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.

My Life As a Hypocrite

I am a hypocrite and have been one all my life. I console myself with the fact that likely you are too. I mean, it is only natural. We live in a culture of pretense and self justification and me being in job interview mode I feel like I am always  covering over  my weaknesses and extolling my strengths, puffing myself up like a peacock to make me seem more beautiful than I really am.  Maybe some of this is more insecurity but hypocrisy is there too. I’ll prove it.

Yesterday, as I sat and listened to the sermon at my church I caught myself praying a Pharisaical prayer. It was abstract and not really directed at anyone but there was a smug self congratulatory feel about it which is kind of embarassing (so I’m blogging about it).  My pastor was preaching from Ephesians 5 and talking about the need to run from immorality, sexual sin, greed of every kind, and as he used certain examples I found myself saying in my heart, “I’m glad that isn’t my struggle” And then I thought of the Pharisee in Luke 18 who prays,”God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get (Luke 18:11-12).” This Pharisee and I did the same thing. Instead of coming before the altar to come clean and be made right before God and others, I used my time in church to extol my own  devotion and to tell myself (and God) that I’m not that bad. The truth is I’m every bit as proud and petty as the next guy(or girl).

The tax collector for his part prayed simply, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Nopretense, no pretend holiness or self justification. The tax collector knew his sin and collusion with the powers. He did not look around or congratulate himself for showing up for worship but confessed sin and reached for God.

So I am a hypocrite in the house of God, offering pretense instead of praise. I don’t think I’m alone.  Insecurity, pride  and need to paint myself in the best light is something  others feel too. But I am not a COMPLETE hypocrite. I caught myself and confessed it. I share this with you not to congratulate myself but to illustrate something I have learned: To the extent that I am not a hypocrite it is because I have experienced the Grace of God.

I am not thumbing my nose at fellow hypocrites declaring, “There but by the grace of God go I.” I am exclaiming a lived reality! When you know the grace of God, his full acceptance and love for us, you don’t have to pretend anymore.  I don’t need to trust my own virtue and devotion or prove myself to God. I need only come and throw myself at God’s mercy.  My worth is not bound up with being better than my fellow sinner; I am loved extravagantly by the God of love.