For the last year or two I’ve wanted a Yeti bottle—supposedly the best in the business at keeping hot stuff hot or cold stuff cold—so I put it on my Christmas wish list. On Christmas morning I was excited to open an insulated bottle from my family, but then I noticed that it was a brand I’d never heard of. As it turns out, the Christmas rush had caused local dealers to sell out of the Yeti models, but they had another brand in stock. To tease my family, I started calling it my “fake Yeti”—the kind of bottle you get when you can’t get the real thing. [By the way, I love my “fake Yeti”—it keeps coffee scalding hot for hours—and I think it might be as good or even better than the Yeti I asked for . . .]
Most of the time it doesn’t work like that, though, because offshoots are almost always inferior. The salesman says it’s just as good as the real thing, only cheaper. He’s right about the cheaper but not about the just-as-good. The Gibson guitar knockoff won’t set you back as much, but it won’t play as well either. The lawn mower you bought on the cheap was priced right for a good reason—something you figure out three weeks into mowing season. The same is true for pretty much everything, from the tires you put on your car to the shoes you put on your feet. The real thing is almost always better than the fake thing, which is why the cliché became a cliché: you get what you pay for.
But it’s one thing when we’re talking about coolers or guitars and quite another when we’re thinking about faith. The former might be frustrating, but the latter can be devastating.
Paul gave his understudy Timothy the best compliment ever when he said he knew that the young preacher’s faith was “sincere” (2 Timothy 1:5). The underlying root word literally means unhypocritical. It’s genuine, true, and real. Not a lookalike, not a façade, not an offbrand.
In a sense, there’s no such thing as a knockoff Christian, because an empty faith isn’t faith at all.
When asked what turned them away from Christianity, non-Christians most frequently say it’s the hypocrisy. I think we can respond to that in two ways: we might say that even if it’s true it’s no reason to let them keep you out of the church, and we’d be right but not too helpful.
Or we can look at ourselves and admit that it’s true, or at least truer than we’d like to believe. When Christianity is embedded in a culture—which it is in parts of the world—then churches’ rolls are peppered with cultural Christians. They join a church because that’s what people here do, and joining has all sorts of benefits: a place to find friends, business contacts, or maybe even an attractive girl or guy if you’re in the market.
Christianity becomes something that people do because it’s popular or convenient or helpful, but when it loses those traits then they lose it. It’s superficial and expendable, something you can take off and replace like last year’s clothing styles.
So here’s a thought to consider: this is one of the worst problems we face in Christianity today. Sure, there’s the New Atheism movement, the rise of secularism, and lots of other dangerous isms.
But none is as detrimental as the allure of convenient Christianity. It promises a lot and asks little. Give Jesus a little of your time, a little of your effort, a little of your heart. But not too much, because that might be uncomfortable.
What makes it even more devastating is that when people buy into Christianity-lite, they’ve got enough religion to make them feel religious, but not enough Jesus to make them feel convicted.
What about you and me? Is our faith real? Is it all-encompassing? Does it shape what we think, how we talk, what we hope for?
Or is it just another thing on our list?
It’s fine to go ahead and buy the knock-off shoes and the wanna-be top-of-the-line guitar. You might not be able to tell the difference.
But don’t play around with faith—Jesus called us to something bigger than blending in.