natural disasters. Sometimes we are cynical toward God’s people, but if we are honest, our cynicism often flows in deeper veins and darker places in our hearts where that potent three-letter word—"Why?"—secretly lingers. For many of us, our cynicism is directed toward God.

Christians become cynical toward the Church through disillusioning encounters with bad thinking and bad behavior. Let’s say you finally get the nerve to share your struggles confidentially as a young married couple with a leader in the church … then folks you barely know begin gently informing you that your marriage is on their prayer list. Stories of hurtful behavior like gossip and back-biting abound. As an untidy conglomeration of imperfect people, a local church inevitably will breed in-house wounds.

As for bad thinking in the Church, it is not hard to list a number of misinformed trends that give shape to “pop Christianity”: legalism, experientialism, traditionalism, anti-intellectualism and (its opposite cousin) intellectual elitism. One of the most damaging of these trends is idealism, expressed in the oft-cited adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Really? Will that little slogan fly amidst the rubble of Port-au-Prince, the tsunami-wrecked streets of Japan or the crunched-up buildings in Joplin? Before such ghastly scenes, our rose-colored glasses get smashed into shards.

Nothing leads more quickly to cynicism than its opposite extreme of idealism.

The Church’s bad behavior (like gossip) and bad thinking (like idealism) are populating our society with cynics while depopulating our pews. But these cynics, situated at the fringes of organized church life, are among the most insightful Christians among us. Their disillusionment is actually a precious gift from which the Church could benefit. We need those who have been undeceived that can in turn help us dismantle our own illusory ideas.

The problem is that disillusionment hurts. Cynicism occurs when our spiritual wounds from disillusionment become infected, when our brokenness sours into bitterness.

Cynicism is a sickness. So the Church will not benefit from the insights of cynics until their cynicism is redeemed. And the redemption of cynicism is “hopeful realism.”

Idealists ignore the grim reality of an ex-Eden world. Cynics ignore the eschatological reality that a new Eden is around the corner. A hopeful realist exercises the complicated discipline of holding both realities together in tension.

We tend to idealize the early Church when we read Luke’s exciting account of its founding in the book of Acts. But when we read Paul’s epistles, we realize the first churches struggled as much with gossip, hypocrisy, divorce, racism and sexual immorality as our churches do today. Bad thinking and bad behavior are not new developments in the life of the parish.

In spite of theological distortions and moral scandals in so many of those first-century churches, Paul never backs down from his high and hopeful view of the Church. In his letters, he energetically casts a soaring theological vision of God’s people as a new humanity in Christ. At the same time, he addresses the messy, on-the-ground realities plaguing local congregations. An idealist ignores the latter. A cynic loses faith in the former. A hopeful realist simultaneously grasps the soaring theological vision of the Church alongside the ugly realities in the ecclesial trenches, refusing to ignore or overlook either one.

Full Story: How to Be a Realist Without Losing Your Soul 

Source: Relevant Magazine

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