Following Phoebe

The idol of being the 'Rational Christian'

Have you ever had someone say, 'Yeah, but you're not one of those crazy Christians'? Or, 'I don't really like Christianity, but I don't mean you, you're rational'?
I don't know if you've experienced this before. On the odd occasion I have and it feels good. Really good.

It feels good because I think of myself as a rational, sensible person. And I don't want to be seen as the caricatured Christian you see in movies who are all holier-than-thou simpletons who are just a bit silly really.

So when I'm having an interesting conversation with someone and I feel like I am doing a really good job at being persuasive and sensible and - then they bring up the guy who stands on the street outside the abortion clinic in town. Or they ask me what I think about same-sex marriage. Or we get onto the topic of evolution. I suddenly find myself starting to clumsily distance myself from the 'crazy Christians' while still trying to explain my views without losing my status as capital-R Rational.

The fact is that in our culture now, many things that orthodox Christians believe are not considered rational anymore. They might have been when Christianity had a lot of social capital, when Christian-like morals were the norm. But now it doesn't, and the commonly accepted morals are a mix of the inherited Christian value of caring for the marginalised in social justice movements and a different sexualised, individualised ethic of living altogether.

So when we try to keep up this image of ourselves as 'Rational Christians' we can end up bad-mouthing our Christian brothers and sisters who have different views, whether theologically or politically, than us. Or worse, we compromise what we say we believe and live in a way which doesn't look that different to how the rest of our culture lives.

Whether or not we actually agree with the things we are saying the first time, the more we say it and the more we try to preserve this image, the more it becomes real in our hearts. We begin to see ourselves primarily this way and we idolise being the 'Rational Christian'.

It becomes something we pride ourselves in. And it becomes more important when we are talking with friends who aren't Christians, than actually sharing the good news that is eternally important.

How crazy is that?!

It doesn't take much for our motivations to become about being seen the right way instead of being about the eternal suffering or salvation of our dearest friends and family!

Now, I am mostly writing this because I have become aware of this attitude in myself growing over the past few years. When I realised I had a tendency to do this I felt sick.

It had happened so gradually that I hadn't noticed the 'Rational Christian' slowly materialising into the idol I carried around with me, instead of a burden for those who don't yet know God's love in Jesus sacrifice and victory over death.

And so I had to repent. And I need to ask God to continually show me when this idol of the 'Rational Christian' slips back into my pocket as I walk out the door. So that I can keep repenting of it to unlearn this attitude that had snuck up on me and had become such a part of my identity.

Don't get me wrong, I still value rational thought. And I think there is great value in knowing how to rationally present the Christian faith well and persuasively. I also think there is space to disagree with other Christians in a kind and respectful way. But beware the idol of the 'Rational Christian' which turns concern for the lost into concern for self image.

Laura Haines
Author

Laura Haines

Laura is a Christian, a wife, a daughter. She has a BBehavSci and GradDipCouns. She works as an International Student Worker at St Helen's Bishopsgate, London.