Sunday, August 17, 2008

Saying Goodbye To Guilt-Driven Christianity

Saying Goodbye To Guilt-Driven Christianity is an article by Dr. Alvin Reid and Jonathan Merritt over @ Relevant Magazine.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on something that I've been processing over the last several months...well actually since my last 2 bad church experiences. I know this exists, that's not the question. This is how many churches in America practice Christianity: fear and guilt. My question that I've been working on is "WHY" do they feel the need to use these tactics. But that is a post for another time. I don't want to take away from what is in this article.

Think about it. A church is behind in budget? Guilt the people into upping tithing. Attendance is low? Guilt? Not "saved". Fear of Hell is usually the chosen method over the "good news" and hope approach. I know that was the tactic that got me "saved". I didn't want to go to hell.

But this is about what should be. Guilt/fear motivation replaced by the motivation of PASSION! I think it says more about our individual church/confidence/abilities we are offering to our congregants when we have to resort to guilt to get attendance up, or offering up. Our congregants should take offence to this, because it communicates the message that "it's easier to guilt you than to inspire you". Perhaps those things are down because of a bigger reason that needs to be addressed rather than guilted to band-aid the situation.

From the article:
A guilt-driven faith will certainly go through the motions. It
will drive you to action. But a passion-driven faith forces us to tell everyone
we know about the great idea that can change the world. It will drive you to a
lifestyle. And we would long for our neighbors, friends and families to embrace
this great idea!The Great Awakenings in the Church have come in no small part
because men recaptured a sense of passion rather than guilt. John Wesley, an
ordained, Oxford-educated minister, did not become a leader in the Great
Awakening until he found an inner passion for Jesus Christ. Once that happened
he seemed outlandish to others, and he eventually had to preach in the fields.
The same could be said of Whitefield and Edwards, Finney and Spurgeon, Luther
and Savonarola. They embraced a passion for the great idea of Christianity.

Our faith is certainly not comprised only of passion. It is also
pure, revealed truth. But the truth of our faith is more than mere,
propositional fact; it is a great idea that is worthy of infectious passion.It
seems a passionless faith may be one reason so many find our faith unattractive
and disingenuous. We must revive the great idea of our great God. We must
rediscover the great commission and great commandment. We must pursue a
passion-driven Christianity. If our faith is to become a transformative,
redemptive power within the culture, we need to flee guilt-driven, duty-centered
puppetry and call down a passion for the great idea of the Gospel.

This is just a cut-and-paste on this topic, but I would like to hear your thoughts. Read the full article here.


  1. not too surprisingly, guilt itself motivates a lot of pastors themselves - i know it motivated a lot of my own efforts to 'serve God' by doing more and more in the church.

    guilt is sometimes induced in a subtle manner, too. i don't know where you stand on healing, but last night at church our pastor went on a bit about healing in his opening prayer. he asked anyone feeling pain to 'touch the spot of the pain' and believe that God will heal them. 'it's believing that brings on healing.' so what if there isn't healing? well, what's implied is that there isn't enough believing - in other words, that joe Christian isn't quite Christian enough - else he would have been healed.

    and i've worked in the wesleyan church where the concept of a 'holy spirit baptism' subsequent to salvation is taught. and if you don't get it? well, you ain't doing something right...

    i don't know about you, but i don't get the same sense that the OT Israelites were daily under this felt burden of guilt that NT Christians have lived with for 2000 years. wonder why that is?

    i bet the pope has something to do with it... :)

    mike rucker
    fairburn, ga, usa

  2. J-Bow,
    This article hit home with a lot of people! This is the 3rd time I've had this article shared with me, and I also shared it with other people.

    I certainly am not one to claim that I know God's intentions or God's mind. But I know that this is hitting home with people.

    I think the secret is that people don't like feeling bad! I'd rather be excited about doing something than bummed out that I have to. It seems that the church would get this, but I think it's easier to rouse guilt than passion.

    Oh well..."the church is a whore, and she's my mother" :)

  3. Thanks for responding guys.

    Yeh, I think this article has hit home for others I've pointed it to. I haven't even posted it on facebook yet, but had a couple of conversations tonight about this b/f I was able to ready the responses here.

    I think you are dead on about pastors feeling guilt themselves. I think that this CAN be generations of abuse in Christianity. I think about a former pastor I knew. He uses a lot of guilt/fear, and he's a 3rd generation SBC pastor. I'm sure that this is what is familiar to him. This is what how many pastors see "results". I think about the averavge tenure for a Baptist pastor is somewhere around 5 years. That's pitiful, but a lot of it is because they run out of their "bag of tricks" in that time, they don't feel as "effective" and need to move on to where they can start over with their bag. I don't mean that derogatory, just that I don't know many places that teach ministers how to be creative and continually working on new materials/techniques. I know this is even more true in the Youth ministry field.

    I think that a lot of it has to do with "knowing" and not questioning. If you "know" everything about faith/God/discipleship/etc... you can only fear/guilt those topics soo much before people become numb to you. However, if you approach your own faith openly in community with continual questions and challenges to what you "know", then a whole new world of topics and techniques are opened to that person. IDK, that's off the top of my head from what some friends and I have been talking about lately.

    I will talk more about this in a later post, but I spoke with many people: my Supervisor, Div. students, Seasoned pastors, other chaplains, friends, etc.. who spoke about fear tactics being about Control and Power in the Church. I think there is a lot of truth to that. I'm not sure that it's all on the surface of the leader's/minister's conscience, but I think it is true. Peter Gomes talks about this a lot in his book "Scadalous Gospel of Jesus". I'll prob. post later on with some quotes.

    I know I'm not speaking to all you said, but I'll chime in that I dated a pentacostal girl in College. She didn't speak in tounges and her parents and minister placed a lot of guilt on her. Not being a part of my tradition, I was very open and interested in talking about it, and she was glad to have an open and interested person to talk with. She told me that the guilt got so bad that she had even tried to fake it a couple of times. But she just didn't feel that she was led to speak in tounges. I found that very interesting, and really felt bad with how much that guilt weighed on her and actually got in the way with her relationship with Christ. I think that says a lot about this topic!

    First off, that's the 3rd time from 3 diff. people this week that have said the ch. is a whore. I find that interesting...I like you addendum though:)

    I think your last statement hits the nail on the head. I had a discussion tonight about giving offering. Many churches have to beg/plead/guilt to keep on budget esp. this time a year. Yet if you tell them that ALL the offering this week is going to releif efforts in ______, the offering plates/bags are overflowing. People want to be inspired...empassioned. Buechner says this about calling: "Where a person's greatest PASSION meets the world's greatest need".

    What would happen if that was the approach that ministers used in helping to match people with a discple's lifestyle.... helping them lead a life of DOING.

    I remember how hard it was to get people to do local missions projects in every ch. I've been in. I remember how many times a person leading the event would get up durr. announcements and plead for participants. I think about how many sermons were taylored to make people feel bad for not signing up to help. Then when the eventwould take place, how unenthusiastic people were to be doing ministry, or helping others in the community. There was a huge disconnect for me. I think I see why now.

    In all the themes in the Bible: peace, hope, joy, love, grace, etc.. I don't see where guilt and fear (well there is fear meaning like Awe) are amongst those themes. I mean, with the rich young ruler, Jesus did ALLOW him to walk away. No guilt, no begging pleading, or threatening.

    I think its time for a paradigm change, and perhaps that's why this is hitting home for a lot of people. People want something that is REAL, and anything that they have to be guilted/feared into doing is not real. That is another post soon to come!

    thanks guys,

  4. Justin,
    There's a reason that they say the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The easiest way to grow a church is when people are struggling and fighting to simply exist. Clearly, modern America is not like that.
    So, the easiest and simplest way to connect to this struggling lifestyle is to make people feel bad about their excess and their challenges.
    But personally, I find this truth extremely ironic. We, at least in terms of monetary opportunity and freedom are FAR more blessed than any other people ever to exist on the Earth. I've actually heard people say asinine things like "maybe we're not blessed to have such prosperity". That's just insanity.
    You would think that the church would recognize such prosperity and blessing and use that to breed passion in it's followers, but that clearly has not been the case. Many churches I've been in seem to bemoan the fact that we've been incredibly blessed and yearn for lives of simplicity and solitude (see Shane Claiborne). In my mind, instead we should exult and enjoy our lives of freedom and blessing, and live with passion to better the lives of others in our chosen way. Whether that be through writing, ministry, teaching or building businesses we can all live our lives in an exultant way that shows our passion and understanding of our astounding blessings.
    But again, why does the church want us to feel guilty? I think they've misunderstood the Bible. They don't look at our current situation. They yearn to be the Israelites living in struggle in the desert. Oh how blessed! But amazingly, we've been blessed beyond all imagination.
    Shouldn't we respond with gratitude, excitement and passion? It seems obvious to me.

  5. Very interesting ideas. Sounds very modified Ann Randish. Echoes some thoughts I had while reading Atlas Shrugged.

    Alison says, "it's all about management, many people can't manage doing for others because their "blessedness" gets in the way."

    I don't have a complete answer to your last question. I think you are right about American Christianity wanting to be considered the "new Israel". I think we've seen that in a lot of ways throughout the history of the American Church. I think that it can even be seen as far back as the reformation.

    You are right...DEAD ON, on our global/historical status. No one has ever been as blessed as us. I think that that topic and what to do/where to go with that should be a HUGE topic of discussion going on in the American Church.

    great points!
    thanks man!