Hi and welcome back! For a while now, I’ve used the shorthand term Jesus-ing to describe the inarticulate way Christians imagine their religion works: its mechanism, its central process, so to speak. When we were talking about churchless believers last week, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a lot of Christians offering concrete strategies for bringing these believers back into church sheepfolds. The ones who do offer strategies tend to offer ones based around Jesus-ing harder. But that won’t work here any more than it’s ever worked anywhere in Christianity. Today, let me show you why Jesus-ing harder doesn’t ever fix anything — and why it can’t.
(Unless I say otherwise, all quote-marked material comes from original material. I don’t scare quote without warning ya. All emphases, likewise, come from quoted material.)
Jesus-ing Harder: A Favorite Christian Non-Solution.
When we talk about Jesus-ing, we’re talking about Christians’ gauzy conceptualization of the central mechanism and process of their belief system. It’s what they do to express their Christian beliefs and how they see those beliefs playing out in their devotions. Jesus-ing encompasses prayer, church attendance, tithing, and Bible study, yes. It also involves doing the stuff Christians think Jesus wants them to do, like charity work and being kind to others.
To cap off the sundae, Jesus-ing also requires correct mindthink, of course. Christians must cultivate the correct opinions and beliefs so they can Jesus properly.
As you might suspect, Christians’ definition of correct Jesus-ing is completely subjective. Nobody in the entire history of the religion has ever come up with the proper amount or type of devotions are required here, nor defined exactly how many of these devotions believers must do to qualify as TRUE CHRISTIANS™, nor how often they must perform them.
As a result, one Christian’s correct Jesus-ing is another’s legalism and still another’s lukewarmness. (These Christianese terms mean, respectively, Jesus-ing that’s way more intense than the judge’s own, and Jesus-ing that’s nowhere near as rigorous.)
But way too many Christians are completely convinced that they can totally fix any problems they have through correct Jesus-ing.
Jesus-ing Harder: In the Wild.
(I grabbed the books quoted below from my study bookshelf at random.)
Look at literally any book or blog post written by toxic Christians nowadays that concerns literally any problem within Christianity, and chances are you’ll see an exhortation to the flocks to Jesus harder to fix that problem.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: In this classic 1994 book, Mark Noll laments how far evangelicals have fallen intellectually. He ends his book by insisting that correct beliefs and practices will absolutely bring evangelicals back up to intellectual speed (p. 252):
If evangelicals believe such realities [meaning their mythology], the life of our minds may yet awaken as well. [. . .] The search for a Christian perspective on life — on our families, our economies, our leisure activities, our sports, our attitudes to the body and health care, our reactions to novels and paintings, as well as our churches and our specifically Christian activities — is not just an academic exercise.
He doesn’t mean just gaining a “Christian perspective” mentally, of course. As this quote reveals, he actually wants evangelicals to adopt a 100% Jesus-flavored worldview. He fully expects that worldview to bleed out into Christians’ everyday lives.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: In this classic 2005 book, Ron Sider laments how hypocritical evangelicals have become. To fix it, he calls for way more of that abusive “church discipline” stuff that authoritarians love so much. But he ends the book insisting that prayer and repentance will totally fix evangelicals’ problems (p. 124):
The Savior longs to forgive even scandalously unfaithful contemporary evangelicals if we will just repent.
And pray. We need to pray mightily for a sweeping movement of revival. If we pray for revival and sanctification, the Lord of the universe pledges to hear us.
Bless his little cotton socks.
How Jesus-ing Harder is Supposed to Work.
Yes yes, Jesus-ing is important. Yes yes, we get that. But what does Jesus-ing look like and how exactly is it supposed to work?
You’ll find no concrete, tangible answers from Christians there.
From 2020’s hilariously-overblown The Compromised Church…
The church needs to turn to the heart of God himself, not prop up another man or institution in front of that. [p. 168]
… to the humblest blog post, like “The One Simple Fix That Could Totally Restore Christianity’s Impact in the Modern Era”…
At the core of the matter is a fix that Cooke said must begin with individual Christians. After examining numerous behavioral indicators, he said that it’s clear that scores of contemporary Christians aren’t reading their Bibles (40 percent of churchgoing Christians read their Bibles rarely or never) and that believers are also failing in a plethora of other areas.
[. . . the piece eventually concludes with advice from Christian writer Phil Cooke:] “Start showing the fruit of the spirit in your life.”
… we find these exhortations repeated over and over again. By adopting correct beliefs and Jesus-flavored practices, Christianity’s problems are supposed to just dissolve into the mists of time.
And speaking of the mists of time:
When Christians Jesus-ed Correctly, In Theory Anyway — and Why.
Christians who want harder Jesus-ing usually think there was some mythical earlier time that Christians Jesus-ed correctly. They’ve fallen prey to their religion’s propaganda about its earliest days, what I call the myth of Original Christianity.
As an example of what I’m talking about, check out that blog post about “that one simple fix.” Their source, Phil Cooke, tirelessly checked out Christians’ propaganda about their religion’s history, mistook it for reality and trufax, and decided that Christianity had spread so totally quickly because Christians Jesus-ed hard enough to impress everyone:
[Phil Cooke sez:] “We’ve gone from a culture where Christians were ignored to one where they are openly ridiculed.” [. . .]
From angry responses to politics, boycotts and petition drives, nothing has stopped the transformation of the culture away from biblical sentiment.
“None of these things we’ve tried have worked,” he said.
Well, neither has what he suggests, which is for Christians to “start showing the fruit of the spirit in your life.” (People are more likely to know it’s only happening for salesmanship purposes — or perhaps think that Christian has taken up vegetarianism.)
He’s very sure that Christians used to Jesus really hard. And he mistakenly thinks that’s why the religion spread so quickly originally. (LOLno.)
So if Christians begin Jesus-ing really hard again, he reasons, then obviously they’ll get the same effects that those earliest Christians had!
(See endnotes for a gentle question.)
The Latest Exhortation to Jesus Harder.
It ain’t even just the obvious folks acting this way.
Recently, a Presbyterian pastor wrote this post about the Gallup poll (we discussed it here). Kate Murphy doesn’t seem like a bad egg at all. If I had to guess, she’s PC(USA), in light of this post about her. Around here, we generally get along fine with PC(USA). So you can surely reckon that this post had me groaning and saying oh honey, no, what is you doing…
She calls her post: “People are leaving church — because of churches.” See, the way she sees it, people still totally want her product. They just don’t realize that Christianity is the product they really need. Christians are making it impossible for people to realize that. As she writes:
Because, while church membership is declining, people are still as hungry for the things of God as they ever have been. [CITATION NEEDED] [. . .] So the problem isn’t with those outside the church, and it certainly isn’t with God. The problem — and it is a problem — is with us. The problem is that most of the church in America looks more like America than the body of Christ.
Ah, okay. So how do Christians fix this problem? Don’t worry! She’s got a (non)solution!
Local congregations may or may not be about the new thing God is doing. When they are — they are irresistible. When they are not, well, God may leave our buildings — but God will not stop being God.
What the church needs is not more members, but more Jesus — not revival but repentance. What we should fear is not people who refuse to belong to churches, but churches who refuse to belong to Jesus.
Jesus harder, everyone! Harder!
That’ll fix this decline!
Why Jesus-ing Harder Won’t Work, Can’t Work, and Has Never Worked.
Christians have been absolutely inundated with these exhortations for decades now.
So what’s stopping them from Jesus-ing harder? What on earth could possibly stop them from adopting the exact practices that their leaders insist, up and down the entire length and breadth of Christianity, will absolutely save their religion from its decline into irrelevance?
It’s not demons.
It’s not even sinfulness, really.
Here’s my theory, which is mine, and which belongs to me, and which I developed besides and what it is too:
Christians know deep down that the entire mechanism of their religion does not work as advertised. Their lack of sufficient and correct Jesus-ing simply reflects their deep-down knowledge. They know that Jesus-ing doesn’t do anything for them, and so they do not Jesus the way their leaders want.
And unless their leaders can present Jesus-ing to them as something with immediate, tangible consumer benefits, it ain’t gonna happen.
We Give Ourselves to What We Want.
People give their time and energy to what they perceive as working for them. Belonging to Christianity, in and of itself, works out fine for them. Joining up and doing the stuff they’re already doing works for them just fine too. But more than that? They know it doesn’t pay off — not in their personal lives, and certainly not in the big picture.
Time spent talking to their ceilings or reading their magical books has an opportunity cost. It is time they can’t spend elsewhere.
Time spent sitting in uncomfortable churches to listen to a hypocrite shout at them about their shortcomings and demand their money and time? That has an even greater opportunity cost.
However, Christians already accepted the package that gets them out of Hell and brings them into the currently-dominant social group.
Anything else is just icing on a cake they’ve already eaten. And if the icing isn’t actually improving anything for them? If it isn’t building them toward improvement, toward better lives, toward better understanding, then nobody will work to make that icing and put it on their already-eaten cake.
Compare and Contrast with Something That Actually Works.
– Guest starring Mr. Captain –
Let me compare and contrast Christians’ Jesus-ing situation with martial arts training. To become an expert in this discipline, it takes a wee bit more than the Mulan montage:
Mulan, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
It takes hours and hours and hours of very dedicated practice. A martial arts teacher shows their class exercises they must do, and that instructor expects the class to jolly well do the thing. Practice makes the thing a reflex, and if the practice is correctly-formed, then the reflex is correctly well-formed in turn.
So martial artists don’t mind putting in that practice. They’ll work for hours, practicing the correct form of the thing over and over and over again, because they can track tangible progress in themselves. (A decent couch-to-5k program works similarly. Their designers will flat-out tell participants what they should be able to accomplish on Day X of the program.)
For a while, martial-arts students can see their progress daily improving. Even when they’ve gotten pretty damned good, they’ll see that they’re building toward tangible improvement.
A martial-arts teacher that doesn’t produce tangible progress in students is a bad teacher.
Like let’s say Mr. Captain wanted to teach me a martial arts move and I wasn’t getting it. Let’s say I wasn’t standing correctly, or I wasn’t setting my shoulders right, or I just wasn’t getting the flow of the movement. As a result, I wasn’t executing it correctly. The move, whatever it is, is a tangible and concrete thing that can be measured and judged objectively.
To fix this situation, he’d need to stop and correct me until I was executing it correctly.
Once I was doing the move correctly, then I could practice it. And as I practiced it, I’d see progress and improvement in strength and speed and accuracy that I could measure objectively.
Christians literally can’t do any of that.
Why Christians Can’t Do Any of That.
Nothing about Christians’ religion is objective, concrete, or tangible. It’s all subjective. So they can only keep flailing and flailing around in their churches. I think they know this, and that’s why they don’t try to Jesus harder when their leaders all tell them to do that. Their leaders don’t even really understand what they’re asking their flocks to do.
If Jesus-ing was a thing that worked, Christians would be doing it already. Someone could say, I am Jesus-ing very hard right now, and we could measure that activity objectively and perceive it clearly, measure what happens as a result, and quantify different kinds of Jesus-ing to see what happens. People would see that, and they would continue to Jesus — and others would see that it works and they’d want to try Jesus-ing themselves. They’d see it works, and they’d keep doing it.
But it does not work, and so we cannot not do any of that.
When someone claims to be Jesus-ing, another Christian can deny it’s happening, and another will undoubtedly suggest all manner of changes to the Jesus-ing to bring it more into line with how they Jesus. I guarantee the people that one Presbyterian pastor is accusing of not Jesus-ing correctly would all say she’s the one Jesus-ing wrong, and their Jesus-ing is what Jesus actually wants of them.
So Christians can’t even agree on what correct Jesus-ing even looks like, much less how much of it someone must do to see results of any kind, much less why so many people see no results at all.
That’s why their standard-issue response to any problem is just Jesus harder, GYAHHH. It’s a perfectly safe response, since nobody knows what correct Jesus-ing even looks like.
Jesus-ing Harder: The Central Process That Doesn’t Work.
Whew. Okay, so let’s examine the wreckage of what’s left here. Bring it home, so to speak:
The entire central process of Christianity does not work and it never has.
That’s why almost no Christians even bother trying to put it into their daily lived experience. They might try to do that at first, but sooner or later they chill out when they realize it isn’t doing what their leaders say it should be doing for them.
(If something we’re doing isn’t working as advertised, that’s a good sign that we need to step back and seriously examine why we’re doing it at all.)
The only way to make Jesus-ing even sorta-kinda work is to layer it with common-sense reality-based processes — like churches setting safety rules in place to protect children and Christians buying health insurance even if they think magic healing is a real thing that actually happens.
I guess in the end, it’s good that Christians are insisting that their followers Jesus harder. It keeps them from doing stuff that might actually work to reverse their decline.
And gosh, who’d want that?
NEXT UP: A brief look at how Christians use Jesus-ing harder as a substitute for real self-improvement. Then, yes, we’re deffo tackling that weirdo on TGC who (mistakenly) thinks he has the real scoop on why people keep deconverting from his religion. Sooner or later, I want to talk about the strange trend of celebrity pastors’ kids speaking against their toxic parents. Really, I need to borrow a set of hands from my cat! See you tomorrow!
A gentle question for the Phil Cookes of the world: What’s more likely? That Christians have pretty much always been exactly like we have seen for centuries now? Or that they were enormous powerhouses of charity and kindness who followed their religion’s rules but somehow just, I dunno, stopped despite it having a devastating impact on their credibility for the long term?
Me, I reckon the easiest and most easily believed scenario is that Christians were literally always like we see now. They were probably a lot more aware of the importance of maintaining appearances, since they didn’t have literal centuries of absolute power and unquestioned dominance to make them forget how to sell their product. But overall? Yeah, people have been complaining about Christian hypocrisy since the religion’s very beginning — as indeed we see in the Epistles constantly. (Back to the post!)
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