Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

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Our Social Commentary vs. the Gospel

by Stephen Mattson 08-04-2015
Rethinking How We Engage the Culture Wars
typing on a tablet

Man typing on a tablet, guteksk7 / Shutterstock.com

Like many things — theological beliefs, worships styles, forms of baptism, and preferred interpretations of the Bible — Christians are divided when it comes to which social justice issues, culture wars, and current events are worth supporting and condemning or even talking about.

Followers of Christ can be against gay marriage or for it, Democrat or Republican, a pacifist or a soldier, a vegan or a meat-eater, an animal rights advocate or a hunter — Christians constantly contradict one another, and that’s OK.

8 Things Christians Want You to Know

by Stephen Mattson 07-16-2015

Ultimately, Christianity is about Jesus — not Christians. Although we try our best to emulate Jesus, we constantly fail, but please judge our faith based upon Jesus and not our Christian culture — because they aren’t the same thing.

Inevitably, we’ll continue to be polarizing in numerous ways across political, social, and religious platforms, and we’ll still commit bad mistakes, make hurtful remarks, and end up being wrong about many things. But for most Christians, our ultimate desire is introduce people to Jesus, who inspires us to make the world a better place by loving everyone around us to the best of our ability. God help us.

Be a Christian, Not a Consumer

by Stephen Mattson 07-08-2015
Image via Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

It’s ok to buy stuff. To exist in a Westernized world means navigating a daunting array of products, services, and goods that are constantly being marketed to your every want, need, and desire. You’re not going to go to hell for buying a pair of jeans.

But a consumer-driven society can cause Christians to idolize perfectionism. When this happens, they expect flawless worship, sermons, pastors, staff, childcare, youth programs, mission trips, conferences, camps, vacation Bible schools, classes, and even relationships.

Inevitably, when aspects of our Christian faith do cause disappointment (and they will), our constant cultural experience of being the consumer — on the receiving end of infinite commercials, advertising campaigns, and target-driven media that tells us the customer is always right — causes us to feel entitled to something better.

So we respond by complaining, demanding change, boycotting, or even abandoning any part of Christianity’s existence that is letting us down.

But Christians must remember that Jesus wasn’t that popular, that he promoted powerlessness, and that he was frustratingly inefficient. In fact, He was sacrificial, humble, giving, and forgiving — not exactly valued character attributes in today’s society.

Divisible, With Liberty and Justice for Some

by Stephen Mattson 06-24-2015

Please don’t fail to recognize this vital moment in American history: when our fellow citizens screamed for equality, marched for recognition, and pleaded for justice. Because someday the next generation will ask us: What did you do?

And so today we must ask ourselves: What are we doing? What are we seeing? What does this all mean?

Because the last few years within our country — a continuation of the past hundreds of years — have been socially jarring for a society that considers itself a modernized, technologically advanced, and morally superior nation

5 Reminders That Justice Work Matters

by Stephen Mattson 06-21-2015

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” —Matthew 25:40

Working for justice can seem frustrating, hopeless, and insignificant. Despite our work, volunteerism, financial donations, and advocacy, it’s easy to succumb to burnout. Most will never personally meet the people they’re trying to help or witness any obvious changes. They will face the constant cynicism of a seemingly uncaring and apathetic society. But here are five reasons why doing social justice work really matters:

When Does Christianity Stop Being Fun?

by Stephen Mattson 06-11-2015
Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com

As a child growing up in the church, if there was one message I heard over and over again, it was that God was in control, and most importantly, God loved us — and we actually had fun.

This was a comforting message and environment. Furthermore, the themes of joy and God’s defeat of evil became even more prominent during my teen years.

But then youth group ended, and I entered the realm of adult Christendom: political causes, doctrinal debates, worship wars, traditional vs. modern bickering, congregational infighting, gossip, church splits, corporate boycotts, moral rage, judgment, and fear.

The Rise and Fall of American Christianity

by Stephen Mattson 05-15-2015
Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

The recently released Pew Research Center Report has revealed that Christianity within the United States is on the decline. Christians are freaking out and the fear mongering has begun — many seeing it as an apocalyptic sign of the moral downfall of our secular society coinciding with a theological weakening caused by “liberalism.”

Everyone seems to have an explanation of the data, and among Christians, the infighting has already begun, with most denominations rationalizing their growth, decline, or stagnancy by offering the same explanation: We’re theologically sound and remaining faithful to God while everyone else is getting it wrong.

What Christians must understand — and accept — about these statistics is that religious data about a country doesn’t accurately reflect its corporate actions pertaining to following Christ.

Can You Imagine Injustice?

by Stephen Mattson 04-13-2015
Imagine injustice. Image via Mopic/shutterstock.com

Imagine injustice. Image via Mopic/shutterstock.com

For people benefitting from systematic wealth, power, comfort, favor, and convenience, it can be difficult to relate to the constant and endless forms of racism, stereotyping, and injustice that are experienced by others.

The privileged don’t experience the daily realities faced by the likes of Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and millions of others who have lived under completely different — and radically unfavorable — circumstances.

This is why Christians — no matter what your background — must passionately engage in such things as relationship-building, participating in dialogue, and actively reading, experiencing, and listening to various perspectives. Because doing this informs, directs, and edifies one of the most powerful spiritual tools we have: our imagination.

Imagination is defined as the faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.

Friendships, personal accounts, testimonies, books, footage, stories, and experiences empower us to have a better picture, perspective, and understanding of others. Even if we don’t personally struggle with the same types of injustice and inequality that others do, we’re at least given the ability to imagine its reality, accept its existence, empathize with its victims, and comprehend truths we weren’t previously aware of.

In the Bible, Jesus is constantly challenging the status quo and striving for justice, peace, and reconciliation against cultural factors and precedents that seem impossibleto overcome. For the individuals God calls upon, they are required to imagine the inconceivable, accept the unthinkable, and break out of their stubborn paradigms in order to embrace the Divine.

Imagine the sea being parted, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, being healed of leprosy, encountering a talking donkey and a talking (burning) bush, and rising from the dead.

7 Reasons Christians Refuse Change

by Stephen Mattson 03-31-2015
Warning: changes ahead. Image via CGinspiration/shutterstock.com

Warning: changes ahead. Image via CGinspiration/shutterstock.com

How can some Christians exude such cruelty and ignorance while simultaneously claiming to follow Jesus — a humble man who was radically loving and ultimately died for sake of humanity?

There are many reasons, but here are some of the main factors, characteristics, and influences that cause some faith-based individuals, communities, and organizations to become aggressively bigoted instead of generously benevolent.

1. They fear change.

Some people hate change and see it as an attack on their beliefs. Since their Bible is inerrant and their God is unchanging, new ideas are dangerous and subversive to their flawless theology. Perfection cannot be improved upon, so any variation or contradiction is perceived as absurd. Discovery, learning, and creativity are often prohibited, and new ideas are viewed as a dangerous threat to their way of life.

Historically, this is why many Christians were shamefully ignorant and embarrassingly wrong when it came to addressing issues such as slavery, civil rights, the Holocaust, recognizing genocide, and combating AIDS (just to name a few). Unfortunately, many Christians continue to be closed-minded and refuse to see beyond themselves.

2. They’re privileged.

Change is hard to accept when things are working in your favor. As the common expression goes: “Why is change a good thing?”

Any theology, idea, or sermon that challenges people to sacrifice or reach beyond their comfort zone isn’t easily accepted.

Many Christians defend their position so passionately because the greatest beneficiaries of their worldview are themselves. New paradigms are stubbornly rejected by those benefitting from being the privileged majority. Anything “different” is seen as an illogical attack against their entitled position, and feelings of discomfort cause them to become even more insular. 

But if these same Christians sense that they’re the ones being persecuted, abandoned, ignored, or losing power, they become more accepting of different opinions, contrasting ideas, and new ways of thinking.

Anything profitable and favorable is preferred over anything requiring sacrifice. Thus, the Gospel of Christ is continually counter-cultural to the practices and lifestyles of many Christians who refuse to acknowledge, admit, or forsake their privilege.

When Christians Love Their Religion More Than Their God

by Stephen Mattson 03-16-2015
iamfree007 /Shutterstock.com

iamfree007 /Shutterstock.com

Instead of promoting Christ, Christians often promote …
their theology
their culture
their values
their creeds
their traditions
their spiritual practices
their specific type of baptism
their required form of communion
their style of sermon
their church
their denomination
their definition of salvation
their philosophy of evangelism
their form of ministry
their brand of worship
their interpretation of Revelation
their interpretation of the Bible
their favorite leadership model
their social customs
their laws, rules, and regulations
their political beliefs
their moral values

Imagine if Christians introduced people to their God instead of their religion.

4 Questions to Ask Before We Wish Death Upon ISIS

by Stephen Mattson 02-20-2015
ISIS image search, aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

ISIS image search, aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

With the unimaginable evils being committed by ISIS and other terror groups around the world, many Christians are calling for their violent destruction — some even voluntarily taking up arms.

At first glance this may seem like a heroic, brave, and honorable act, but before we start killing our enemies, Christians must ask themselves four very important questions:

1. Did Jesus clearly tell you to kill these people?

In the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly instructs his followers to avoid violence and promote peace.

Jesus states things like:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9 ESV)

And …

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39)

And …

There Is No Such Thing as Perfect Christianity

by Stephen Mattson 02-11-2015
 gst / Shutterstock.com

gst / Shutterstock.com

There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian, and there’s no such thing as perfect Christianity.

They don’t exist. One of the biggest lies Satan can tell you is that perfect spirituality can be achieved — it can’t.

There’s no perfect denomination.

There’s no perfect church.

There’s no perfect congregation size.

There’s no perfect style of worship.

There’s no perfect theology.

There’s no perfect children’s ministry curriculum.

There’s no perfect youth ministry philosophy.

There’s no perfect sermon formula.

There’s no perfect service sequence.

There’s no perfect leadership structure.

There’s no perfect interpretation of the Bible.

There’s no perfect strategy for evangelism.

Unfortunately, the idea of attaining perfect faith is perpetuated throughout Christendom. If you only attend this church more, pray more, tithe more, forgive more, sacrifice more, and ultimately do this or that just a little bit more — then you will attain blissful happiness, perfect harmony, divine communion with God, and a happily ever after eternity.

The World's 4 Most Popular (Non)Religions

by Stephen Mattson 02-05-2015
Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

Online shopping illustration, Fotinia / Shutterstock.com

For Christians, it’s sometimes hard to admit believing in the supernatural, the legitimacy of miracles, an afterlife, and following an ancient text written thousands of years ago by numerous authors that have been divinely inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent God.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

At first glance, Christianity seems at odds with an increasingly “secular” culture that views spirituality as old-fashioned and irrelevant, but our society reveals that everything — and everyone — is spiritual on some level.

 

1. The Religion of Sport

Few people pray more fervently, earnestly, and passionately than when their favorite sports teams — and athletes — are competing.

With arms outstretched, they wildly clap, cheer, chant, cry, and scream at the top of their lungs. Wearing costumes, jerseys, and following

5 Ways We Complicate God's Love

by Stephen Mattson 01-12-2015
Abstract image of Jesus' crucifixion, lubbas / Shutterstock.com

Abstract image of Jesus' crucifixion, lubbas / Shutterstock.com

The gospel message of Jesus is about love. God is love, and God wants us to reflect this reality to the world around us. But while Christians have been taught this simple reality for years, it’s easy to complicate the love of God. Here are five common ways we continually mess it up.

1. By Idolizing Theology

If theology doesn’t help you love God and love others more passionately — you’re doing it wrong.

Unfortunately, too many Christians, pastors, theologians, churches, and institutions use theology to withhold the love of God. They idolize theories, formulas, ideas, doctrines, translations, interpretations, and denominations instead of loving their own neighbors as they would themselves (Matt. 22:39).

Suddenly, instead of looking at people with a Christ-like love, we start judging them. We ask ourselves: Are they sinning? Are they going to hell? Are their beliefs absolutely correct? Subtly, we start putting qualifications and limitations on our love, categorizing others and wondering if they even deserve to be loved — they do!

The Bible is divinely inspired to point us to God and isn’t meant to be an academic textbook creating divisions, rifts, and distracting analysis. Don’t let your study of God devolve into an obsession over data, facts, and information, turning into pride, judgment, and a way to alienate others — make it about strengthening your relationship with Jesus.

By doing this, we can achieve what Jesus continually preached was most important: loving God and loving others.

An Inconvenient Truth: Everyone Is Created and Loved by God

by Stephen Mattson 12-22-2014
Victor Tongdee / Shutterstock.com

Victor Tongdee / Shutterstock.com

Sometimes we dehumanize people by speaking, thinking, or imagining about them in generalizations, by covering their true identity with generic labels and terms that are impersonal, cold, and less meaningful. For example, you can refer to your brother as “someone that I know” or your best friend as “this one guy.”

We often do this when we want to create separation or disassociate from others — often in order to protect ourselves, make ourselves look better, or attack others. Thus, we refer to our spouse as “this person I know” when we’re agreeing with a coworker about people who hold an opposing political belief we disagree with, or offhandedly use the phrase “this guy I know” about our dad when talking about annoying habits that we can’t stand.

We see Peter do the same thing in the Bible, referring to Jesus — his savior, closest friend, companion, teacher, and leader — as simply “him” when being accused of knowing Jesus right before the crucifixion.

Luke 22: 56-57: Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”

I don’t know “him.”

One word: him.

No harm done, right? It’s just a simple pronoun.

We do the same thing all of the time.

Him, her, she, he, them, those people, etc.

As innocent as this practice may seem, the ideas behind them are more cynical, and it becomes much more serious for Christians when we use terms, thoughts, and ideas as a way to disconnect people from God.

Can The Privileged Imagine Injustice?

by Stephen Mattson 12-08-2014
A hand holding a remote casts a shadow of a hand holding a gun. Image courtesy O

A hand holding a remote casts a shadow of a hand holding a gun. Image courtesy Oliver Hoffmann/shutterstock.com

Imagination is defined as, "The faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses."

For privileged Christians who have lived the majority of their lives receiving the benefits of systematic wealth, power, comfort, favor, and convenience, it can be almost impossible to conceive of a world where injustice, inequality, and perpetual oppression are daily struggles.

Many privileged believers experience an entire existence completely devoid of the suffering, trials, and endless forms of racism, stereotyping, and injustice that are the daily realities faced by the likes of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and millions of others who have lived under completely different — and radically unfavorable — circumstances.

Thus when parties from both sides try to communicate with one another, it is extremely difficult, frustrating, and nearly impossible to even begin to comprehend each other’s worlds — unless you utilize the spiritual discipline of imagination.

In the Bible, Jesus is constantly challenging the status quo and striving for justice, peace, and reconciliation against cultural factors and precedents that seem impossible to overcome. For the human vessels that God calls upon, they are required to imagine the inconceivable, accept the unthinkable, and break out of their stubborn paradigms in order to embrace the Divine.

7 Ways I Would Do Christianity Differently

by Stephen Mattson 09-30-2014
via CreationSwap.com

via CreationSwap.com

Faith is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress filled with mistakes, learning, humble interactions, and life-changing events. Here are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and start over:

1. I wouldn't worry about having the right answers.

There’s a misconception that the Bible is the Ultimate Answer Book and Christianity is a divine encyclopedia presenting the solutions to life’s biggest questions. In reality, the Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ instead of an academic collection of right or wrong doctrines.

Rather than wasting time, energy, and resources on superficial theological issues — I would focus more of getting to know Jesus. Never let a desire for “being right” obstruct your love for Christ.

5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Christian

by Stephen Mattson 09-23-2014
People finding Christianity. Image courtesy Digital Storm/shutterstock.com

People finding Christianity. Image courtesy Digital Storm/shutterstock.com

Few things are presented more inaccurately than Christianity. Often marketed through evangelism as a joyful, peaceful, loving, easy way to overcome the hardships of this world, in reality practicing Christianity is far more grueling than many pastors, churches, theologians, and Christian institutions make it out to be.

Christianity isn’t meant to be a form of escapism, a safety net, or a crutch. Rather, following Jesus means bravely sacrificing yourself for the love of humanity, becoming nothing for the sake of others.

So instead of preparing people for failure, impossible expectations, disappointment, and false illusions, here are five things everyone should know before becoming a Christian.

6 Monumental Questions Facing Every Church In America

by Stephen Mattson 09-08-2014
diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Churches continue to struggle with big questions, diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning new things, growing in wisdom, and interacting with a wide array of difficult topics. Boldly asking tough questions is essential to spiritual development.

Today, few questions are as important, impactful, meaningful, or divisive within Christianity as the following six:

1. Is homosexuality a sin?

While much of society continues to accept homosexuality as being a culturally and morally acceptable practice, many Christian institutions, organizations, and communities still consider it sinful.

Increasingly, Christians who publically denounce homosexuality are perceived as homophobic, bigoted, and on the completely wrong side of a major human rights movement. This results in the Christian faith being wholeheartedly rejected by a modern population that sees this type of fundamentalism as incompatible with modern ethics and conventional wisdom.

But other churches, denominations, and spiritual communities are changing — and some have fully embraced and supported gay rights.

Christianity currently finds itself facing four basic responses: 1) support homosexuality, 2) reject it as sinful, 3) accept it but still claim it’s sinful, and, 4) ignore the issue as much as possible.

Believers are deeply divided on the issue, and ultimately your stance on homosexuality defines much of what you think about God, theology, church, sin, and salvation.

This is one of the defining question facing today’s Christians, and many are still processing through what they believe and struggling to come up with an adequate answer.

To Spiritually Thrive, We Must First Spiritually Survive (And Help Others Do the Same)

by Stephen Mattson 08-27-2014
MJTH / Shutterstock.com

MJTH / Shutterstock.com

Theology doesn’t save us from spiritual burnout — people do.

No matter how convincing our doctrines and beliefs may be, they’re ultimately empty and unsatisfying if there’s no human relationship personifying them.

Throughout our faith journeys we’ll be faced with moments of suffering, hopelessness, and sheer desperation — sometimes lasting for what seems like forever. We’ll want to give up — sometimes we will.

These hardships can devolve into isolation, bitterness, and ultimately transform what was once a healthy spirituality and turn it into a total rejection of God. Within Christian culture we label this as “burnout,” but in reality it’s more of a “falling out.”

Not only do we have a falling out with God, but we also disassociate ourselves from other believers and those closest to us. When we feel hurt, betrayed, or abandoned by people we assume God is to blame, causing us to doubt God’s love for us — even questioning God’s very existence.

Many quit faith not because of a newfound disbelief in God, but because of broken and unhealthy human relationships — people are the main reason we give up on God.