When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, by Dave Burchett (WaterBrook Press, 2002; new edition with Study Guide, 2011)
I requested When Bad Christians Happen to Good People, by Dave Burchett for review not simply because I was intrigued by the title, but also because I have personally experienced how bad Christians can be to others. In my experience as a pastor for over 35 years and as a Christian for over half a century, I have often seen Christians behave very badly—many times extremely hurtful toward one another even as they proclaim a message of God’s love for sinners! Consequently, it should come as a surprise to no one that more and more people both inside the church and outside are fed up with this hypocrisy. Dave Burchett presents the daunting truth of bad Christians behaving badly without flinching, but he goes one step further—he presents some practical ways for Christians to behave better and restore the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dave Burchett (who writes from his own personal experience) identifies the usual suspects in describing the ways that Christians often behave badly toward others: the indefensible things Christians do like saying hurtful, judgmental, and mean things to one another in the name of God and engaging in infighting and divisions, fear-mongering, and anti-intellectualism; the ways that we have alienated those outside the church by living hypocritically in the world, using exclusive “insider” language, uncritically promoting “Christian” products while denouncing “unchristian” activities in popular culture, and creating a worldview based on suspicion, separation, and antagonism; the ways that American Christians in particular create Christ in our own image and trivialize the radical nature of the Gospel with a veneer of self-righteousness.
So how can Christians reverse the damage that has been done? By acknowledging our mistakes (especially our sin of hypocrisy), practicing humility, living genuinely in the world, extending mercy to everyone, demonstrating kindness even to those we may not like or agree with, loving others as Christ loved others, and truly experiencing the radical grace of God (which is far more radical than any abstract theological explanation of grace). Truly experiencing the radical grace of God is the real key, Burchett says. This is how he tells it: “I thought I understood grace. I did not. That simple word changed everything for me. And before you decide you already know what I mean by “grace,” please stop! Hear me out. This is not simply the unmerited favor we have been given in place of the penalty of our sins so as to receive a free pass into heaven. I’m talking about a face-to-face encounter with God’s active, awe-inspiring grace that changes your life every day, on earth, right now. Today!” (p. 200).
When Bad Christians Happen to Good People is a tough book to read at times because it is brutally honest in its description of bad Christians behaving badly, but at the same time it is a joy to read and liberating. Although first written ten years ago, the message of this book is still relevant. If Christians do not start acting more Christ-like, Christianity will cease to speak meaningfully to people in the 21st century. The Spirit of the Risen and Living Christ will still be loose in the world, but people may have to look outside the church to find it.