Why I Criticize Christian Leaders: Part 2


Every story has at least two sides.  In part 1 I shared the dutiful reasons for my criticisms.  Here is the other side of that story.

I have been on a journey of faith for most of my life.  It has been difficult to say when that journey actually started, partly because it had so many eventful stops that have taken me in different directions along the way.  Years ago I read The Pilgrim’s Regress by CS Lewis and it was in that reading that I was comforted to know that I was not alone.  Although my journey has really not taken me too far from Christianity, it has led me down paths where I have had the honor of rubbing shoulders with people who have challenged me to think very differently about my own faith and who have instilled in me the value of being open to criticism and self-examination.

Then What IS Christianity?

My second year of college met me with one of those life-changing experiences.  I took a course called “Images of Jesus,” which was on the historical Christ as well as a survey of the divergent ways that people have interacted with Christ over the centuries.  Suddenly I was caught with a quite disturbing notion: “this is nothing like what I was taught in my church back home.”  What came up for me was a resounding cacophony of hatred for the church.  I struggled with my love for Christ and my growing sense of betrayal in reflection on the church.  How could I have been misled by a group of people who I have known all my life and who profess to love Jesus?

The conclusion became that there is something desperately wrong with the church.  I did not know what it was and could not express it, but I continued to find Christ in my classes in college and continued to love him in spite of his church.  I vividly remember taking a course on Ecclesiastes and being in awe of the fact that if everything is vanity, then nothing really matters.  And if nothing matters then really nothing I do matters to God.  I found such a release in that because that is the definition of human depravity.  It makes God completely sovereign and my only hope the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  The Gospel was and is so sweet.

An Attractive Option

My journey continued and as I sought to settle into a church congregation.  I was again hit by the reality that something was terribly wrong.  Yet, the more I sat and the more I looked around me the more I realized that there were rarely anyone who seemed to see what I saw.  The conclusion that I came to was this: if I am the only one who sees this in the Bible and hears this in the Word of God, perhaps I have gotten it wrong.

Then I happened across the book The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball.  In the book I found an ally; Kimball agreed that something was wrong with the way that the church was responding to today’s challenges, and he offered solutions that sounded excellent to me.  He called for a reclamation of the ancient and commented that people look for a faith that has been tested by time.  Yes, this sounded so right!  So I immersed myself in these “emerging church” and “emergent church” ideas.  They were so foreign to me, yet they were so fresh and different that I could not differentiate what I was hearing from what I really believed.  The only thing I thought was that if there is something so wrong with the church, it may just take something this radical to fix it.

Tales from the Edge

I was on a quest, but unlike the knights of the Round Table or Indiana Jones, I was not entirely sure what I was searching for.  The problem was evident, but the solution prompted the quest.  One would think that I would be making this search in the pages of the Bible, but this amazingly did not seem pertinent: we all read the same Bible, so it must be something outside the Bible that bares the solution.  Kimball’s book was only the first in a series of volumes that I began to pour through.  A turning point likely came when I came across the book Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives by various authors who were presented as leading thinkers in the church: Leonard Sweet, Andy Crouch, Brian McLaren, Erwin Raphael McManus, Michael Horton, and Frederica Matthewes-Green.

It was quite the slippery slope.  The more I read the more I began to think differently than other Christians around me, and this I thought was a great sign.  I became inspired by the fresh attitude toward faith of the likes of Rob Bell, who was willing to challenge even the foundations of the Christian faith, and in so doing usher in a whole new perspective on what it means to be a Christian.  I was taken by Erwin McManus and how he believed that we could tap into the very mind of God to challenge us to do more and live more passionately.

Gradually, however, an unsettling feeling began to nag at me.  It was quite subtle at first, but it became more and more profound.  It began with Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren.  In the book, he claims a number of different positions which are completely opposite from one another.  How, I thought, could he hold both contrasting positions at the same time.  Well, it must be to make a point; after all a house divided against itself cannot stand.  But I was wrong, he took what he said in the book seriously.  The house of cards began to crumble.

There is an age-old notion that we may not be created in the image of God, but instead we create god in our image.  The further I journeyed into the forest of the emergent, the more I began to notice the specters waiting in the shadows, reaching out for me with bony hands.  The further I went into the blackness the more of the Bible I had to leave behind.  The more I embraced the emergent philosophy, the more I began to have to give up Christian theology.  The deeper the trek the more I began to realize that we were not making a new way to talk about Christianity, we were creating our own god along with a totally different faith.

Read Part 3


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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

18 responses to “Why I Criticize Christian Leaders: Part 2

  • Sabio Lantz

    Well written.
    Your phrase “but I continued to find Christ in my classes ”
    I think it is important for Christians to realize the very nature of their “relationship” with Jesus. You see, you’d never say, “but I continued to find Darwin in my classes”. Sure, you’d learn about Darwin, but you wouldn’t form a relationship with him — he is dead. But you’d fill out your image of him until someone wrote a different book that gave you a different image.

    Christians build images of Jesus and have relationship with the image. Simple as that. No real conversations, bowling, eating together, playing soccer or fighting. Sure, in your head and with imaginary voices. But it is important to remember that it is imaginary and created. That is how if you read a different story you can mess it up. That is why the story police are needed. If you had a relationship with a living person and real, you wouldn’t wander, the real data would override the stories.

  • Aaron

    Well, the course was called “Images of Jesus” after all. 😉

    One of the books for that class was Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan; interesting survey of the way that Jesus has been perceived very differently through the course of history.

  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Aaron — did you just avoid the question?

  • wmd-kitty

    Nice dodge, Aaron, I couldn’t have done better. But I, too, would like an answer to Sabio’s question.

    I found this post a bit depressing, especially this bit: “…if everything is vanity, then nothing really matters. And if nothing matters then really nothing I do matters to God.”


    Because every little thing you do matters to someone, somewhere. You touch many people in many ways, even if you don’t know it.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Kitty, I think that was just Part 2 and Aaron wants you to hang in there for the conclusion where it all works out just fine.

  • Aaron

    Yeah, Kitty, what Sabio said.

    And the fact that this has been a very difficult week for me, I have really been disengaged. If you follow me on Twitter you would see a few hints of the mess.

    So it was not intended to be a dodge, but just a brief on something that helped me in that process. Specifically it was intended to respond to the second paragraph of Sabio’s first comment on this post.

    Honestly, to begin to answer the question, “finding Christ” is language that I am working on. I cannot be sure what a lot of that means anymore, and part 3 (or maybe part 4… we shall see) should shed some light on that. My initial thoughts are that, since we do not believe that Christ is dead and we do put much stock in the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives, there is much that can be said about that relationship.

    And yet, there is much to be said about a cultural aspect to our relationship with Christ… and in your perspective, with “the idea of” Christ. No doubt at least in some degree there is a level in which we all create Christ and God in our image. CS Lewis encouraged people to read “old books” because it is reading the perspectives of those in the past, we are able to stand outside THEIR culture to examine their belief in context with Scripture. It is this kind of study that can help us to begin to see who Christ was and is without having to work so hard at separating our own culture. Does that make any sense? I feel like I am just rambling at this point.

  • wmd-kitty

    Rambling can be good for you, sometimes. I’ll sit back and see what comes next.

  • Sabio Lantz

    Yeah, Aaron, it did not make much sense to me. But then, it shouldn’t make sense. You believe that Jesuah is alive. He isn’t alive in the normal human sense. He doesn’t live here on earth. In the stories you believe, he floated up in the sky and disappeared. But now a spirit which is him but not really (one of the trinity- makes the head spin) comes and relates to you — not to me, mind you (wait, he did, supposedly , when I was a Christian, but not now when I am not — odd).

    So, your “relationship with Jesuah” is through feelings in your chest when you think about him. You think about him by trying to remember the conflicting stories you read and blur them together and trying to remember that he died for you and he is God and he is really the son of God and …..

    There, after all that work of believing, you gain heaven and wisdom.

    But us poor souls who can’t do that , well …..

    And people that don’t get the story right, you try and correct them.

    You don’t have a “relationship”, you have an “imagination”. It is like you said you had a “relationship” with my Dad (who is dead). OK, you can say it — sure maybe I told you stories about him. You can imagine him. You can think he guides your thoughts but that is because you believe he is still alive. Sure, you can say all that but we would just have to shake our heads and say, “Aaron is a great guy, but that think about Sabio’s Dad is a bit bizarre. “

  • Renier

    Sabio: “You don’t have a “relationship”, you have an “imagination”

    Kicking the crutches are you? :-p

    There is a rhyme in my native language. It goes like this:
    “Die waarheid maak mens bitter seer, dis nie altemit nie
    Die ding wat almal so begeer maar niemand wil besit nie”

    Translates roughly to:
    “The truth hurts, of that I am certain
    The thing that everyone desires but nobody wants to possess”

  • Sabio Lantz

    Dat is een fantastisch spreekwoord!

  • Renier

    Very good Sabio! In my direct dialect it would be:
    “Dit is ‘n fantastiese spreekwoord”

  • wmd-kitty

    @Renier — That rocked.


  • Sabio Lantz

    @ Renier — I forgot you speak Afrikans, it looked like unadulterated Dutch. Smile ! It is cool to talk with a SA mate.

  • Renier

    It is very close to Dutch yes. Do you understand Dutch/Flemish/Afrikaans?

  • Sabio Lantz

    No, but German was a subject of mine and it, and English, all are part of your languages’ family. Kinship ! Tribalism ! I feel the pride.

  • Renier

    Ah yes, the Germanic languages. Sabio. is English your native language?

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