5 Phrases I Think Christians Should Say More Often

My most recent blog post made some waves, and I certainly didn’t expect it.  When I wrote down “5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say,” I never imagined that it would be sent far and wide for consideration and comment.

I’ll no doubt offer some more thoughts on those phrases.  As with all public statements, there are other thoughts to give and more clarification needed.

I’ll also probably add to that list, too.  Christians say a lot of unhelpful things in the attempt to explain everything in the world.  I find that fact interesting, actually.  In my ordination I was entrusted to be a “steward of the mysteries” for the community…and yet so much of the community of faith just seems to want to explain away mysteries with vacuous, pat answers that end up being about as useful as a boat in the desert.

But, I’ve been pondering my previous list, and I’d like to offer up some phrases that I think should be said as well.  So, here are 5 phrases that I think Christians should say more often.  And, of course, there are undoubtedly more…

5) “Let’s read a book together; your choice.”

This might seem like a dumb request, or some awkward way to try to curry favor with someone, but I’m absolutely serious.  So many times I find people of faith utterly petrified by engaging in serious conversation over a text that might challenge their faith because they feel they might not have “the right answer.”

And the problem there, of course, is that someone along the line explained faith to them as some sort of equation, a specific formula where certain values must be plugged in for the desired outcome.  In short: we’ve made faith into a system instead of a conversation.

So, here’s an experiment: go to a person of a different faith: Buddhist, Sikh, Atheist, etc.  Or maybe they’re a different denomination of your own faith…whatever.  Engage with someone different than you and invite them to read a book with you, but let them choose.

And go with whatever they choose.

So, let’s say they pick Christopher Hitchens and “god Is Not Great” is what they’re asking to read. Read it.  Let it come into conversation with your faith. And then talk about it.

Or, let’s say they pick a translation of the Qur’an (or if you can read Arabic, read the actual Qur’an).

Read it. It’s not a sin.

Read it and let it come into conversation with your faith.  We need to be a society where people are reading together.  Right now I’m reading The Kingdom of God is Within You  by Tolstoy with a congregation member who identifies as “questioning.”  His idea; his invitation.  Tolstoy is fascinating.  And not only are we having a great discussion about faith and values, we’re getting to know why we think the way we do while also learning more about how the other person thinks.

But for this to work, you have to let them choose the text.  So often people of faith think they only have something to impart on people with other worldviews and nothing to learn.  God save us from such blind certainty.

4) “That’s interesting!  Tell me more…”

Too often people of faith only utter this phrase if they’re talking about gossip.  That’s a topic for a different post, I think…

But what if we said the above phrase when people came to us with a different perspective on God, being, the meaning of life, or the authority of scripture?  What if our first reaction to hearing something that may not line up with what we’ve been taught/have come to believe isn’t a rebuttal or an argument, but an invitation to hear more?

And what if you seriously meant it?

So many times people have said, “that’s a slippery slope…” when it comes to questioning tenets of faith and critically listening to other perspectives.  But just as often I’ve met people who have said, “(that particular tenet of faith) didn’t prove true…so I abandoned faith altogether.”  To both statements I just have to sigh.

When we have been taught that questioning is bad or that all statements rest on one singular foundation, we invite unthinking automatons whose sole purpose in life is to defend their own thoughts, or people primed for disbelief because some premises (like the inerrancy of scripture, for example) just can’t stand up to experience.

Instead, we should invite people to tell us more about their thoughts and beliefs.  And, yes, share our own.  But too often we’re all to eager to do the latter and not interested in the former because…gasp…we might actually be changed in the process.

3) “I can’t buy that…it doesn’t square with my faith…”

This one might rattle some nerves.  Hear me out.

It’s amazing to me that people of faith can shun pornography but buy 7000 square foot homes for a family of four.  It’s amazing to me that people of faith can censor Showtime on their cable TV’s so that their kids won’t see a sex scene, but they’ll spend thousands of dollars on a birthday party for a two year old.

It’s amazing to me that people of faith can see money as “theirs” because they earned it, but can look at another person’s sexual orientation and see it as a “choice.”

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t have a 7000 square foot home.  I just want you to think and ask if your faith has anything to say about it.  And if so, what?  I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here; I just want to see that conversation happen!

And the point of me bringing this up isn’t to cause someone to feel guilty, it’s actually to ask the question: Does your faith have anything to say about what/how you consume?

And if so, does your checkbook reflect it?  Money is just as powerful as sex, and yet somehow it seems that Christians only want to talk about sex and not about money (probably, in my view, to distract from their use of money…but that’s also a different post).

2) “You’re right, I struggle with what is written in the Bible there, too…”

I’m a pastor who wrestles with the Bible.  I think every person of faith (and arguably, everyone) should wrestle with the Bible..and any text.  Converse with it. Engage it.

Don’t look at scripture like an encyclopedia that just gives “answers;” view it as a conversation partner!  Professor David Lose at Luther Seminary in Minnesota writes eloquently on this in his book Making Sense of Scripture. (The title is misleading in that he doesn’t actually offer a way to “make sense” of scripture, but a way to view scripture)

His point, though, is that when we look at the Bible as simply a reference book, we don’t engage it.

But if we engage it, then when someone with a different worldview brings up the fact that it’s hard to accept that God really sent “she-bears” to devour children who were mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24), we can admit it!  It’s ludicrous to believe that that actually happened. Plus, I’m balding, and I sometimes get mocked.  Please, Lord, send the she-bears!

And it doesn’t hurt my faith, or my witness, to say that it doesn’t make sense because I don’t believe that the authority of the Bible is dependent upon the absolute inerrency of every little verse.

One of refrains that I heard over and over again from atheist/agnostic readers of the previous blog post was that it was refreshing to see/hear a person of faith who actually thought.  That fact made me sad because it means, by and large, that unthinking morons are the poster-children for faith in the eyes of many skeptics.

And, yes, I know that is not a charitable description…but I’m not sure how to soften that phrase and still make the despair it causes me hit home.  And part of that perception problem, I think, comes from the fact that people of faith refuse to admit that some of the Bible is weird and doesn’t seem to square with experience.

And my mention of 2 Kings, by the way, doesn’t mean that I write off the book or even that I want to exclude from the canon.  It’s there; it’s not my place to exclude it.  But I converse with it.  I make a distinction between story and history.  I make a distinction between fable, myth, and fact.  And I admit that scripture can hold all three…and that that doesn’t have to impede it’s ability to have Truth.

1) “That’s not OK…”

As evidenced by some of the responses I received over the weekend, some Christians are all too ready to say that it is not OK for me to suggest that we dump “Love the sinner; hate the sin” as a phrase.

I’ll just repeat my belief that this phrase, no matter how you want to defend it, is disingenuous.  I’ve filed it under “complete nonsense” in my file cabinet.

But we need to speak out when people who represent the faith say things that are outrageous and downright dangerous.  I know, that’s a statement that involves a lot of subjectivity.

An example?  Where is the public outcry from people of faith against the pastor in Maiden, North Carolina who preached that homosexuals should be corralled and given just enough food to survive in an effort to let them die out?

If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, you can find the video here.

It is graphic.  And despicable.  And disgusting.  And I cannot see how it squares with my faith.  And I will tell anyone and everyone so. (By the way, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973, no matter what the Focus on the Family might want to tell you.  And I think it is high time that the church remove it from the list of spiritual disorders, too.)

Now, it’s true that this pastor is small-time.  The community he serves is small, and his influence is small (although I see his video is now on CNN).  But if we hear this extremely vehement nonsense and keep quiet, can we be surprised that people think this is what all people of faith believe?

We need to decry Robertson and Graham publicly when they make ridiculous comments.  We need to call Olsteen into question when he says that God wants you to be rich. We need people of faith to say that Mark Driscoll doesn’t speak for me or my faith when he starts spouting off about masculinity or marriage in ways that are derogatory to both men and women.

And we need to do the same with some others in the faith, too. Luther, Wesley, Calvin…not to mention modern day heads of the church, are not infallible.  Some of their writings deserve some denouncing.

And until people are willing to call such things ridiculous loudly, publicly, and without exception, we can’t be surprised if people dismiss Christians as unthinking and hateful.  And we can’t be surprised, either, when people defect from faith in an attempt to distance themselves from this sort of thing.

I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that we, too often, only engage the world and those around us with a defensive stance as if we have something to prove.  Engage life in a meaningful way, in a way that calls faith into practice; in a way that invites questions and not just recitation.  Engage this world in a challenging way.

Oh, and while you might have expected the #1 phrase that I wish Christians would say more often to be a cuss or a curse, I just figured that would go without saying…

52 thoughts on “5 Phrases I Think Christians Should Say More Often

  1. You are my personal superhero!!! I loved your last post and this one as well. Preach! I’m in seminary and can’t ever see myself serving in a “conventional” “church” setting for all the reasons your last two blogs have mentioned. I just gotta be with real people, who struggle, wrestle, and question their faith constantly. Thank you for boldly speaking the words on my heart and mind. Grace and peace, Shelly

    • I know quite a few seminarians who long to serve a non-conventional congregation. However, I’ve discovered (in almost 14 years of serving very conventional congregations) that folks in those places are also real peopel who struggle and wrestel and question their faith constantly. It may be that you’re called to serve in different settings, but don’t sell ‘conventional’ congregations short ~ they’re filled with faithful people who have held, and passed on, the faith we have inherited.

      • Thanks, Matt. Absolutely right. My setting is pretty conventional, I think. And blessings in Colorado!

  2. Great post, great blog been digging through the archives as well.

    Your probably going to take some flak for number 3 but it needs to be said and I totally agree. I would be interested to discuss with you sometime the concept of tithing 10 percent and to see what percentage of well off Christians actually do that.Is Ten percent tithing still being practiced at all?

    PS I’m the guy who wore the Hawaiian shirt who showed up an hour early this past Sunday. We will be back soon(out of town this weekend).

    • Hey Todd,

      Great to see you electronically as well! We can certainly chat when you get back. Rhonda and I practice tithing so it is being practiced at least somewhere…safe travels!

  3. The she-bears thing makes me think of my husband a few weeks ago, getting stiffed for some gold he sold, and when the price of gold fell the next day he declared it God’s judgement. If it makes him feel better to think God drives the gold market, fine – at least I don’t have to listen to him grump about it. I imagine Elisha’s friends were glad they didn’t have to listen to him whine about being teased by some kids. 😉

    • Ha! I would agree except I’m pretty sure Elisha’s only friend, Elijah, wouldn’t have taken any guff about it.

  4. I’m loving these posts – I’ve got no particular church home right now, so thanks for these awesome sermons 🙂 So refreshing after some of the nonsense I keep seeing on Facebook, etc. – thanks so much.

  5. I subscribed to your blog after seeing your last one posted on Facebook. I am so inspired by this posting as well. My husband and I are talking about driving from Nashville to your church just to hear you speak. Keep speaking the truth!

  6. Once again, I’m impressed with your stance on what should be important verses what often is made to be important, and the inconsistency with the Love that is proclaimed by the One that Christians claim to follow. It is refreshing to hear from a Christian who sees this and speaks out about it. Please keep writing…it needs to be said, and I know some will listen. 🙂

  7. I’m loving these posts! I have many the same thoughts that you do and I’m constantly DISGUSTED by how “Christians” treat homosexuals. What I struggle with, and admit to publicly, is yes, I can read. The Bible is fairly clear on the fact that homosexuality is wrong. What I am also fairly clear on is that some of the most wonderful people in the world are homosexual. And after getting to know them on a deep, personal level… there is no way that they “chose” that lifestyle. This is just an area I don’t get. And I get a lot of flack from “Christians” for questioning this. I just can’t help but think there is more to the story. But for the love of everything pure and holy, I know God tells us to love them. And he surely doesn’t tell us to shun them and be hateful. This behavior bewilders me.

  8. I just wanted to let you know that I too found your previous post via facebook, and I was cheering out loud as I read it. But that wasn’t enough, so I checked to see what else you were up to, and read this post as well (I will be reading your blog in the future too). I cheered this one! and of course, shared it on FB myself.

    I identify as pagan, Wiccan, a witch. I have christian friends whom I consider as open-minded, intelligent. We don’t have conversations though. They don’t try to convert me, and I don’t talk to them about my spiritual life. Sometimes I wonder about this verbal truce… what would it be like to just sit and talk about our spiritual lives without the expectation that someone would get angry, hurt or feel their faith is threatened? Wouldn’t it be cool to read the same books on different viewpoints in both paradigms and discuss! How I long for the days when my mom and I could just sit and talk about spiritual topics, before the religious system engulfed our relationship (her by going deeper, me by leaving the church). I appreciate the verbal truce, but at times I long for the CONVERSATION… the challenge. I have pagan friends who think differently from myself to converse and learn from, but like you said, sometimes you need to get completely out of that bubble to challenge yourself.

  9. I gave up and walked away from formal religion just over 18 years ago. I was 4 1/2 months pregnant with 2 children at home and my husband died of a massive heart attack. The church I had been attending, putting money in the plate every week, volunteering at etc…. I turned to them for help when his final paycheck was in escrow and I had not been able to work for months as the pregnancy was high risk. I needed help with rent with food for the kids, it would take a few weeks to get a safety net in place but we needed help then.

    The church said no, you are not a member here, your husband was, but you are not and we only help members. I walked away that day because I knew if Jesus himself were to walk through the door they would not recognize him and turn him away.

    I feel I have a better relationship with the Divine then I did when it was filtered by someone else, and their agenda.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah. It’s painful to hear that, and I’m sorry that people who claimed to be Christ-followers would treat you that way. It’s important that we realize that our words and actions have meaning.

  10. So refreshing! I”m a new Christian (33 years old, found a great church 5 months ago) and it’s so nice to know there are real, intelligent, questioning people out there that also have faith. Everyone in my life that I knew up until now was of the “You’re wrong, I’m right. You are going to hell.” variety. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Myka! And great to hear you’ve found a good place where questions and convictions are welcome! Keep at it!

  11. I am SO grateful to have found your blog. As someone with Asperger’s and a schizotypal personality disorder, I have found most Christians I know to be unbearable with their methadone-like glazed eyes and conventional phrases (sorry for being so blunt). I don’t mean to sound aggressive (but sadly, my mode of expression is either very blunt or euphoric. You speak/write emotionally and with intellectual eloquence. It is drawing me closer to faith again. Being emotionally unstable and “weird” or eccentric has made me feel alienated from stereotypical expressions of faith (except for my Orthodox faith which has room for exultation and eccentricity). Most Christians seem to insist on a kind of emotional castration–agitation/anger/etc become non grata. I am certainly not suggesting abusive or hurtful behavior but emotionally intense.

    I’ll stop rambling 🙂 Reading your blog is wonderful. Thank you!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, cat. I hope no methadone eyes meet yours anymore, just eyes of care and respect!

  12. WOW! I have been rabidly opposed to participating in organized religion. You give me hope and a desire to participate with others in dialog.. not battle dialog 🙂 thank you!

  13. I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and I read your blog and cried…. How wonderful. I have often said that if we, as Christians, lived by the parable of the Last Judgement, we would be fine…….That parable is the synthesis of Jesus’ teaching…..and I don’t understand why Paul didn’t see that.
    Bless you!

  14. Your discussion of item 2 is thought provoking. After we are done chucking the bear, the talking ass, the great fish, Job, the Garden of Eden, the serpent, and God (all of which don’t make sense to people with other world viewpoints). Next we can move on to the New Testement and do away with all miracles or things that cannot be explained by science or by people with other world viewpoints (resurrection, Son of God etc).. Or as an alternative we can stick to our faith and not engage in debates with non-believers about the fairness of human eating bears.

    Read what you literally saying. After thousands of years you are ready to started editing the Bible (this is fact, this is fiction) based on your experience and understanding of ludicrous. I find that ludicrous.

    • Hey Jimbob, I understand the hesitation and I thank you for commenting. I do know what I’m saying, but I don’t think it leads to your conclusion. I would point out a couple of important points:
      Scripture contains all sorts of types of writing: myth, legend, history, poetry, lore, memory, first-hand accounts. I’m not sure why Christians feel the need to just lump them into two categories, namely “fact” or “fiction.”

      Make no mistake, I think that all of Scripture holds Truth. But Truth is different from fact, and its only been since the enlightenment that we’ve lost sight of that. Since the onset of the Enlightenment, people have held that empirical evidence is the basis for what is real and what is not. Prior to that, it wasn’t empirical evidence; story and experience had as much say as evidence. The Scriptures were written in this time. How did we forget this? The New Testament miracle accounts are quite different from the stories of Elisha.

      We cannot make the mistake of thinking that Scripture has always been taken literally. Augustine himself made note of certain scriptural stories being plainly allegorical, as did Luther after him. That in itself (the idea that Scripture has always been read literally) is a myth.

      And, actually, the fact that you are willing to dump your experience and your understanding of the absurd to make every jot and tittle of Scripture be fact is, in my view, a bit ludicrous. I mean, do you think God expects us to suspend all belief in an effort to make apologies for everything in the canon?

      We do not need to suspend experience to be Christian, folks. And neither do we have to suspend belief. They can be in conversation.

      • My problem with what you are saying is that the most fundamental tenets of our faith. There is a God, he sent his Son, his Son died and his Son was resurrected on the third day. To a person with a different world view point this is all absurd. I personally have never seen anyone risen from the dead. No voices from the sky, No burning bushes. Empiracally the evidence says this is impossible. Billions have died over the last century but there has been no documented case of ressurrection on the third day. So by believing this am I dumpiing my experince and understanding of the absurb to make this jot and tittle true. Yes I am.
        Today I have no evidence that the donkey talked or the bears ate someone. Nor do I have any evidence that they didn’t. If the standard for fact, fiction, our fable in the Bible is our experience then the fact part gets pretty short and much of that will undoubtly be demoted to a “thats just his opinion” real soon. In fact the process has started. Inconvienent definitions of sin are quickly become opinion or explained away.

      • Jimbob, but can’t someone within the faith also see some of it as needing further insight, explanation, or even a label of absurdity?

        I never make the claim that experience is the standard for fact, fiction, or fable. As a Bible scholar, there are all sorts of tools to parse and study different areas of scripture…and I use them all. It’s not experience alone. But I do think experience is good, and should be used.

        It’s clear that we’re coming at Scripture with different hermeneutics; that’s fine. I also don’t know of any purple swans…but I also don’t know that there aren’t any. That logic doesn’t stand up in a standard philosophy 101 class; we shouldn’t use it for scripture or for any proofs. You can’t disprove the existence of anything.

        What I want to say is, as a person of faith, I can still be a person of faith and ask good questions about these things. You can, too. You don’t have to believe Mary was a virgin, that donkeys spoke, or that God commanded she-bears to eat children to be a follower of Christ. That is not a tenet of faith.

        Jimbob, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. And don’t buy into the slippery slope arguments that are forced upon people. All points can be brought up as a point in and of themselves.

      • What stimulated me to respond was your statement in your original blog “But if we engage it, then when someone with a different worldview brings up the fact that it’s hard to accept that God really sent “she-bears” to devour children who were mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24), we can admit it! It’s ludicrous to believe that that actually happened.”
        When does your ludicrous standard stop? What defines it? In our later conversation it appears that our experience is the standard. Did God not send the she bears because it is not nice. Did he not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Did he not send the great flood? Our current world view is that God would not have done these things because it was not loving or nice. What if the authors of the Bible got it right. He really did send the bear down?
        Rather than debate with non-believers about the various trivia of the Bible, I just tell them that the Bible says those stories and if they read the Bible they will see that humankinds relationship with God is evolving (or at least our understanding of it). We have evolved from a relationship that relies on miracles and magic tricks to one based on faith. Whether it is bears or talking donkeys, I do not care. But I choose to accept the Bible as God’s word without applying my current day experiences and opinions to stories that occurred thousands of years ago. It was a different time and God had a different relationship with mankind. I beleive that the God that told Joshua to kill them all, and told the Jews to kill the witches, and killed the Egyption first borne, would have no qualms of sending in the bears.

      • Hey Jimbob, thanks for clarifying your position. And, as I said, it’s clear we’re coming at Scripture from different places.

        Text-critical study on these texts opens them up in new ways so that we don’t have to say that God’s relationship with humanity is evolving. It could, indeed, be that humanity is evolving in its understanding of God.

        But we’re not going to agree on this issue, and I understand your position. Thanks for commenting and reading.

      • Its been real. Its been fun. Its been real fun. Good conversation. Have a fun remaining of memorial day.

    • The article 8 ways has it right on the head. There is nothing worse than trying to discuss the bible with someone who is a literalist….I can read the bible in Koine and Latin. but that makes little difference to a Mormon who has his own version of the Bible, or trying to tell a literalist that the post Nicene Fathers didn’t all believe in the a literal interpretation of Genesis from Creation to the calling of Abram.

  15. Thank you for writing this and the last one, 5 Things Christians Should NOT Say. Both have been very good jumping off points for my relatives (some of whom are the stupid idiots) and I to have serious discussions about God, the Bible, and social issues such as gay marriage, occupy wallstreet, socialism, etc.

  16. Hi Tim, I came across your blog after a friend pointed me in the direction of your previous post (I was exploring some very similar ideas). It fills me with hope that there are people stepping out and highlighting these important things and that there are people vocally appreciating it. Very reassuring! So thanks. There are many Christians who have lost faith in Christians, but you are helping to restore this (or at least provide hope that all is not lost).

    I have just finished writing a short (2000 word) e-book about the social and linguistic construction of reality and how we need to step out, ask questions about our systemic blindness and be artists in the way that we live. I was wondering whether you fancied having a look. I would have got in touch via email but couldn’t find anywhere to privately contact you so I apologise about that. The PDF is here – it seems like something you might appreciate… : http://atlumschema.com/atlumschema/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/What-Because.pdf

  17. I’m a person of faith; I’m just not a person of the Christian faith. One thing I do wish I would never hear from another Christian is the phrase “a person of faith”–unless they really mean just a person with some form of spiritual faith. Non-Christians are not by definition faithless.

    I don’t think you are even REMOTELY pitting Christians against non-Christians. You said it yourself; diversity informs our faith by broadening our brain pans. That’s just the way maturation and experience work under the best circumstances. I look forward to reading more of your blog, and I applaud your thoughtfulness.

  18. It’s also beneficial to keep in mind that what was attributed to God, wasn’t always necessarily accurate. Job accuses God of some weird things. There was no real “personal relationship” with God, prior to Jesus. So when it rained on their crops, the Israelites would say “God is blessing us for blah-blah-blah…” But when there was a drought, they would say “Oh no, God is punishing us for blah-blah-blah.” This is one of the reasons that Jesus’ statement about God raining on the just and unjust was so controversial.

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