The Era of Tabloid Christianity

February 8, 2012

I think it’s time to say this.

If you haven’t noticed, things have gotten kind of divisive lately.

I read recently that President Obama is, statistically, the most polarizing President in history.  Sounds hard to believe after W.  Basically, that means we’re becoming more hard-bitten in our half-witted “ideologies” while we plug our ears with toilet paper.

And you know that Christians are no different.

While I try to keep conversations here productive and reasonable, sometimes the controversy is just exhausting.  Christians (at least those of us who pay attention to any other Christians) divide ourselves over politics, social issues, theology, the “feel” of Christianity (since when is Christianity about a “feeling?”), and a million other tiny issues.  We are even divided over which Christians we should show unity with.

If you think we may be letting things get out of hand, please read on.  And I’ve never asked you to do this before, but let’s try to share this message at least as much as we spread the latest juicy bit of Christian gossip.

Tabloid Christianity

A hundred years ago, things were so different.  Even the President of the United States could make a royal screw up once in a while and avoid the immediate and public ridicule the President enjoys today.

And it was sure the same with churches and pastors.  A pastor could say something stupid and thoughtless in church and his people would forgive him and it would be old news by next Sunday.

You know how Christianity has the lame habit of making knock off versions of popular worldly things?  Add this to the list.  Many mornings, my blog reader looks like the magazine rack at the grocery store, and I eagerly gobble up the gossip, smirk at the failures, envy the famous.  Crystal Cathedral, Eddie Long, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, they all provide us with our very own Christian tabloid trash.  And then I stand in the checkout line, look up my nose at the woman ahead of me, reading the latest celebrity dirt and I whisper, “Thank you God that I have better things to do with my time.”  

In any other time, most of what we consider “news” would be worthless information.  Our Christian culture is dominated by a few overexposed pastors, and we keep gorging ourselves on the same dirty laundry.

Shovel-Ready Christianity

Of course, Christians did a great job of dividing before the internet.  10,000 denominations speak for themselves.  My Baptist ministry professor joked that the Baptists don’t have church plants, they have “splants.”  That’s a church split that becomes two new “plants.”

If you have ever tried to mix two groups of Christians together for worship, or you’ve ever visited a church outside your usual comfort zone, you know how hard it is.  Everyone has an opinion about everything.  Any two Christians could debate endlessly:

What songs do we sing?

Where do we put our hands?

How long does the pastor speak?

Dunking or sprinkles?

Juice or wine?  Bread or wafers?

And on and on.  But a good friend pointed out to me recently that no matter which two random Christians you pick out of the world, no matter how much they disagree, they will agree on one very important thing:

How to use a shovel.

No Christian ever said to another, “Well at our church, we use a shovel like this!” while jamming it handle-first into the ground like a dolt.  When a hole needs to be dug, there’s so few ways to do it that even two Christians couldn’t find a way to argue about it (except maybe who should do the digging).

The Least Important of These 

There are a million arguments we can have and a billion points we can make.

The problem is, the world doesn’t care about our arguments and our points and our theological purity.

When it comes to making a difference in someone’s life, there isn’t a lot to argue about.

If someone’s hungry, they need food.  If they are sick, they need medicine.  If they are lonely, they need a friend.  Jesus never said, “Whenever you had an argument for the least important of these issues, you did so for me.”  

It’s not like I’ll never comment on another controversial issue if I think a discussion is helpful.  But let’s put more energy in being unified in making a difference, rather than being divided to make a point.

If you want to help give the Christian blog world a wake up call, please share this message.  And tell me what you think.  Has our division and polarity reached a boiling point?  Is it time to beat our swords into plowshares?  Or are some hills worth dying on?  What great thing do you see happening as a result of Christians being united?

38 responses to The Era of Tabloid Christianity

  1. Hi Matt,

    I missed something–who is it I’m supposed to beat my sword on?

    I think you’ve touched a point about our gossip, tabloid mindset.

    St. Paul said, “Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, for they do gender strife and the servant of the Lord must not strive…”


    PS: I go in for another eye surgery tomorrow… Are eye surgeons supposed to use chain saws?

  2. I wholeheartedly agree that we make too much of the next thing some Christian celebrity said, yet I’m in the middle of A FB discussion concerning biblical manhood. Some subjects just push our buttons. Since I’ve seen this topic do a lot of damage, for now at least I think it’s a hill to die on. But I know I should have seen Piper’s name in an article a couple of weeks back or whenever, ignored it and moved on. Maybe I need to go build a well.

  3. This needed to be said.

    I have to admit that I’ve been wrapped up in the “celebrity pastor” gossip for one reason only–there is nothing more delicious than seeing someone in power crash and burn. Why else is it the stuff of Shakespeare and Sophocles?

    I admit that it’s wrong of me, but every time I hear about the latest cuffuffle with these megachurch guys it’s because I’m cynically waiting for their whole empire to collapse, and for the guy on top to go down in flames like Macbeth or Brutus.

    It’s been human nature since some guy in ancient Greece left the amphitheatre saying “Woo, at least I’m not as messed up as that Oedipus guy.”

    (This doesn’t mean human nature is right, of course.)

  4. Matt, thanks for sharing this. Its convicting to know I gobble up the gossip too & on top of that I want to be these people who are in the so called spotlight. Isn’t it supposed to be He will increase & we will decrease? Shame on me.

  5. Yep!
    How did Jesus say we would change the world? It wasn’t through criticism of everyone’s faults, in fact, it wasn’t even through our goodness.

    John 17:22-23 “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

    You’d think we would pay more attention to Jesus’s final prayer before he died, but I guess not. Our culture has forgotten how to disagree kindly and sees everything as opposites when many things can actually work together well.

    Thanks Matt

  6. Oh, this is so true. In our church cell group (I always feel that sounds like a prison sentence) we were discussing some polarizing issues in the church and areas the church has been ineffective, and I suggested that maybe it is because we are too busy fighting with amongst ourselves to go out and impact the world. The usual Christian argument sounds like two 4 year olds fighting. Well, less mature than that actually.

    I include myself in this, by the way, even as someone who normally shies away from confrontation. It is a lot easier to create an us versus them mentality with other Christians we don’t agree with. I currently find myself diametrically opposed on a few issues, issues that have caused church splits, with some of the more vocal members of the church I attend. It is hard. It is uncomfortable. Some days it would be easier to find a church where everyone was just like me. But man, I know that is a bad idea. But it is still tempting.

  7. You must have been listening to God a lot lately! Great post.

    The few times I’ve seen unity across denominational and ideological lines–on my college campus, in a global missions network–the results have been incredible. When we stop squabbling and start loving, God can do miracles.

  8. Even the apostles had disagreements, however; they resolved them through prayer and relationship. Division is always caused by the devil – you know, “Satan get thee behind me.”

    The idea if unity is in the SPIRIT. Like Jesus the Holy Spirit and God the Father are in unity. Not like a political party. :( Division is caused by folks that can’t see what the Father is doing and do it.

    We have a lot of debate, because most churches don’t regularly experience God’s power. A lot Christians in America do not see healing, experience solid prophecy, or see demons cast out, just to name a few. The Bible is pretty clear that the Kingdom is about power not about talk.

    I am not discounting ministry in other areas, but it seems that ministry, and name recognition have become the focus, and the not the intimate walk doing what we see the Father doing.

    To contrast most services I have been to, I was at on Saturday night – a home church where 50 hungry people gathered. It went on 4 and half hours. The testimonies of lives touched are still circulating on Facebook. The awe and goodness of God. Now for the pastors to continue to disciple a group of on fire Christians. After 2 hours, people were released to leave, and most stayed. And amazingly, no one breathed a word of theology.

  9. It’s because we don’t see the church as family anymore. We replaced the family with organizations. It’s easy to want an organization that we disagree with to fail. It’s not easy to want your brother or sister to fail.

    Maybe if we started thinking of the crazy, self-obsessed mega-church pastor as our crazy uncle, we’d give them a bit more grace. Sure, they make Thanksgiving dinner awkward, and they sometimes say mean things to your kids, but we love them anyway, and we’re willing to fight for the relationship. Because they’re family. And that’s what families do.

    “I don’t agree with you, but I love you.” That’s what I am trying to learn to say, myself. “I love you” has a way of cutting through the mean-spirited, sarcastic, accusatory rhetoric I often see flying around on the interwebs.

  10. We have a secret envy and jealousy for guys that are on the stage; we think the wrong guy is up there, it should be ME not THEM! Somehow God messed up and overlooked OUR incredible talents and let them take the stage and so we wait for their inevitable fall. I have been guilty of feeling this way. James says that where there is jealousy there is disorder and every other kind of sin! How true.

    when Jesus was given all power (John 13) the first thing he did was to serve, wash feet; He used power for others. Sometimes it feels that these guys use power for their own glory and to talk down to the rest of us. I believe in John 17 unity but I don’t feel much of a kindred spirit with men who demean or discount my spiritual journey and Bible understanding. It is like the church who wants to rebaptize everyone like whatever happened in your life before that church didn’t count. Do they really want to have unity with a peon like me? I don’t know that I count in their world.

    Americans have always been celebrity watchers and sadly this has come into the church.

  11. Thanks for this post, Matt. It certainly needed to be said.

    “…then I stand in the checkout line, look up my nose at the woman ahead of me, reading the latest celebrity dirt and I whisper, “Thank you God that I have better things to do with my time.””

    That line got me. Yikes. That’s me.

  12. 1 Chronicles 16:22
    Saying, Touch not My anointed, and do My prophets no harm.

    and the same also in,

    Psalm 105:15
    Saying, Touch not My anointed, and do My prophets no harm.

    So, really when controversey’s and the like, come up, I pray for them. That’s the best thing that can be done.

  13. There you go again…making brilliant points and all kinds of sense. Great post! Tweeted, Liked, Stumbled, G+’d it…all that jazz.

  14. Thank you, Matt. Rather than enter into the fray, I avoid blogs whose primary purpose seems to be to vilify Christians with whom they don’t agree with or outright mock and make fun of them. It just makes me weary and sad. I miss the community of the early days of SCL where there was plenty of snark to go around, but was almost always tempered by respectful interaction.

  15. You know I’m tired of it; you know I’m with you.

    Best part of this post: “Dunking or sprinkles?” I thought for a moment you meant doughnuts. :)

  16. Great post.

    Learning and studying the Bible without having an encounter with God serves to only make one more religious. The heart of the ‘religious’ spirit is one of argument (see Pharisees). The point of learning the Word is for a display of God’s power through us – to a broken world – anything less than that I simply don’t have time for, i.e., ridiculous arguing of doctrine with Christians.

    The world sees Christian brothers and sisters arguing and it usually reminds them of why they don’t go to church/serve Christ/etc.

  17. Matt, I am obviously down and love the idea.

    I may seem like an optimist, but I know that the church can be united, not because I wish it so, but because it is God’s heart.

    Glad to have another voice joining in.

  18. I guess Christians are united in basically one area…the confession of Christ as Savior.

    But beyond that, things get a bit dicey as to just what that means.

    There are many , many Christians who argue over which +’s to add to Christ (having to make a decision for Him, having to be “serious”, having to bear certain kinds of fruit, having to have a Pope, having to have clergy ordained in the historic episcopacy, etc.)

    And then there are a few of us left to confess Christ…ALONE. With zero add-on’s.

    I don’t think we’ll ever get together on these issues.

  19. It’s a great post, Matt, but unity in the American Christian church will not happen. The people who condemn everything Driscoll does (for example) won’t stop because they like the attention it brings them and their blogs. It’s easy to get traffic and twitter followers and everything else when you condemn a big pastor in power.

    I wish I could be optimistic like you that it can happen. I have a complete peace that it won’t.

  20. i feel mixed about this. yes, tabloid christianity is gross and ugly and very real. this call-out culture is divisive and self-righteous, and we certainly need to be about doing and loving and holding our tongues more.

    but, constructive conversations benefit the Body,sharpening and refining. there are plenty of battles not worth choosing, but some are, and one person’s waste of time is someone else’s hill to die on. if we speak the truth-in-love, with grace and kindness, i believe there’s a time to dig in, too.

  21. Fantastic post, Matt. I find myself dodging the “Celebrity Pastor” posts these days. It hurts my heart from each side. The pastor making being divisive in a cash-grab, book promotion stir and the blogger who fills the need to “knock him down a notch” equally trouble me. We all, in our human state, make Christ a farce in some way. Calling Him Lord and being less than perfect does that at times but we should really try not to make Him look worse than He has to.

    Good, encouraging comments as well.

  22. this’ll preach, matt! so appreciate your heart and thoughts here…

  23. Great post, great thoughts, and I think I need to go build some wells, too.

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