June 6, 2009

Part II: Hypocrisy

Too Political

The accusation of hypocrisy is something that I've heard a lot. I've recognized a couple of different phenomena that could have caused it: some legitimate, some not. However, I found the insight in this book quite enlightening on this matter.

Outsiders' Thoughts

Probably the most surprising revelation from the book on this issue was what the heart of the accusation was. My understanding was that the charge of hypocrisy was a description of how immoral we where. In other words, the charge was that Christians can't be trusted.

According to Kinnaman, this is not the case:

Mosaics [those born between 1984 and 2002] and Busters [those born between 1965 and 1983] are not bothered by the image as much as you might think. They have learned not to care. In large part this is because they have come to the conclusion that people cannot be counted on, that one would expect to be disappointed. -pp43
Essentially, they are not charging that Christianity is immoral, but that Christianity is impotent. Christians are just like everyone else, and therefore there is no value in considering the faith at all.

Another important factor in this is that to most of the outsiders, being a good person is what being a Christian is all about. According to Kinnaman, 37% of born again Christians agree (pp. 50).

Kinnaman's Thoughts


To Kinnaman, a major cause for this accusation is simply that it is correct. There are a lot of hypocrites in the Church. But why?

First of all, we live in a society that is deeply concerned about image (pp 43). We are an accidents based culture: we are perfectly fine with a pile of feces as long as its well decorated and deodorized. The church itself, being impacted by this cultures, tends to focus more on looking Christian than being Christian. Combine this with a belief that the primary priority of a Christian is being a good person, and you get someone is trying to act like a good person without taking the time to affect their inner being (pp. 46).

Secondly, there exists a generational gap. Much of the focus on morality comes from earlier in the last century and thus is more emphasized by older generations. However, morality is less important to younger generations (pp. 53). Thus, if an outsiders perceives Christianity as it is defined by the older generations, but then primarily interacts with the younger generations, they receive a stronger vision of hypocrisy. This is more a perception issue, but it is there.

Finally, a major way that Christianity interacts with the culture is by a call to morality. Many Christians view the Christian life as more moral without actually viewing what the surrounding culture is like. We've closed ourselves off. The result is that we think we are more moral than we actually are, and we think they are less moral than they actually are. Apparently, many Christians believe that the primary reason why most outsiders aren't Christian is because of the high moral standard (pp. 51). But life should tell you that such a cliche answer cannot account for the vast number of outsiders which exist. Different people have different reasons, and this rationalization apparently ranked very low on the reasons outsiders actually give.


Kinnaman's basic solution is transparency. Part of Christian theology is that all have fallen short of the kingdom of God and when we become Christians, we still wrestle with the flesh. Stop projecting Christianity as a solution to immorality. First it is much more than ethics. Second, it instead is gives you a paradigm through which you deal with your immorality. Christianity isn't about being perfect, but being forgiven.

If we project this, and show outsiders that we are flawed, then they'll drop their guard around us, and be more willing to here what we have to say.

My Thoughts

Though I agree with Kinnaman's thoughts, I believe there is a second aspect of this that he hasn't looked at. That is the concept of holiness.

If you ask most what holiness means, if they can give you an answer they'll probably say it has to do with being a perfect person (morally that is). This is rooted in the Holiness Movement, which itself is based off of an exaggeration of the Wesleyan doctrine of perfection (Wesley's teaching on the matter was more pastoral than theological, and was taking to an extreme that I do not believe he would have approved of). However, this is not what holiness means.

To be holy means to be reserved, or set aside for something. More specifically, it is something reserved for God Himself. The essence of living a holy life isn't to live a moral life, but to live a life devoted to God. The true call to holiness is a reassignment of priority, that is making God your first priority. I do not mean making the will of God, or making the word of God, or making the worship of God your first priority. I mean God. Just God. Not any attribute or aspect of Him. I mean Him. He's first.

One can see then that the criticism that we are hypocrites is that we are not holy, i.e. we are just like everyone else. We shouldn't be. We should be different. There is a great deal of importance to actually cultivate that within the church, and do it in a way that is purely focused on ethics.

I agree with Kinnaman that or strategy in dealing with the Buster and Mosaic generations should be grounded in transparency, but we also need to make sure than when they look in at us, that they see something desirable. Thus, there should be a two part strategy: be open about our flaws and our mistakes, and strive to live a life devoted to God. These two things need to be working in unison if we are going to get out from under the hypocrisy label.


bethyada said...

The issue I have is what people mean by hypocrisy. Of course the word may have changed its meaning to that of not living up to one's ideals. But then we will have to change the NT as that is not what it means there.

The problem with the modern definition is that it favours having no morals. The less you expect, the less you break. We are all sinners. Christians should sin less, but people come to Christ at different points. Direction of your life is more important than any single action.

But the real meaning of hypocrisy is to say that something is not okay for you and yet okay for me.

Perhaps the meaning could be stretched to those who condemn others and hide their own same behaviour. But to say something is wrong, and do the same, yet condemn one's own behaviour, is not really hypocritical. I guess one should just be less judgmental in their stance.

Jc_Freak: said...

I do not really think that is the definition that we are dealing with. Niether does Kinnaman. He begins his chapter:

What does it mean to be a hypocrite?
At the core of the perception that Christians are hypocritical lies a debate about what hypocrisy means. In the most basic terms, hypocrisy occurs when you profess something that you do not really believe...
Yet if you ask Mosaics and Busters, they rarely apply logic or technical definitions to their complaints about hypocrisy. Hypocrites are people are two faced or who have double standards. Anyone who says one thing and seems to do another is subject to the label."

To some degree, I do not think that they are judging us for being imperfect. Rather I think they misunderstand what they claim about ourselves.

I cannot speak for Austrailia, but here in America there is a tendancy for American Christians to expect the rest of the country to be Christian, and therein act like Christians. Therefore, Nonchristians are often berated for their behavior by Christians and believe that behaving perfectly is what Christianity is all about.

As such, the label for hypocrisy lies not on Christians failing to live up to their ideal, but on Christians who try to enforce a higher ideal to the people around them than Christianity itself expects.

Dan Martin said...

Overlooked in this discussion, I think is the notion of hypocrisy as exhibited by the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law in Jesus' time. This was (partly) saying one thing and doing another about specific issues, but I think it was more about making a big deal about others' shortcomings as major failings, while ignoring their (our) own. This is evidenced in Jesus' parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee--where the issue was with the attitude of humility on the part of the first and arrogance on the part of the second. It's also obvious in Jesus' "woes" in pretty much the entire chapter of Matthew 23.

I would say that the modern church's obsession with homosexuality (the "other guy's sin" while ignoring straight marriages ending in divorce "our sin") is a good example of this. Not that there isn't a moral standard to which the Bible calls us, but that people prefer to spend their time calling out the sins of others, not working on their own.

Perhaps if we looked a bit more at the morality of economic and social oppression--something Jesus and the prophets had a whole lot to say about--we'd seem more "relevant" to a generation that seems (IMHO) to care more about justice than personal purity. Along the way, as they discover Jesus they'll be called to purity too, but that isn't what affects the world they care about. . .

Which may be (part of) what you meant, Martin, when you talked about the gap between "looking Christian" and "being Christian."