Monday, March 1, 2010

REVIEW: When Bad Christians Happen To Good People, by Dave Burchett

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: Where We Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the DamageUPDATE 3/11/10: The author of the book, Dave Burchett, has informed me that he is currently updating the book for a 2nd Edition, due out in the summer of 2011. I would say to wait until it comes out to buy it, but it's so good you should buy it now anyway, and then buy it again when the next edition arrives!

They say that every writer (or aspiring writer!) has a book out there that they wish they had written. A book that captures the essence of their passions and is a near-perfect example of why they got into writing in the first place…the only difference being that this book explains concepts better, tells wittier and funnier stories, and is more skillfully written than anything this person could ever have come up with no matter how many drafts he went through.

I think I found my “book I wish I had written”. It’s called When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, by David Burchett.

Even before I got into Chapter 1, even before the Introductionin the Acknowledgments of all places!—I had already read a line that made me think, “I wish I had thought of that.” In it, Dave mentions his dog Charlie, how faithfully loyal and loving he is. Then he goes on to say, “If I loved people as much as Charlie does, we would have a perpetual revival in our neighborhood.”

Amen to that! When you think about the purity of a dog’s love—isn’t that exactly how we should be as believers? In that one sentence Burchett perfectly encapsulates one of the core problems that American Christianity faces today: we don’t love people.

We condemn them. We judge them. We look down on them in smug self-righteousness.

We have become the Pharisees.

Now of course I don’t mean that all of us believers in Jesus have done that. Far from it. There are many faithful and loving people who call Jesus their master. In fact my personal belief is that this type of attitude is in the distinct minority. Yet the culture of Christianity in the U.S.A. today has that reputation without a doubt. As is often the case, a few loud bad apples can spoil the image of an entire population. So, certainly some of this negative reputation is simple prejudice, but a good portion of it has been sadly earned.

I’ve been saying it for years, and I’ll say it again here. The real Christians in America, those who hear Jesus’ words and put them into practice are loving, gracious, and give selfless service to those in need around them. I think of a lady in my church who quit her job as an accountant to start a ministry going out and giving clothing to the homeless in our community every single weekend of the year. You’ve never heard of her, but I guarantee you that her simple work has produced more good in the world than all of the gay-marriage/Harry Potter/abortion/you-name-it protests ever conducted in the history of the world ever.

Christians like these go about the good work of God quietly, but they make a huge difference in the world. There are far too many, however, that call Jesus Lord but seem to have completely missed the core of his teachings, indeed the very core of his being, which was always love and acceptance. Do you know what the only group of people that Jesus ever condemned was?

That’s right. The religious people from His own faith who claimed to know God. Guess what?

That’s us today.

Ouch. Maybe it’s time for us to crack open the gospels again and re-read them with a fresh spirit.

Dave takes us to task in his book, bluntly confronting the (sometimes good) issues that drag us away from the purity and simplicity of following Jesus. My only complaint about the book is that I wish he’d be even sharper sometimes! He pulls his punches often, apologizing in advance for offending some of his readers. I say, be unapologetic! The people who would be offended by the things he has to say are the very people who most need to read this book!

He’s not standing above his audience in judgment, though, when he says the things he does. He includes himself as one of the ‘Bad Christians’ at times. It's for this reason I don’t think he needs to offer any apologies for hurt feelings—although I do understand why he does it (catching more flies with honey and all that).

Part I: Silencing the Lambs—the Indefensible Things We Do To One Another

We Christians have become experts at shooting our own wounded. Bad Christians serves as a sharp, often cutting, reminder that our business as Christians is to be about loving people. In this first section, he explains very concretely how we have failed to do that with our own people, and what our image in the world is now as a result. Some of the stories Dave tells about the horrible judgments Christians have laid upon other Christians will break your heart. Others will just make you mad. But it serves as a powerful reminder just how revolutionary Jesus’ message and personality really was. If we can’t even love our own people well, then this whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business really must be a lot harder than it sounds.

Part II: Why Won’t Those Heathens Listen?

The second section builds on the first, and expands his premise that not only have we failed to love each other as fellow believers, but we have failed to love those around us as well.

Christians have perfected a three-part strategy for non-influence in the world. It’s breathtaking in its effectiveness!
  1. Victimization
  2. Separatism
  3. Anti-Intellectualism
It’s the “we don’t want anybody to care what we have to say” trifecta! The Christian culture in America has become one of pathetic victimhood. They’re waging war on Christmas! We can’t pray in schools! Hollywood doesn’t like us! Waah waah waah so much whining! Does anybody seriously believe that this attitude glorifies Jesus in the slightest of ways? Believers in Jesus used to be brutally murdered simply for believing in him. Today we live in one of the most religiously free societies the world has ever seen. So stop complaining, whiners!

“Victimization diminishes Christ.” Well said, Dave.

Because we have failed so utterly in these two areas of loving each other and loving the world, it has given the world around us a rationale for rejecting our claims outright. “If this is what a life of following Jesus looks like” they say, “then I want absolutely no part of that.” You can argue until the cows come home that you shouldn’t judge Jesus based on his followers (and you shouldn’t—you really should judge Jesus based on Jesus), but in the end how was it that Jesus said the world would know we were truly His disciples? By how we loved one another.

Ouch again.

Did you know that in the early days of Christianity this really was how the world knew us? In the Roman Empire, the Jesus-followers were known for caring for the sick, the downtrodden and the outcast—to the point that the Roman Emperor himself noted that “the impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well.” Wouldn’t you like to see our faith known for that again?

Part III: Reality-based Faith—Being Real in an Artificial World

In this final section Dave gives coaching in how to live our life of faith the way it should be. How to reclaim the power of our faith. It starts by realizing that faith in Jesus is not an ‘American ideal’:

Running Jesus through an American filter is one reason we have trouble understanding who He is. He doesn’t fit our culture.
This is a keen observation. Christianity’s values have been taken over by American values, i.c. rugged individualism, self-made men and women, God helps those who help themselves….all of which are great for building your net worth but are diametrically opposed to the message of Jesus. No wonder we get it so wrong today!

I personally think this is the biggest reason American Christianity has become so weak and flaccid. It’s become more of a culture in America than a faith. We probably all know people who are Jewish by birth but have no real connection whatsoever to their faith. That’s because they are culturally Jewish, but not really faithfully Jewish. The same thing has happened with Christianity in America. It’s became so mainstream that it shifted from being a radical way to live to the cultural norm. “Going to church” somehow became the only thing required to call yourself a Christian. Heck, even just calling yourself a Christian is enough for some people. Our religious freedoms in this country are a double-edged sword; certainly is a good thing that we are free to worship or not worship as we see fit, but there is an ever present danger of becoming complacent.

The risk in writing a book like this (or agreeing heartily with its premise as I do) is that you come off as haughty, judgmental, and condemning…exactly the attitudes Dave is confronting. He does a very good job of avoiding this though, and I never once thought he was putting himself above the rest of us while reading it. Dave identifies himself as every bit the kind of Bad Christian he is confronting. And in saying how much I love his book, I must also admit that I often fall woefully short of my own ideals—it’s all too easy for me to be judgmental of those I feel are getting life and faith all wrong. But we must always strive to follow the example of Jesus, that of grace, charity and mercy.

Easier said than done, eh?

In the end, the church will never be perfect. Even if every single one of us did our utmost to be perfect ambassadors of the gospel, we would still fall short time and time again. We shouldn’t let that fact stop us from trying to do better, though. There is much room for improvement!

When Bad Christians Happen To Good People will shine a laser beam into your own heart to show you where you personally can do better, and will motivate you to actually do it. And in so doing, you’ll feel yourself drawing closer to Jesus. This book is an unqualified must-read…I wish I had written it.

Bravo Mr. Burchett!

Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
likewise Falsehood aptly defended loses not it's falsity.

P.S. Check out his blog, Confessions of a Bad Christian, by clicking here or on the blogroll on the right. It's excellent!


  1. Outstanding review. I feel like I am so guilty of many of these things, but disguise my pride behind a guise of "zeal for truth". Wonderful insights. I may have to pick this one up one of these days.

    God bless!

  2. I can't wait to read it now!


  3. Wow - perfect fit for the small group study I am in right now and we talked about some of these topics including how only God can love us truly unconditionally - of course I had to ask how dogs (yellow labradors in particular I meant) fit with this concept. Great insights Jeremy!

  4. Great review! This has touched on much of what I've been pondering on lately, but it has also given me some new insight. Sounds like a great book; thanks for sharing this information with us.

  5. Great review, great book. I stumbled upon Dave Burchett a few years ago and have enjoyed reading both of his books and his blog. His candor, humility and humor are refreshing. An excellent reminder to those of us would-be Pharisees and also those of us who have been on the receiving end of some "Bad Christianity". Thanks, SB, for such a thorough review, and a well-deserved endorsement!

  6. I remember sitting down between two members of differing evangelical churches and their fiery debate over theology. I though I was in the midst of a national political debate. I couldn't see the Christian vision in it. It's not a contest people. Love the Neighbour is the rock on which the faith is built. It is what society should be built on.