Christians are ignorant and easily led, proclaimed a Washington Post editorial several years ago. Faith-based bloggers and commentators screeched in protest.
But as the leader of a Christian ministry preparing Christian young adults for the university, I suspect the author was closer to the truth than most would like to admit.
Thoughtlessness is an epidemic in churches today. I call this disease “simplicism”—the belief that something is truer if it can be summarized as a cliché and reproduced in memes, posters, and bumper stickers.
In my book Unquestioned Answers, I tackle ten clichés that keep Christians thinking at a shallow level. Some of these clichés are dangerous because they are unbiblical. Others have the ring of truth but ought to be abandoned because they are insensitive and self-congratulatory.
Here are six Christian clichés I think we ought to forsake, and why:
“Just have faith.”
Faith in God isn’t something we have; it’s something we live. Biblically, faith does not mean believing things that don’t match up to reality. It means living as if God is the greatest reality in the universe. He is the one who solves the mysteries of knowledge and existence, bringing healing and purpose to our lives.
“Love the sinner; hate the sin.”
This cliché suggests that others’ sins are worse for them than ours are for us. Instead of making blunt pronouncements, we ought to view everything in the light of our own fallenness and Jesus’ unimaginable offer of grace. Move close, ask questions, and relate. Don’t label.
“Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”
Christianity is both/and, not either/or. Neither the word relationship nor the word religion sufficiently portrays the awesome work of God in sending Jesus, but the Bible clearly articulates the role of both. A personal relationship with Jesus culminates in robust religious insight into the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.
“It’s not my place to judge.”
Uttering this slogan cuts vital conversations short just when they’re becoming meaningful. Instead, we ought to ask questions that display curiosity and friendly determination. Asking, not telling, helps people see past our faults—and their own—through the lens of the Bible’s message of restoration.
“This world has nothing for me.”
Christianity isn’t just about what happens when we go to heaven. In Christ all things are being made new. The Bible says that God has called creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31) and made it clear that we are to spread shalom until he tells us to stop.
“God is good all the time—all the time God is good.”
It’s not so much that this cliché is untrue; it’s that it glosses over the depth of pain that people experience in the world. The world’s suffering is deep. So it’s God’s answer to it. The Bible never minimizes life’s difficulties. It reveals God’s answer to evil not as a pithy slogan, but as a person—Jesus. At the cross God declared victory. Our toughest questions may never be answered this side of eternity. Let’s take pain seriously and not simply paper it over with a skin-deep call-and-response.
How Clichés Destroy the Church
Clichésmake us vulnerable. Reality has a way of challenging our simplistic notions. If we don’t have practice at going deeper, we can quickly spiral into discouragement and despair.
Clichés also disillusion us. The clamor for easy answers leaves us cynical and distrustful. Biblical faith has always been about digging deep into the gospel’s power and pursuing hard truths.
Worst of all, clichés produce shame, not change. They seem powerful at first because people ooh and ahh and applaud when they hear them. But those who disagree are left feeling unspiritual. How long will it take us to realize that such shame-inducing tactics are counterproductive?
Many of my fellow ministry leaders believe the world is growing darker because fewer people are responding to evangelistic appeals. Before we point fingers, we ought to look in the mirror. Armed with our Christian clichés, are we at risk of turning the church into yet another shallow and manipulative echo chamber?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Scripture says we are to have the mind of Christ. Jesus related to everyday people without being glib or dismissive. The church has a lot of hard thinking to do. But as we abandon our unquestioned answers, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to love God—and our neighbor—better. Along the way, we’ll also grow deeper our understanding of the Bible, faith, prayer, Christian community, sin, forgiveness, worldview, justice, judgment, the world, and God’s goodness.