India’s political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) once bluntly commented on what he thought of Christ and his followers:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”1
Bestselling novelist Anne Rice recently repeated Gandhi’s sentiment. Twelve years ago, Rice left atheism and embraced Catholic Christianity, but she recently announced on her Facebook page, “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out.” Elaborating further, she stated: “I remain committed to Christ as always but not being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity...It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”2
This rejection of Christ or Christianity because of the attitudes, actions, and beliefs of Christians is an important apologetics challenge. The so-called “hypocrisy excuse” may be the most common reason cited for rejecting the truth-claims of the faith. I offer three points in response to this provocative objection.
1. What Are You Actually Rejecting?
In Rice’s case is she rejecting Roman Catholicism? Or is she rejecting traditional orthodox Christianity in favor of what she perceives to be a more politically tolerant and progressive expression of the faith? In other words, is her beef chiefly theological in nature or sociopolitical?
Some of Rice’s comments give evidence that she’s rejecting a particular sociopolitical perspective and arguably a caricature at that. She categorically states: “I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat…. I refuse to be anti-science.”3
Surely conservative Catholicism, as led by Pope Benedict XVI, is critical of the gay and feminist political agendas and especially of the plague of abortionon-demand. But that doesn’t mean that Catholicism is antigay and antifeminist. And the Catholic Church, especially in America, is hardly anti-Democrat or antiscience.
2. Sin Is a BIG Problem
Although far too many people view sin as just a bad deed or habit, the Bible describes sin as a debilitating force that permeates the core of every human being (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Proverbs 20:9). The truth is, humans are not sinners simply because they happen to sin. The problem is much deeper. Human beings sin because they are sinners by nature.
Scripture diagnoses humanity’s condition as suffering from original sin, having inherited a sin nature from its progenitor, Adam (Romans 5:12, 18–19). This inherited sin nature resides at the very heart (inner being) of humankind (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 5:19), and thus affects the entire person—including the mind, will, affections, and body (Ephesians 2:3; 4:17–19). In theological terms, human beings suffer a total depravity.
Although all Christians experience a moral transformation caused by the saving grace of God, the work of sanctification is never perfect in this life. The reality is that Christians still suffer the effects of a fallen nature (1 John 1:8). As C. S. Lewis candidly notes: “We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.”4 Upon extended reflection, Rice will likely recognize that she too is part of that infamous group she describes as “quarrelsome, hostile, and disputatious.”
3. Human Beings Need a Savior. Not a Guru or a Therapist or a Counselor
As a Hindu, Gandhi failed to realize that humankind’s condition is not one of being god yet suffering from divine amnesia. No, mankind’s problem is not merely lack of spiritual enlightenment. Rather, human beings are moral lawbreakers who have a corrupt nature (Romans 8:7). People are fallen sinners in need of a Savior (Titus 2:13). And at the heart of the historic Christian gospel is the proclamation that God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18–19).
There’s at least one bumper sticker that gets the gospel message right: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Certainly Christians should constantly seek to live lives of gratitude to God by striving to love God and their neighbor (Titus 2:11–12). But hypocrisy, while always regrettable, is inevitably part of the slow process of being fully transformed by the grace of God.
The bad news is that sin is a bigger problem than even most Christians realize. The good news is that Christ is an even greater Savior than we all realize.