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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Christians: It’s OK to Apologize (to Non-Christians)

by Stephen Mattson 07-24-2013
Apology text, chevanon / Shutterstock.com

Apology text, chevanon / Shutterstock.com

Jesus never said “I’m sorry.” Sure, when he was being crucified, he cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (NIV).” But technically he was apologizing on behalf of others and not for a sin he actually committed.

Apologizing is one of the only Christian virtues Jesus didn’t do himself.

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes — only non-Christians do. 

As children we’re taught to apologize for lying, stealing, hitting our little brother, budging in line, cheating on a test, and swearing (among other things). Most people with common decency apologize to each other for these trivial wrongdoings, but when it comes to spiritual things — especially on a widespread and corporate level — Christians rarely apologize to people beyond their faith.

Christianity's 5 Most Popular Scapegoats

by Stephen Mattson 07-23-2013
Scapegoat illustration, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

Scapegoat illustration, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

Within Christianity it’s easy to criticize. Here are some of the most common scapegoats:

1)  Conservative Fundamentalists

Christianity’s negative public image is — sometimes rightfully — blamed on these people. Perceived as being exclusive, resistant to change, addicted to power, and very aggressive, they’re characterized as anti-women, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, and anti-evolution.

Ten years ago the top scapegoat would’ve belonged to ‘Progressive Liberals,’ but what a difference a few years make. Despite the dramatic change, we can often be guilty of blaming fundamentalists just as easily and unfairly as they used to blame others.

A Convenient target, we often use them as a punching bag. Many theologians, bloggers, pastors, and leaders have become obsessed with fighting and arguing against fundamentalists, and it ultimately becomes a distraction. It’s so easy to focus on those we disagree with that our entire faith becomes a set of reactions to our opponents instead of a life lived promoting the Gospel of Christ.

7 Marks of A Stereotypical American Christian

by Stephen Mattson 07-02-2013
American flag and the Bible, SUE ASHE / Shutterstock.com

American flag and the Bible, SUE ASHE / Shutterstock.com

1) You Love To Argue, Fight, And Attack

There’s nothing quite like flooding people’s Facebook feeds with posts about the sins of gay marriage, abortion, and the Democratic Party or the volleyed claims of bigotry, hypocrisy, and self-interest.

American Christians seemingly love to argue with people and engage themselves in various culture wars. Whether it’s about the existence of global warming, prayer in schools, evolution, gun control, or homosexuality, you love to let people know that you’re RIGHT and they’re WRONG. Oh yeah, and if you don’t agree with me —You’re going to hell! Literally.

Your main forms of communication include boycotting, accusing, yelling, screaming, pointing, spewing, slandering, shaming, shaking your fists, and waving protest signs. In fact, you’ll probably write a venomous response to this piece in the comments section below.

13 Questions All Christians Eventually Ask Themselves

by Stephen Mattson 06-25-2013
Photo of a woman with question mark sign, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

Photo of a woman with question mark sign, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com

During the Christian spiritual journey, followers of Christ are forced to eventually face some basic faith-related questions. Here are a few of the most common ones:

1) What is salvation? 

What does salvation really mean? When does it happen and is it permanent? Do you choose your own salvation or is it predestined? Is everyone saved or just a select few? 

The idea of salvation is extremely complex, and our concept of it directly influences how we live, evangelize, and interact with the people around us. 

The Best (and Worst) Types of Christian Media

by Stephen Mattson 06-10-2013
Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to mass communication, Christians do some things well and some things horribly. Here’s a breakdown:

1)    The Best

Public Speaking:

Christians have been publicly speaking for thousands of years — since Old Testament times. Church culture is inundated with motivational and inspirational presentations, sermons, illustrations, speeches, and teachings. Sunday schools, youth groups, small groups, church services, camps, retreats, and conventions all have a variety of public speakers.

Christians were experts at the art of speaking before TED Talks became popular or business presentations were commonplace. People working in full-time ministry often speak in front of groups at least two or three times a week — sometimes more. They can sense when audiences are engaged or bored and have the ability to whip stadium crowds into an emotional and spiritual frenzy.

Consumer Christianity: How Much Money Does It Cost to Be a Christian?

by Stephen Mattson 06-04-2013
Christianity and money illustration,  design36 and vso / Shutterstock.com

Christianity and money illustration, design36 and vso / Shutterstock.com

Christianity can quickly devolve into caste systems, where faith communities are divided by the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor. Instead of unifying ourselves in Christ, we are dividing ourselves by how much money we can afford to spend.

How much money is required to be a Christian? Imagine how much money we’ve spent throughout our lifetime on “Christian” activities and products (not including tithing or mission-related donations) — now imagine if we gave this money to people who really needed it.

“Consumer Christianity” has turned our faith into a set of costs, and it’s becoming increasingly costly to maintain the Christian status quo. In John 2, the Bible tells the riveting story of Jesus entering the Temple and becoming furious at what He sees: vendors who have turned something holy into a commercial marketplace. Jesus is irate, and he basically tears the place apart because of their sin. But how different are our churches today?

Hashtag Christianity

by Stephen Mattson 05-30-2013
Social media illustration, Qiun / Shutterstock.com

Social media illustration, Qiun / Shutterstock.com

I have multiple online identities, the result of subconsciously trying to be a better version of myself — a better follower of Christ. But these various personalities that I portray among social media sites are fabrications. Here are a few examples why:

The single verse I post on Twitter is the only Scripture I read all day — even though my Facebook profile claims that the Bible is one of my favorite books.

C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Donald Miller, and Francine Rivers are also listed, but only to prove my Evangelical IQ.  

I’m #prayingforSandyHook and #prayingforBoston and #prayingforOklahoma, but I rarely pray.

I repost memes about global poverty, loving the poor, reconciliation and promoting peace, but I spend all of my spare time watching Netflix. ...

The Megachurch vs. Minichurch: Do Popularity and Growth Really Matter?

by Stephen Mattson 05-22-2013
Churches vector,  Baobaby Studio / Shutterstock.com

Churches vector, Baobaby Studio / Shutterstock.com

“God is doing amazing things!” is the Christian way of saying, “Look, we’re popular.”

The idea that faithfully following God’s will is associated with people attending (or donating to) churches, ministries, and organizations is a fallacy that can be debunked by simply looking around us. Islam is growing, Mormonism is growing, and so is Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following. They could all use the exact same logic: that popularity equals success. If we gauge God’s favor by the numbers of followers we have then Justin Bieber is probably God’s newly anointed prophet. 

But Christians are addicted to popularity. Denominations focus on church planting, pastors obsess over attendance, budgets rely on congregational turnout, and we pay special attention to Christian leaders who are famous.

In a Westernized culture captivated by success and money, we often make judgments based on the size of a church — or organization, ministry, and community. But our preconceived opinions are often wrong.

The Christian Inferiority Complex

by Stephen Mattson 05-20-2013
Great dane and labrador puppy, Erik Lam / Shutterstock.com

Great dane and labrador puppy, Erik Lam / Shutterstock.com

Many Christians have a confidence problem. They love Christ but are ashamed of everything associated with him. They want to be known as a Christian — just not that type of Christian. You know the type: the Westboro Baptists of the world; the scumbag televangelists on late-night cable; the fear-mongering preachers spewing apocalyptic prophecies; the proselytizers that scream at people outside of baseball stadiums; the celebrities claiming stupid things in the name of God; the “friends” who post bigoted messages on Facebook; the politicians who manipulate faith communities to serve their agendas; the anti-science, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-homosexuality, and anti-everything Christians who basically spread negativity wherever they go — the people who drag Christ’s name through the mud.

Today’s believers are hypersensitive and self-aware about the current events happening within media and culture, and in a society obsessed with consumerism, corporate loyalty, branding, product placement, and publicity, they understand that the Christian reputation is experiencing a fast decline, and they feel guilty by association.

This decline is not just happening in the “secular world,” but also within faith communities. Infighting, criticism, and self-deprecation are rampant within the American Church, and much of this is deserved, but it also reflects a corporate Christian identity that feels embarrassed and humiliated.

Christians: It's NOT a Sin to Change Your Beliefs

by Stephen Mattson 05-13-2013
Change illustration, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

Change illustration, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

When denominations, churches, faith-based organizations, theologians, pastors, and Christian celebrities change their beliefs on homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and other political and social hot-button issues, they often face a vitriolic pushback from many Evangelicals. Obviously, many see their final stance — such as supporting marriage equality — as a sin, but more surprisingly, many of the vicious reactions attack the very idea of changing one’s beliefs — as if change itself is bad.

American Christianity has created a culture of theological permanence, where individuals are expected to learn a set of beliefs and latch onto them for the rest of their lives. Many of our first theological beliefs were probably taught to us in Sunday school, which was part of a church, which was represented by a denomination, which had its own parochial schools and Bible colleges.

Theoretically, Christians can go from preschool to seminary hearing the exact same religious doctrines. Theologies are often considered too “valuable,” “right,” and “holy” to change or question. Therefore, pastors debate instead of dialogue, professors preach instead of listen, schools propagate instead of discuss, and faith-based communities ultimately reject any form of honest questioning and doubt.

Indoctrination is preferred over critical thinking, certainty is favored over doubt, and we expect our leaders to offer black-and-white answers. A change of theology is viewed as weakness, poor exegesis, and a sign of insecurity. “If they change their views now, how can I believe anything they say in the future?” Christians often perceive change as a break in trust and a loss of identity.

Mothers Day: The Most Painful Holiday of the Year

by Stephen Mattson 05-10-2013
Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Couple with negative pregnancy test, Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Moms should be celebrated, and they deserve all the flowers, spa days, pampering, and gifts given to them. I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me and my family — Mother’s Day doesn’t even begin to cover the gratitude I have for her.

But for many, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year. For women who have experienced miscarriages, have had children die, have had abortions, who want to have kids but are struggling or unable to, have had to give up their children or currently have broken relationships with their kids, the holiday serves as a stark reminder filled with personal sorrow.

Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.

The Art of Marketing Social Justice

by Stephen Mattson 05-06-2013

Networked globe. Photo courtesy Toria/shutterstock.com

The television flashes images of a skeletal little girl whose ribs seem to be popping out of her ballooning stomach as she sits in a pile of mud and stares at the camera with large pleading eyes. A “1-800” number flashes on the bottom of the screen. A celebrity does a Public Service Announcement for building wells in Africa. YouTube has sharp pre-packaged videos pulling at our heartstrings, and even months after being released, the KONY 2012 viral video continues to float around the internet.

For Westernized cultures saturated with various forms of media and technologically driven information, social justice is becoming increasingly "packaged," carefully marketed, and commercially manufactured to be a product that incorporates the mission it represents.

Whether social justice organizations should be doing this is debatable. Like everyone else, they’re trying to survive in a capitalistic system that ruthlessly competes for our every dollar. The only problem is that we aren’t the ultimate consumers. For social justice non-profit groups, the sick, poor, starving, abused, and desolate are the true consumers; we’re just the financial and volunteer base needed to keep the system working. To do this, organizations are discovering that a corporate business model is sometimes the only way to survive — and sometimes thrive — within the cutthroat world of advertising and solicitation.

5 (Stupid) Reasons Christians Reject Environmentalism

by Stephen Mattson 04-22-2013
Tree hugger, Andrei S / Shutterstock.com

Tree hugger, Andrei S / Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, Earth Day is rarely celebrated within mainstream Christianity beyond a Sunday sermon, and environmentalism is often frowned upon by evangelical leaders instead of championed. Here are the main reasons Christians have rejected caring for our environment.

Urban Legends: Rethinking Inner-City Ministry

by Stephen Mattson 03-15-2013
Chicago skyline,  rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Chicago skyline, rSnapshotPhotos / Shutterstock.com

I used to lead and organize inner-city mission trips. Churches, youth groups, non-profit organizations, and well-intentioned philanthropists would excitedly arrive within the diverse and fast-paced world of Chicago and enthusiastically dive into whatever tasks we gave them. The work they volunteered for made a huge difference in people’s lives, but more importantly, it dramatically challenged — and changed — their own way of thinking about urban ministry.

For years “The City” has been the pet project of Christians throughout America. Billions of mission trips have been made to homeless shelters, food pantries, and poor neighborhoods, all in an effort to “clean up,” “rehabilitate” and “evangelize” in Christ’s name. Unfortunately, the inner-city isn’t as stereotypical as we want it to be, and our missionary zeal can often cause more harm than good.

Here is the most common myth that Christians mistakenly apply to urban areas: The Inner-City is Morally Bankrupt.