The Second-Hand Truth of the Gospel of Whomever

I had lunch with friend on Friday, and he said something that really stuck with me. Josh is a writer himself, so it’s no surprise he’s good with a turn of the phrase, but this one little gem has kept me spinning since we talked.

“Too many Christians,” he said, “live on second-hand truth.”

I knew immediately what he meant.

For many Christians, their knowledge of God, their relationship with Christ, their intimacy with the Holy Spirit, is only as deep as their pastor’s. Because many Christians never go beyond what they hear and see on Sunday.

So they quote what they hear from the pulpit. They allow the pulpit to direct their passions, their anger, even their love. And while having a pastor to help us understand the Scriptures is Scriptural itself, there is no substitute for living out the Word of God in our daily lives.

But many Christians don’t do that. Because we’ve been trained to accept second-hand truth as enough.

The problem with second-hand truth is its lifelessness. It’s flat. It falls apart when life happens. Your pastor says homosexuality is bad, and homosexuals are ruining the country, and then you actually meet someone who is gay and they don’t fit the narrative. In fact, you like that gay person, and your instinct is to get to know them, not shun them.

But the second-hand truth kicks in: you can’t associate with gay people and be a follower of Jesus.

True, the Bible says that Christians shouldn’t associate with the sexually immoral–which includes homosexuals, adulterers, divorcees, and folks who have sex before marriage–but only if the sexually immoral have identified themselves as Christians. And more often than not, the sexually immoral clause is part of a list of other behaviors like drunkenness, greed, gluttony, and overcharging people for coffee. And again, these lists are intended to call out wrongful behaviors of people who identify themselves as Christians.

In other words, the only people Christians should be shunning are Christians who claim to be Christians but don’t live like Christ.

But many preachers/pastors don’t frame the argument that way, and since folks are content to accept second-hand truth as Gospel, we end up with idiots protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers or marching to “protect” the rights of white people.

It’s tempting for me, as a former pastor, to place the blame on preachers. It would be easy to make the preachers out as the source of the problem, but the truth is they are merely the symptom. Bad theology in the pulpit isn’t the issue.

The real issue is Christians who don’t have a relationship with Christ.

You have to read your Bible for yourself.

You have to ask hard questions about what you read.

You need to seek out more than one opinion on things.

You bear the responsibility to take your doubts, misgivings, uncertainties before God in prayer.


The power of the Gospel to save is found in the truth of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and how he changes people. When you live by second-hand truth, you are not sharing the Gospel of Christ with the world; you are sharing with the world the Gospel of Whomever.

There is no power in the Gospel of Whomever.

None. Whatsoever.

Read your bible. Ask questions. Pray. Write down things you think about. Talk about what you read, think and feel with other people. This is Christianity. This is the community, the body, of Christ.

When you begin to do that, you begin to see the power of the Truth at work, first-hand, in the world around you.

And you’ll wonder how you ever settled for the second-hand variety.

The Battle for Privilege

I was tempted to write something about the dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was relieved of his duties as my hometown’s top fire fighter due to (ironically) incendiary comments he made in a self-published book. Here in the South, religion and politics make for combustible bedfellows, and it’s easy to rattle off a knee-jerk reaction to stories similar to this one.

Many Christians are up in arms over Cochran’s firing. They’re calling it persecution, a violation of the First Amendment, a violation of his civil rights (which, here in the home of the Civil Rights movement, is a big deal).

Other folks are up in arms over Cochran’s statements. They’re saying his words created a hostile work environment, were effectively creating a religious power structure, were diminishing to the homosexual community (which, here in the “excellent epicenter of the LGBT South, is a big deal).

I can see both sides of the issue. And what’s at stake is neither free speech nor religious liberty nor LGBT rights nor a safe work place.

What’s at stake is privilege. Namely, who gets it.

Christians want to be able to say what they want without fear of reprisal, even when how they say things invites angry response.

The community of tolerance wants to be accepted without demonization, though they often caricature people who don’t buy into their view of tolerance.

Both groups are fighting for the same thing, and it’s not just principle: it’s the privilege to exercise their principle with relative impunity. Our society loves underdogs, but it gives power to the overlords. Right now it’s an all-out battle to decide just which group gets to hold power.

It’s sad, really. Both sides are screaming at one another to be accepted, to be heard, to be understood. Both sides say they want to live at peace. But neither side is willing to give up the press for privilege, because it delivers too many benefits, too much power, too much ease. To live at peace with one another would require struggle, sacrifice, a persistent willingness to work through issues as they arise. It requires walking with one another.

But too many folks want to walk over one another.

So the Battle for Privilege rages on…

The Lure of Small Gods

“When your god is small, you can still be the biggest thing in your world.”

I heard that on Sunday. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Small god. Small God. It’s a fascinating thought.

I can’t get it out of my head.

See, I know people who worship the small God, the God that is more concerned about rules and uniformity than about redemption and transformation. The small God doesn’t change you; he gives you rules and demands that you change. The small God doesn’t disciple you; he disciplines you for committing errors you didn’t know you’d committed. The small God doesn’t love you; he demands you love him.

The small God is not the true God.

Even now, there are people who are reading this and going ballistic. They hear words like love, redemption, transformation, rules, discipline, and they hear something very different from me. I am teetering on the edge of heresy by suggesting that God is not concerned primarily with rules and discipline and order and obedience. I’m leading people down a wrong path, a path of easy-believism.

The reality is the opposite. Easy-believism is when you tell people that if they’ll live their lives a certain way, according to to certain code, then God will make everything work out, and if it doesn’t, then it’s their fault for not living right. Easy-believism says that everyone else is wrong and you’re right, so there’s no need to have a conversation. Easy-believism says that only people who live by certain rules truly get God.

True belief is hard. It’s challenging. There are black and white areas to be sure, but there’s also a lot of gray. And it’s in that gray that a person is forced to lean into God, to dig into the word, to search Him out for answers. It’s in that gray that a person finds themselves being transformed. It’s in that gray that a person discovers that the small God is pathetic and mean and not to much different than a petty human being; that if God exists, He must by definition be something more than we can create on our own.

And that’s why the quote above resonated with me so much: people who worship the small God want to be bigger themselves. They want to be able to say that they are special, they are unique, they are gifted or holy or any other adjective that places emphasis on them and their ability to be blessed by the small God.

Maybe that’s the tell: if your God exalts you for following him, you’re worshiping the small God.

Because the big God, the real God, the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, isn’t concerned about you being exalted through Him. He wants to be exalted through you. And He does that not by piling the rules on you to the point of suffocation, but by freeing you up to be who He created you to be. He is exalted most when you live a life fully free in Him.

I get scared writing stuff like this. I get scared pushing against the small Gods out there, the gods of abusers and bullies who use religion as a weapon to secure their own power. I get scared because I know those types of people don’t like being called out, don’t abide people who stand up to their scare tactics. I get scared because I know people who live that way, and I don’t wish them any harm or want to hurt them. I get scared because I don’t want to become like that myself.

More and more, though, I find that this is something I want to write. That I feel driven to write on. More and more I feel like I need to say something that presses back against the small Gods so the people who wonder if there’s something more can know the truth: there is.

And He’s so much more than you’ve been lead to believe. Or dared to dream.

Don’t settle for a small God. Don’t settle for a world where, by simply following rules you become the biggest thing. Don’t settle for anything other than the one true God.