December 17, 2020

2020: The Year of Grinchianity

While I think there have been some fantastic Christian responses to what is going on in the world throughout 2020, it’s certainly been the year of what I call “Grinchianity”.

Grinchianity – a peculiar form of Christianity which is suspicious of everything (think COVID19, tracking apps, masks, anyone not voting a certain way), seems to have taken a grip. And social media feeds it big time.

I define Grinchianity as a surly, self-entitled perspective held by some Christians, in which the secular language of “outraged” and “angry” is permanently on everyone’s lips and Twitter feeds.

There have been far too many curmudgeonly Christian responses to the challenges we have found ourselves in, and these do not adorn the gospel. And so many of them feel so Grinch-like.

This is especially the case on Facebook and Twitter. The sheer hostility shown to other Christians who may dare to suggest that actually COVID19 is quite dangerous and extremely contagious, is astounding.

And this is not to mention the US election, in which churches are splitting over the issue of whether Donald Trump was cheated out of the election. The sheer wackiness of false prophets, angry protesters and election-fraud-preachers is sad to watch.

And look at how many evangelicals who hadn’t signed up with Trump in 2016, decided to go with him in 2020 for the safety of the gospel witness in the US, only to discover that actually the crazy claims that he would never concede defeat were actually right. They will have egg on their faces for some time. His gracelessness in defeat has been matched only by his gracelessness in victory.

If you want to read a scorching review of the likes of Eric Metaxas and his ilk at the so-called Jericho March, then Rod Dreher pretty much skewers that whole conspiracy theory gig here.

But Grinchianity has another side to it too – and that’s the scandals that come from within. Never mind poor responses to outside forces, it’s the sheer weight of well-publicised problems in evangelicalism that feels so Grinch-like this year.

On top of this there have been numerous Big Eva scandals or poor showings that have made both the Christian media and the mainstream media (think Jerry Falwell at Liberty University, Ravi Zacharias at RZIM, Steve Timmis at Acts29, John McArthur’s antagonistic approach to the COVID lockdown, the treatment of Aimee Byrd over her book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), and then of course, there’s Carl Lentz.

The Steve Timmis saga has taken up a chunk of my year since the initial Christianity Today post that exposed him and exposed the leaders of Acts29 as either naive or complicit. This was followed by numerous interviews, and capped off just a few days ago with a final podcast with the excellent Julie Roys (which I will post the link to tomorrow).

In the light of the bullying and abuse story that broke over Timmis I have fielded dozens of calls, emails, private messages etc, from those who have been hurt and broken in terrible ways, not just by the events around The Crowded House, but across the evangelical world. It’s been emotionally wearing hearing the stories to say the least.

And one of Grinchianity’s common factors in such scandals is denial. Deny, deny, deny. That seems to be the primary tactic of those people and institutions caught up by exposure. Deny, or blame-shift. The brand must be protected at all costs. And the cost is usually those further down the food chain.

And if denial does not work, then fog and obfuscation.

All of this stuff has displayed good old fashioned Grinchianity. And it has not adorned the gospel of Jesus Christ at all.

On top of this – there is the flipside of these obvious problems within evangelicalism. There are accusations of Grinchianity levelled at the faithfulness of many churches and denominations for refusing to sign up to the cultural sexual agenda, an agenda that presents itself as a good news story – an alternate gospel to the gospel of Christ.

Call us Grinches or call us “bad guys” – the cultural narrative is a tricky one to navigate. Those in the church who roll over and affirm the new Sexular Age are feted and approved, while those who hold firm, are scorned. This scorn will indeed lead to prosecution, as civil authorities sign up to this new way of thinking as the only way of thinking.

And I do mean “thinking”. It’s no longer a case that in matters of sexual ethics, only external behaviours are in the firing line. Progressive governments are increasingly interested in what you think and how to rehabilitation your thinking by hook or by crook.

The latest round of anti-conversion therapy legislations in Australia are a case in point. Never mind that conversion therapy is pretty much a unicorn in churches, governments like the Victorian Government have displayed astonishing and worrying over-reach in their determination to force church groups to self-censor on sexual ethics.

The temptation here, of course, is to revert to Grinchianity and just get angry and hostile in return. I do not think that is the way forward. There is a way of being honest, clear and brave about this stuff without being narky and hostile in return. It’s a difficult path to walk, but let me assure you, it’s one filled with joy in Jesus, in which we are considered worthy to suffer for the Name (Acts 5:41).

I write about this in my book, Being the Bad Guys (hint: preorder available at The Good Book Company US, UK and Australia). One of the key features of my book is the strategy section exploring how the Scriptures have already given us the tools to live joyfully in Grinchworld.

For here’s the fact. Grinchianity is simply riffing off the Grinchness of the tired and suspicious world we inhabit. 2020 has been devastating in many ways. Mental health problems have sky-rocketed around the West.

The pall that COVID19 has left in its destructive wake has settled over us to such an extent that it will be years before things are righted. The chitzy Christmas carols in the department stores sound even more empty than they did last year, and they sounded empty then!

Yet in the midst of all of this we are reminded of how much the Christmas story is one of joy. The Scripture story is jam-packed with joy, even in the midst of the suffering that accompanied that first Christmas. And it’s a joy that challenges my own propensity to Grinchianity, which certainly peeks out from time to time.

The joy of the small things. The four baptisms that we will have for our church in a backyard pool on Sunday morning (it’s summer in the southern hemisphere so don’t feel too sorry for people); the joy of seeing my church allow God to prune and shape us and force us towards more prayer and trust in Jesus, after our senior pastor left suddenly.

The joy of seeing my own daughter graduate from the same theological college I studied at. The joy of seeing the Christian schools network, of which I am a board member, surge in applications post-COVID as non-Christians within the community noticed something different about our approach to the crisis.

The joy of my son – about to hit 13 – ask “Dad, can we just get me a grown-up Bible now?” The joy my wife and I feel at seeing the church plant we started in our house way back in 2010, employ a new senior pastor with a gospel vision and heart for the lost.

I hit 53 this year (or it hit me), and Grinchiness is always around the corner, always lurking as one gets older. It’s supposed a thing: Grumpy Old Men.

But not when we have Jesus. Surely grumpiness has to go! All of the joys of this age and this world fade with time, especially as we hit that last third of life. But not when there is resurrection life to look forward to. Grinchianity fades away when the hope and joy of Jesus is placed front and centre.

We have no idea what 2021 will bring. Hey, we didn’t know what 2020 would bring, but it didn’t stop us thinking we would! What about we endeavour to avoid Grinchianity in 2021, whatever it brings.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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