The Christian Horror Story: Why Cautionary Tales Don’t Work

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There’s always a heavy dramatic moment in a sermon when the preacher begins confessing someone else’s sin, a guy always named Bill, who got addicted to crystal meth and ran out on his kids and punched small animals and screwed up his life, and then the preacher concludes:

“Don’t be like Bill.  Let’s pray.”

The sermon closes and everyone fights for the offering plate.

But …

But.

I can’t help but think: I’m no better than Bill.

I keep wondering: Who exactly did Jesus come to die for?  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to part the universe and galaxies and stars and skies to die on a cross in our place for everyone — except that dirty, disgusting, filthy pagan Bill.

Or the preacher says, “The first guy hears the Word of God and gets saved.  The second guy hears and goes off to the world but gets beat up, so he gets saved.  And the third guy: he stubbornly refuses and he ruins everything.  Don’t be the third guy.”

Everything in me wants to flip a table and yell, “But I’m the Third Guy.  I’m Bill.  That loser you’re talking about is me.”

Is there no grace for them? Because many of those church people are living through the very consequences that we’re yelling about.  Only preaching consequences is like throwing desert sand for the thirsty.



When we believe people cannot change, we suckerpunch the sovereign grace of God. We make inexplicable exceptions for the loser, the failure, the fallen. We distort actual human beings into one-dimensional caricatures, as if the Gospel is too good for them. There is a political divide, an abyss, a chasm that threatens to separate the religious do-gooder from the untouchable, unforgivable, unimportant rebel.

I don’t know where this tactic came from.  But I don’t want my spiritual walk to be a reaction to someone else’s consequences.  That’s an awful, despicable way to live.  It’s essentially throwing someone under the bus and then driving the bus.

Of course we need to know how our actions can hurt others.  A certain healthy amount of guilt or shame shows that we’re human, that we’re capable of the worst depravity.  Yet none of these things can be the foundation for our faith: they cannot sustain your walk and will ultimately crush others with the very same fear.

And I believe there’s still grace even for the preacher who uses those cheap tricks.  There’s grace for the Christian authors who keep using real human beings as allegories for what not to do.  For the church people who gossip about a brother and say, “He needs Jesus.”  For the ministry whose entire philosophy was born out of an overreaction to being hurt by another church, thereby perpetuating that hurt.  For the parents who keep comparing you and scaring you with other kids.  For the blogger who is always saying, “I’m not like those other Christians.”

I believe there is grace for our total lack of grace.

If it’s really all so bad: Then I hope we’re grieving on our knees praying for their souls with tear-soaked eyes.

If it’s really all so bad: Then tell me how I can move forward instead of looking back.

The drowning need a lifesaver, not a description of the water. The blind need vision, not false sympathy. The broken need a new dream, not a rear view.

My heart hurts for them and for me. Plead with God for tenderness.  Speak of what could be, not should be.  Speak with hope.

— J.S.


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5 thoughts on “The Christian Horror Story: Why Cautionary Tales Don’t Work

  1. J.S. I’m not like the other Christians. I think if most knew the real me, the sins my Father has forgiven me of, they wouldn’t want me in their nice social clubs.

    Love this post. But also it convicted me as I have begun to think of my husband as “unsaveable”! You put me straight, right there.

    Thank you.
    Love that you write so passionately, openly and above all honestly.
    Don’t stop. Ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, my friend. I think no one gets to conclude the end of our stories, because we can’t judge a lifetime based on a small slice of life. Part of that is trusting God to do His long-term work in us.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Words are not only easy, they trivialize the important and elevate the nonsense. Yet when words speak of hope, elevate Jesus above all nonsense, then the Word may be heard. Since I have been the one condemned, judged and banished these words are deep, but I work with the intention be a channel for God’s love – even to them. I am not defined by the trashy words people use about me. I am proof of grace, on two feet with wavering hands…
    Peace

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What if, and think about this for a second before giving the knee jerk reaction, what if the people out there who aren’t Christian and don’t go around beating kids and animals don’t need Christianity? What if they became better people after LEAVING christianity? Christianity presumes that everyone who isn’t Christian needs to be saved, to become Christian. What if the local hippie tree-hugging type is in a better spiritual place than you are? The big trouble with Christianity, and why I left it, was that it was all about the other guy. As long as you believed in Jesus and the gospel, well you could judge others as much as you want because YOU have been SAVED!! You go through life attending church once a week, obeying your particular denomination’s rules fairly well, you see the hindu in line and sigh because they follow false god’s, don’t even know it and isn’t that a pity, you see the budhist on tv and wonder how all that personal sacrifice can be fulfilling, you see a pagan sticker on a car and assume they worship satan(they don’t even believe in satan) and are therefore evil. What if Christians stopped trying to save everyone else and worried more about saving themselves? What if Christianity was about living your religion and allowing others to be interested or not by virtue of the life and example you are living? I’m not perfect, I have a lot of work to do to become the person I want to be. But my choices don’t require me to try and convert anyone. If you are fulfilled in your religion then good for you! For some of us the line of communication with the Christian god was never open, no matter how good a christian we tried to be. There was no grace for us, no “welcome home” from the god we worshipped, our prayers went unheard and our faith unanswered. My first experience with those feelings was nowhere near a christian church or a bible, which has never been more than a great book that gives some great advice on how to be a good person. So tell me now, knowing that I am the “other guy”, the “unsaved one”, the lost sheep; am I going to hell because I don’t worship the same way you do? Can you imagine a world were we can all practice our religions without Christianity and Islam telling us how to live? What if the Christian church took the lead and encouraged their followers to learn about and respect other religions as fellow followers of a divine power? I don’t tell a lot of other people about my spiritual path because I simply don’t want to have to explain that being Pagan does not mean that I worship Satan, my path is personal for me, it requires me to kind to myself, others and the earth. It requires me to celebrate the circle of life, the passing of the seasons and the gifts I have been given. It requires me to celebrate the divine in others and to help out when and where I can.

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  4. “As long as you believed in Jesus and the gospel, well you could judge others as much as you want because YOU have been SAVED!!”
    Not true for me, I was an atheist before and when I started to learn about Jesus, it actually makes it nearly impossible for me to judge, because when I see Jesus’ holiness, I see how I’m not good. Without Jesus its easy for me to judge people because I have something to compare myself to. But when I encountered his pureness, and see how I am not, I cannot even feel better than someone like Hitler. Because I have seen myself in the light of Jesus’ holiness, I cannot say I am better than the prostitute down the street, the rapists, racists, etc. This brings me peace, and opens the door for forgiveness.

    “If you are fulfilled in your religion then good for you! For some of us the line of communication with the Christian god was never open, no matter how good a christian we tried to be.”
    I think trying to be a good Christian is actually anti gospel and is the main hindrance of intimacy with God, because we are so fixated on being good, we forget how good He is. I mean we are called to do good, but when you start measuring your righteousness by how good of a Christian you are, you almost don’t need Jesus anymore. Somehow, it sounds like you didn’t make peace that God has abundant grace for your lack of goodness. I struggled with this a lot, and I realise, that the cause was not accepting and understanding grace.

    Even if you believe that God is only nature, though it sounds harmless, it has killed many in Japan (I just read silence by Shusaku Endo). If the notion that God is nature is so harmless, why were the Japanese so threatened by the “gospel”, that they had to kill Christians who were quietly practicing their faith? Not saying that believing in “mother earth” would automatically make you killers, but even if there are no religions, I think there will be still clashing beliefs, even if its not to God, and conflict, even killing each other is inevitable eventually.

    “What if Christianity was about living your religion and allowing others to be interested or not by virtue of the life and example you are living? I’m not perfect, I have a lot of work to do to become the person I want to be. But my choices don’t require me to try and convert anyone.” You just summed up the whole Christian life. I know of a street preacher who says that converting is evil. But somehow, by telling others who Jesus is, what he did, and setting an example, many were converted, without him being forceful.

    “You go through life attending church once a week, obeying your particular denomination’s rules fairly well” Jesus didn’t die so ^this^ is the summation of the Christian life.

    “What if they became better people after LEAVING christianity?”
    Better in the eyes of whom? Who measures? I think its entirely possible. I’m sure there are many virtuous non-Christians who are more moral than the churchgoer. But what does God say? I feel like, if you have the chance to borrow God’s eyes just for one second, and use them to take a look at yourself in the mirror, your pile of good deeds will be like trash and you will say you deserve hell. But that’s where the grace of Jesus comes in, that He is willing to forgive despite our filth. If you do 100 good things, and 1 murder, you will still go to jail. Can people be better after leaving Christianity? Yes. Can they be holy? No. You can’t enter heaven unless you are holy. But its not YOUR holiness, you are to wear Jesus’ holiness.

    Christianity isn’t about MY spiritual path, MY goodness, MY deeds, MY…etc. Its not a religion where its credibility is measured by how much you can love God, but how much God loves you.

    “What if the Christian church took the lead and encouraged their followers to learn about and respect other religions as fellow followers of a divine power?” Yeah why not? But God might not agree. We can do it, but we will only be serving ourselves. This notions assume that there are no faults in the religion. How can God, respect a belief system where women are deemed second class? I live in a country where women are subject to lashings and beatings because their ” religious law” says that women caught in adultery is to be publicly humiliated. I guess that religious law is part of the many belief system that leads to God right? Isn’t freedom when you tell them that Jesus took those beatings for you? Why would God respect that? Why shouldn’t he tell that woman that He died for her?

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