After Church – On “Authenticity”


Have you ever heard the constant calls that X protagonist of Y film felt more “human” than some other one in some other film? Or, perhaps, that one person (Jennifer Lawrence) felt more “authentic” than someone else (Anne Hathaway)? I’m not sure where the clarion call of authenticity arrived in our culture – we like those who act “real” – but it’s certainly something that remains a force in our perception of life.

It, somehow, reflect the same principle that makes up a megachurch today – or, to be more blunt, most evangelical churches in the United States. A pastor talks about himself for twenty minutes or so, regaling his audience with words of wisdom, narrative, and whimsy. He might have time to plug in a Bible verse now and again, just to prove that he has that air of authority that people so often associate with pastors. Then, somehow, the Word of God supposedly comes out of that framework. Far be it from me to say that the pastor hasn’t reached out to someone, but he’s certainly made it quite difficult for God to speak through the ME ME ME of the sermon text. As Douglas Wilson says in A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking –

We see the same thing in the conflict between biblical and modern theories of preaching. The biblical preacher is a herald, a steward. He has been entrusted to declare something that would have been true if he had never been born. He is to preach it with a strong view of his own ultimate irrelevance. He is to get into the pulpit and say, “Thus says the Lord…” And to the modern world, this is insufferable arrogance.

In stark contrast with this, a modern pretty boy preacher – excuse me, a pretty boy communicator – gets up front and can talk about himself the entire time he is there. He is open, transparent, honest, and emotionally approachable. He is humble, or so it is thought. The evidence? He is humble because he talked about himself a lot. And the other one, the insufferable one, he must think he has a personal pipeline to God. He must think that God wrote a book or something…wait.

This extends to our writing as well. Make no mistake: I do not think my opinion on anything is utterly, truly important. My goal is to get as close to God’s will as possible without addition or remainder. I want to become as 1:1 ratio to the Christian Gospel, message, and religion as humanly possible in this lifetime – an impossible task, but impossible intentionally to highlight the difference between man and deity. You may understand why I don’t often write about my personal ideas on things, or about my life experiences, or those things that we now define as “human” and “relatable”. Everyone experiences those things, sure, but they’re ultimately small potatoes in the grand scheme of life. They’re cataclysmic and heart-stopping only in the context of my personal life, not my world. Life goes on regardless of the events that occur, regardless of the emotions you feel. You’ll live through whatever you’re going through right now, trust me; all the emotion in the world isn’t going to kill you (or maybe it will, depending).

Emotions, however, reign over us in the present moment. As far as we tend to emphasize “rationality” and “progress”, it seems we’ve combined a contradictory mixture of science and emotions to produce something wholly bizarre. So do we see a complete reversal of values – the humble talk of themselves and the arrogant talk of God, at least according to most. What do we make of this cultural shift? We see a new standard set in place precisely to reverse those values from their God-given origin. For one, it makes being a pretentious, oblivious fool that much easier. You’re allowed to be a narcissist because no one but you gets to hold up the mirror – and by God, are you going to look at yourself until you die! But the Christian Gospel does not allow time for self all the time, every time, or even as the primary component. Our personal experience isn’t the important part:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

In 2 Corinthians 4, we see that our bondage to Christ makes us moot, almost, in the preaching of the Gospel. “Relatable” and “authentic” are not labels we want because they presuppose a standard, the world’s standard, of what constitutes a truly alive and ideal human being. That is the question: why would we want to live up to a standard set by a hostile force, one opposed to the beliefs we hold? That’s the question of modern evangelism in a nutshell: how far goes too far when making appeals to the “me” generation?

Not that they cannot provide effective criticism or context to our own faults, but they must be understood in the context of Christian orthodoxy and worldview, not from their particular set of values. I cannot stress this enough! We tend to accept cultural, social, and political constructs without a second thought. We bought into the society of progress; if not that, then at least the benefits of such a society. To extricate yourself from a culture of accusation and arrogance takes a lot of work and constant consciousness of your own societal impulses.

In that sense, we should try in Christian ministry to become as self-effacing as possible; in other words, we need to die in order to live. We need to take that seriously, and let God renew our minds onto the right path, the one designed for human beings ages ago. Otherwise, we just rest in the same mire from whence we came.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.