Why us Good People Don’t Like Bad Christians (Especially When We Are One): a book review

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: Where WE Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the Damage by Dave Burchett

We all know people who used to go to church but quit going because of the way we Christians treat each other. Likewise, we know Christians who are back-biters, gossips and bitter people. We have seen these people use the gospel of Grace to make people feel like guilty, lowly sinners. We’ve seen volunteers get used up and spit out while those with special needs often are isolated and forgotten. Christians can be really big jerks and there are a lot of wounded people because of it. This is exceptionally heartbreaking because too often ‘good people’ like me, also fit the profile of the bad Christian.

David Burchett is also no stranger to bad Christians. When he and his wife Joni had their daughter Katie they knew that she was terminal, could not open her eyes and she  had a deformity which left tissue exposed at the back of her skull (which they covered with a dressing). The church that they attended informed them that Katie would no longer be welcome in the nursery because of the risk she posed to other kids and the trauma it would inflict on nursery workers if Katie died on their watch. The Burchetts were not consulted about this and no concerns were ever communicated to them until they were told that their daughter was not welcome in the Nursery.

And so Burchett wrote this book exploring all the ways we Christians do damage to each other and fail to communicate God’s love to those outside of the church. The book divides into three parts. In part one Burchett discusses the way we Christians treat one another (i.e. unfriendliness, schism, fear-based Christianity). In part two he explores how we interact with the wider culture (i.e. hypocrisy, Christianese, Jesus-Junk and ‘the culture wars.’ Part three suggests how we Christians are to be in the world (gracious, humble, well-versed in the Bible and what we believe).

I never read the first edition of this book but it is refreshing to hear how Burchett feels he’s grown since when he first wrote this book (this edition came out in 2011; the original edition is copyrighted, 2002).  As Burchett describes it, writing this book was cathartic for him because he could err his grievances about all the ways we Christians hurt one another. His own book called him to hold himself to the same standards, but something was missing.  He didn’t yet know the meaning of grace–at least as an experiential reality.  At a conference put on  by an organization called TrueFaced (also a book authored by  Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol,  and John Lynch) he  was transformed by the notion that God has already wired us to be the saints he’s making us into and is calling us to inhabit that reality. He was blown away by the reality of God’s grace.

So if you chose to read this book, you will hear stories and critiques of the way we Christians have often been saints behaving badly. You will also read suggestions and exhortations to step out and be Christians who serve the world, love one another and give their lives sacrificially for God’s mission.  But you also will hear a testimony of God’s grace–that it is the Spirit at work in us, transforming us into what we already have become in Christ.

This  book has an eight week discussion guide making it usable for small groups. The chapters are short and pithy with good humor and could be good springboards for discussion.  But when I read Burchett say, “If you only have the budget to buy one in the near future,  I would tell you to buy TrueFaced (205),” I wonder if I should recommend this book or tell you to just get the book Burchett likes. I haven’t read TrueFaced, so you get no recommendation from me, but I liked this book and am grateful for Burchett’s exhortations and practical challenges.

Readers of my blog may notice that this book covers similar ground to another of my recent reviews, Accidental Pharisee by Larry Osborne. Osborne’s book is more narrowly focused on how we become Pharisees (albeit unwittingly) with our pride, attitudes, exclusivity etc. This book does address the problem of hypocrisy but also talks about how we can be better at communicating the gospel to the wider culture. Both authors have good things to say and are challenging. I think Osborne was more personally helpful in taking stock of personal attitudes where I got off track, but Burchett offers good critique of Christian culture and the ways in which we hurt (or exclude) others.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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