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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#SochiProblems: Hey, Let's Laugh About How Other People Actually Live

by Stephen Mattson 02-07-2014
#sochifails Tweet

#sochifails Tweet

Like everyone else, I’m addicted to the Twitter photos, Facebook posts, and litany of other social media feeds that are exposing Sochi’s unappealing shortcomings — but am I being fair?

It’s easy for me to forget that I live in one of the richest and privileged countries in the world, and although I consider myself a blue-collar employee working hard to make a living — I’m a citizen of one of the wealthiest and exclusive populations in existence.

I own a car (and a minivan), I have a house (with heating and central air), I buy a cup of coffee every morning, and spend lots of free time watching Netflix on my TV (a modest flat screen). These are just a few of the “normal” things that are luxuries I continually take for granted.

While much of humanity is engulfed in poverty, famine, war, and struggling to develop their society and better themselves — or just simply trying to survive — I’m complaining about the connection speed on my laptop (I may have to use my tablet instead).

Yes, the Olympics spent A LOT of money to create a party-like atmosphere filled with the comforts of Westernized society, but in many ways I’ve become a victim of my own comfort — accustomed to my ethnocentric American lifestyle.

I’m used to clean bathrooms, functional sewer systems, spectacular hotels, and glitzy restaurants — but much of the world isn’t. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a bubble detached from the reality of the rest of the world.

It’s easy to laugh at how others live, especially when we don’t have to face the same struggles. We assume our wealth and standard of living actually make us better — we become elitist and exhibit a superior sense of self-righteousness.

When Christians Love Theology More Than People

by Stephen Mattson 01-22-2014
Holding hands, Mats Bergström / Shutterstock.com

Holding hands, Mats Bergström / Shutterstock.com

Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.

Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”

Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.

It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.

When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian

I Hope We Never Become a 'Christian Nation' Again

by Stephen Mattson 01-10-2014
Jiri Hera/Shutterstock

Jiri Hera/Shutterstock

It’s become a disturbing trend among Christians to lament the downfall of our nation’s “Christian identity” — to judge and criticize the spiritual downfall of the current generation. They boast about the glorious past and predict an apocalyptic demise for the future — brought on by the secularization and ethical demise of our society.

This attitude is based around a sense of fear, judgment, cynicism, fatalism, and hopelessness.

Many Christians today use the term “post-Christian” to describe the United States in conjunction with their assumptions that our nation is falling deeper and deeper into a moral decline, but this word presupposes that we were Christian to begin with. We weren’t. 

Help! I Love Jesus but Hate Christianity!

by Stephen Mattson 01-03-2014
Anneka/Shutterstock

Many Christians are tired of having others define their faith. Anneka/Shutterstock

Sentiments of frustration are growing among many followers of Jesus who admire Christ but despise certain things associated with him.

They look at the New Testament and are attracted to Jesus’s selfless acts of generosity, service, and love, but don’t see the same spirit in today’s “Christian” institutions, churches, communities, and faith leaders.

Modern faith is often a complex minefield of theologies, doctrines, practices, and expectations, where individuals carefully walk on eggshells to avoid a litany of “sins” and “heresies” that will inevitably attract the wrath from religious friends, strangers, and authorities. 

Six Reasons Americans Still Need Christianity

by Stephen Mattson 12-20-2013
PeterVrabel/Shutterstock

Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless. PeterVrabel/Shutterstock

In a secularized society obsessed with consumerism, entertainment, and modernization, Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless, but it still serves some very valuable and profound purposes. Here’s why Americans still need it:

Seven Lies About Christianity -- Which Christians Believe

by Stephen Mattson 12-03-2013
Dennis Kuvaev/Shutterstock

Prayer can feel good, but it’s a myth that Christians are always happy Dennis Kuvaev/Shutterstock

There’s an unhealthy expectation within many faith communities that we’re always supposed to be joyful, as if being anything other than a smiling, peaceful, and jolly spiritual cheerleader is detrimental to Christianity.

“Being a good witness” is often the Christian way of saying, “act the part.” But while contentment and happiness is a spiritual virtue, it should never come at the expense of honesty, transparency, and truthfulness. We shouldn’t pretend to be happy and use the facade of joy as an evangelism tool. 

God desires reconciliation and renewal, and this often means confronting broken relationships and dealing with sin within our lives. Asking for forgiveness, admitting addiction, confronting abuse, seeking justice, requesting help, and serving others often makes you the opposite of happy — and that’s OK.

The Most Ignored and Undervalued People Within Churches Today

by Stephen Mattson 11-19-2013
Bocman1973/Shutterstock

People with disabilities are among those often ignored by churches. Bocman1973/Shutterstock.com

Churches are supposed to be communities that represent Christ’s infinite love — and many of them do — but certain groups of people seem to be continually ignored, alienated, undervalued, and simply lost within American churches. Leadership structures, social expectations, religious values, and traditions within faith communities have a tendency to favor some groups but not others, resulting in discrimination instead of equality, exclusion instead of acceptance, and prejudice instead of fairness. 

Addiction to Consumerism, Superficial Bickering Clouds Our Real Mission to Help a Hurting World

by Stephen Mattson 11-08-2013
We condemn Westboro Baptist, but avoid real controversies that are hurting Chris

We condemn Westboro Baptist, but avoid real controversies that are hurting Christianity. Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock

Churches are expected to provide products and services, where worship styles, start times, and preaching methods are supposed to cater to our individual wants and needs — we expect perfection, and when it inevitably doesn’t happen, we create conflict.

Our desire to critique and confront everything we view as being wrong, combined with our insatiable appetite for drama, has created the perfect environment for controversy. Since we’re the customers, we assume we’re always 100 percent right — or should be treated as though we are — even when we’re not. Church leaders now spend more time trying to placate parishioners than they do facilitating world-changing ministry. ... Theologians and pastors seemingly make a living disagreeing with one another. Instead of being a gospel of unification, we use Jesus to divide and conquer. 

Do Churches Alienate Intellectuals?

by Stephen Mattson 10-29-2013
SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

Academic on the outside looking in. SNEHIT & hxdbzxy / Shutterstock

In a world where people are craving inspiration, growth, and information, many churches maintain a cyclical pattern based on redundancy, safety, and closed-mindedness. Unfortunately, many pastors and Christian leaders continue to recycle old spiritual clichés — and sermons — communicating scripture as if it were propaganda instead of life-changing news, and driving away a growing segment of people who find churches ignorant, intolerant, absurd, and irrelevant.

As technology continues to make news and data more accessible, pastors are often failing to realize that they're no longer portrayed as the respected platforms of spiritual authority that they once were.

Instead of embracing dialogue and discussion, many Christian leaders react to this power shift by creating defensive and authoritarian pedestals, where they self-rule and inflict punishment on anyone who disagrees, especially intellectuals.

Have Churches Abandoned the Elderly?

by Stephen Mattson 10-23-2013
Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix / Shutterstock.com

Hands of senior citizen, HixnHix / Shutterstock.com

In an evangelical Christian climate obsessed with change, cultural trends, and trying to stay up-to-date and relevant, it's easy to undervalue the elderly. The bestselling authors, the hottest worship bands, the superstar conference speakers, and megachurch pastors are all youngish, or at least certainly not elderly, and they’re mainly marketed towards younger to middle-aged audiences.

In many ways, Christians have suffered from the sin of apathy, being guilty of ignoring a large segment of believers — the elderly — who are continually forced into the shadows of our ministries, leadership structures, publicity campaigns, vision, and dialogue.

In an era where fast-paced technology rules the world, elderly Christians are losing their platforms for communication — and the rest of us are too busy to reach out to them. Social media, blogs, websites, tablets, and smartphones continually shrink access to an elderly population that is unable to keep up — and we aren’t waiting for them.

Dear Young Christians: Reject Legalism, NOT Discipline!

by Stephen Mattson 10-15-2013
Illustration of teen arguing with parents, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of teen arguing with parents, Ron and Joe / Shutterstock.com

Within the evangelical Christian universe, few things are more damning than being labeled 'Legalistic.' The term evokes images of strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, unforgiving judges, and worst of all —unpopularity

When churches, schools, pastors, institutions, and communities are viewed as legalistic, they are demonized and shunned — sometimes rightfully so.

One disturbing trend I’ve noticed — especially among young believers — is to assume that everything associated with a few of legalism’s attributes: structure, requirements, consequences, and work, is legalistic — it’s not.

8 Ways to Survive Christian Culture

by Stephen Mattson 10-09-2013
Christian rock band performing in Ukraine, Nadiia Gerbish / Shutterstock.com

Christian rock band performing in Ukraine, Nadiia Gerbish / Shutterstock.com

Christian culture, along with the spiritual leaders, churches, institutions, communities, and other entities it consists of, are supposed to make our faith stronger. But in many cases the opposite happens, and it actually causes our faith to die. In religious environments often surrounded by cynicism, hypocrisy, hurtfulness, and disappointment, it’s easy to give up on Christianity. Here’s how to prevent spiritual burnout:

1)    Avoid Legalism

Historically, Christianity has always struggled with legalism, where churches often forced beliefs and practices on people with domineering power. Legalistic groups thrive on strict rules, ruthlessness, enforced doctrines, and authoritarian judgment.

Various agendas — that are valued more than the loving gospel of Christ — are promoted and pushed onto people. And it wasn’t that long ago (in fact, it still exists) that American believers were expected to be anti-gay, conservative, pro-choice, anti-evolution fundamentalists.

If fear, condemnation, and shame are used as spiritual weapons to gain power, influence, and control — run!

Stop Blaming Youth for Christianity’s 'Demise'

by Stephen Mattson 09-30-2013
Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com

Youth concept, Kjpargeter / Shutterstock.com

Expressions like "the world is getting worse and worse" and "we are living during the end times" are commonly thrown around within evangelical circles, and it needs to stop.

Are things really getting worse? Sure, church attendance might be down, fewer people are identifying themselves as 'Christian' on surveys, and the percentage of atheists continues to rise, but that doesn't mean the apocalypse is right around the corner.

Yet, I continually hear pastors and Christian leaders lament these evil times and Depraved Generation. They emotionally and emphatically condemn this fallen world and seemingly fulfill their own false prophecies by promoting a pessimistic outlook of the future of Christianity — simultaneously validating their theories by judging our future of Christianity: the youth.

The common scapegoat for Christianity's current “demise” is often blamed on young people, who are stereotyped as being more liberal, progressive, post-modern, and susceptible to spiritual relativism than ever before. They're the ones who have bought into the lies of the Emergent church, the temptation of the Prosperity Gospel, the sinfulness of our media-saturated world, and have become addicted to entertainment and denied the inerrancy of Scripture.

Can You Really Tell the Difference Between Christians and Non-Christians?

by Stephen Mattson 09-26-2013
Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com

Religion survey box, alexmillos / Shutterstock.com

There is an old Christian hymn that has the lyrics "They'll know we are Christians by our love." It was written in the late 60s and was inspired by the Bible verse John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) 

Really? We're supposed to be able to tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And the difference is love?! 

In reality, it's not nearly that simple, and the fact is, there’s no visible difference. 

If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, the gym, a school, or your work, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through actions — who is a Christian and who isn't, and we should be careful not to judge. 

Some of the kindest, nicest, authentic, and wonderful people I know don't believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright disgusting Christians.

4 Ways Jesus Was Like a Millennial

by Stephen Mattson 09-24-2013
Illustration by God's Politics Editor, all images pulled from Shutterstock.com

Illustration by God's Politics Editor, all images pulled from Shutterstock.com

1) Jesus Avoided Labels 

In fact, a large part of his ministry was breaking down preconceived titles, trying to bring about a world where there would be no differentiation between Jew or Gentile. He promoted the idea that loving God trumped racial, ethnic, social, religious, and political identities.

This doesn’t mean we’re simply “all the same underneath.” Jesus recognized that people had distinct differences, on both a personal and communal level. He embraced unique cultures and traditions and utilized them to reveal his glory, recognizing and valuin

Christianity: Has Education Replaced Transformation?

by Stephen Mattson 09-09-2013
Right and Wrong image, marekuliasz /Shutterstock.com

Right and Wrong image, marekuliasz /Shutterstock.com

Turning our faith into a set of rights and wrongs is partially based upon our own insecurities, but our fears are often warranted by how others respond to us.

“You attend that church?! Oh, that’s your pastor?! You went to that seminary?! You’re reading that book?! You like that theologian?! You belief that?! You like that type of worship?!”

It’s happened to us all at least once — someone labels our faith as wrong.

Question after question, one after another, on a daily — almost hourly — basis. If we aren’t careful, our faith and spirituality can quickly devolve into a set of distinct questions and responses.

In a corporate culture driven by hard data, statistics, evidence, trends, sales, surveys, and measurable information, our beliefs can be treated like a quarterly business summary — dissected, analyzed, and studied.

Our relationship with God turns into a cold and calculated set of methodologies, hypotheses, and professional-driven structures — the intimacy, raw communication, and love slowly disappears.

The mystery of God becomes something meant to be overcome, explained and defeated. And our church institutions become modeled after Fortune 500 companies instead of reflecting the vibrant early church communities of the New Testament.

Christian Pacifism: Relevant Beyond Syria

by Stephen Mattson 09-04-2013
Create Peace sign, nagib / Shutterstock.com

Create Peace sign, nagib / Shutterstock.com

As the United States prepares to “officially” become involved in the Syrian war, Christian pacifism has reemerged as a much-discussed and relevant topic. Unfortunately, the concept has been somewhat misrepresented, undervalued, and often downright demonized within evangelical communities.

Critics often assume Christian Pacifism is some sort of radical political movement associated with marijuana-smoking hippies who are anti-government conspiracy theorists. To make matters worse, pop-culture (and much of Christian culture) has made pacifism seem, well, passive — as if pacifists are unpatriotic and un-American heretics who refuse to enlist in the military and avoid physical confrontations at all costs. They are characterized and perceived as weak, scared, and gutless.

In reality, the beliefs that form Christian pacifism are spiritual and scripturally founded around the life of Christ. And whether you agree with the theology, it’s hard to passively dismiss the Biblical argument for pacifism as some sort of crazy mumbo-jumbo.

Failing to Take the Bible Seriously

by Stephen Mattson 08-23-2013
An open Bible. Photo courtesy Oleg Begunenco/shutterstock.com.

An open Bible. Photo courtesy Oleg Begunenco/shutterstock.com.

Much of Westernized Christianity’s recent decline has been blamed on the failure of churches and denominations to adapt to modern times — either becoming irrelevant or, contrarily, becoming too commercialized and “fake,” creating a superficial form of faith that drives parishioners away from institutionalized religion.

Lost in the conversation is a much deeper issue, one that revolves around losing confidence in the Bible.

For years churches have glossed over, rationalized, and provided shallow answers to thorny Biblical problems that are no longer being ignored — and it’s becoming harder to defend texts that appear contradictory and culturally irrelevant.

The Fake Church v. the Real Church

by Stephen Mattson 08-08-2013
Imposter illustration, Scott Maxwell / LuMaxArt / Shutterstock.com

Imposter illustration, Scott Maxwell / LuMaxArt / Shutterstock.com

The “secular world” has liars and thieves, adulterers, cheaters, and hypocrites. It’s a place full of child molesters, domestic abusers, and addicts. Where loneliness is rampant, mental illness is on the rise, and individuals routinely try to numb their pain via drugs, alcohol, and sex. Divorce is everywhere, pornography infects the minds of millions, and infidelity occurs on a regular basis.

The church often presents itself as an alternative to the “real world,” a place where these things don’t exist.

Many churches refuse to admit that these problems are affecting them. In reality, there is little statistical difference between Christians and non-Christians relating to these issues. Christians don’t receive a special pass that protects them from experiencing mental illness, suffering, struggling with addiction, abusing other people, being abused, or failing.

Our faith in Christ gives us hope and strength and courage, but it doesn’t erase reality, and it isn’t meant to create a flawless utopia where we can escape from the world’s problems. But many churches attempt to do just that — trying to create the perception of perfection.

In some church communities, there is the appearance that porn, sexual abuse, and rampant sin don’t exist. Even non-sinful things (mental illness, poverty, etc.) are treated as stigmas that are intentionally shunned. This is often misinterpreted as holiness — it’s not.

In God We (Don’t) Trust

by Stephen Mattson 08-06-2013
Broken faith concept,  jcjgphotography / Shutterstock.com

Broken faith concept, jcjgphotography / Shutterstock.com

The truth is that our faith and spirituality is often dependent on hundreds of different relationships, factors, institutions, and circumstances that we directly correlate with God.

When our Christian expectations are shattered, it’s easy to blame God. We mistakenly idolize the things that are associated with God, and assume that if one of these aspects failed then God failed.

“Christianity” will fail us. Our churches will attack, our pastors will lie, our mentors will manipulate, our friends will betray, and when this happens, our beliefs will be shaken to their core.