The Cynical Christian?

I once heard my seminary preaching professor, John Holbert, say, “There’s no such thing as a cynical Christian.” That claim has really stuck with me over the years because I do consider myself a Christian, and yet if I’m honest I know I can be pretty cynical, too. At one level, I believe that Holbert was right, but then I turn on the news….

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung has a new and very interesting book out called Vainglory: The Forgotten Vice (Eerdmans, 2014). She discusses the role that human community plays in the affirmation of others and human flourishing. “Good human community requires attentiveness to and affirmation of others. That’s true of parenting, friendship, mentoring, and our relationship with larger groups…. In short, when communities offer their members the right sorts of mutual attentiveness and affirmation, people flourish” (22). She then goes on to discuss the negative consequences of the absence of this type of community:

For evidence, we need look no further than the damage done to those people who do not have this good. When they are invisible or ignored, or when their real goodness is denied or devalued by others, they are hurt. Neglected children show us this painful condition, and so do lives marred by sexist or racist treatment, or even abuse. Something good in them has not been seen, not been acknowledged, not been valued and appreciated as good. Missing is glory for the goodness they have–a glory none of us can live well without.

Initially I began to think about these words with regard to the way in which we often regard and treat people with disabilities, both in the church and in the wider culture. But of course these matters extend to any of the ways in which one individual mistreats another, or one group of people mistreats another. As we work through extremely difficult issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and other things that set us apart, Christians should bear in mind our core doctrine that behind all these differences is a common God-given humanity. When we regard and act toward one another in ways that demean one another or relegate others only to particular characteristics (such as race or disability status), we deny God’s very handiwork.

4 thoughts on “The Cynical Christian?

  1. Well, if I had to be completely honest about it, I too tend to be cynical. In order to be honest about it, however, requires we apply blame to something or someone that has caused us to be cynical. Looking at the definition of the word opens up the door to much that can be blamed. At times I am distrustful of my denomination and my fellow clergy. Sometimes I see decisions being made and dialogue happening that makes me want to call in the ESPN NFL guys. “C’mon Man!!!!” Way back in local licensing school, my dean – Richard Dunbar, said that we were all “colleagues”. He wanted those who were at school that weekend who were going through the ordination track to realize that they were on the same playing field as those who were being licensed. Everybody in that room that week needed to have this license to do ministry in the UMC, whether they were ordained or licensed. After ten years doing this in the UMC I can honestly say that there are less than 5 people I truly feel I can call colleagues. There is a gulf between the realm of the ordained and the realm of the licensed. I don’t know what to do to bridge it. I’m not a person who can make big decisions. So, I attend my cluster meetings and do what I’m supposed to do. But, the longer I go, the more cynical I feel.

  2. Yeah, I deal with it too. As a pastor, I can get some really cynical thinking about fellow clergy, the UMC, my peeps in the pews . . . just about everything. The more I’ve thought about it and talked to the Lord about it, the more I see that a lot of flows from thinking that I’m smarter, closer to God, etc. about some matter. A good dose of humility does wonders for cynicism. I mean, how can we cynical about others and our circumstances when we serve a God who can these people and circumstances in the blink of an eye.

    I now try to be more of a realist and a supernaturalist. I don’t try to be a cheerleader or cast “visions” or any of that silly stuff. I understand and believe the Bible’s vision of the world as a broken world full of broken people who need reconciliation with God and others, regeneration in their hearts, and renewal of their hearts, souls, and minds. Things are never going to perfect and it is not my job to make things perfect. My calling, according to Paul’s words to Timothy, is to “preach the word, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill God’s calling on my life. Bad people are going to go from bad to worse, human institutions will rise and fall, people will let you down . . . it’s going to happen. I can’t control that but I can control what I invest my time, energy, and efforts in. And somehow, some way – God is going to do something wonderful with my feeble life.

    I have seen the affect that cynicism has on myself and others. You can see it on others’ faces when you communicate cynicism. It’s not good. And so, I do my best to offer the Word. I don’t try to sweep stuff under the rug or spin things – that’s guile, a work of the flesh. But rather, I try my best to immerse myself in the Truth, live in the Truth, and speak the Truth . . . and not worry about what’s going to happen because of this. Cynicism is ultimately a fruit of practical atheism (living like God’s not real or what He has spoken is untrustworthy). Ironically (I guess), serving as a pastor sort of insulates me against cynicism because I have to speak against it all the time among my people.

    Good post, David. And by the way, we just had a Lay Witness Mission weekend with Aldersgate. It was awesome and you are totally right that ARM is one of the most important (if not THE most important) element in the UMC. Only the Spirit of God – the promise of the Father – is our hope. The root of the problem is not wrong beliefs/opinions as much as separation from God. Both the “right” and the “left” have this problem and it’s amazing how that when people are restored in their relationship with God and filled with the Spirit that things work out just right.

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