The Trouble With Christians
As an author, a speaker, and one of contemporary
Christian music's founding fathers, John Fischer is best known for
his outspoken critique of the church in culture. His monthly column
in Christian Contemporary Music magazine is an enigma--constantly
calling those who are paying his bills to reevaluate their motives
and message. Along with eleven albums, John has authored nine books
Christians Don't Dance, St. Ben, and his latest, What On
Earth Are We Doing? A graduate of Wheaton College, John worked
under the leadership of the late Ray C. Stedman during the '70s and
served as Artist in Residence at Gordon College in Massachusetts
where he lived during most of the '80s. He now resides with his wife
Marti and their two children Christopher and Anne, in Dana Point,
California. In this interview, John candidly asks us to
reconsider the way we think, the way we witness, and the way we
separate ourselves from the world.
Phil Callaway: Why on earth did you write this book?
Fischer: Out of a
desire to give believers a new way of thinking. I think the old
model—the sacred/secular dichotomy—is proving to be inadequate
to take on the world and to carry the gospel to our generation. I've
always been drawn to where I feel the church has gotten a little off
track. If everybody's over on one side, I'm the guy who stands on
the other side and screams "Wait a minute!"
What bugs you about people on the other side?
There is no longer a Christian mind. We think like
secular people. We do Christian things from time to time, but the
values, the things that drive us are money, possessions, prestige
and power. These are the same motives that drive anybody else. The
contemporary Christian subculture has solved the conflict of two
worlds by inventing an alternative in the form of a Christian world
in every way as exciting as the secular one. Want to boogie? You can
now boogie to Christian music. Want to be cool? Get a T-shirt or
bumper sticker with a Christian message. Time on your hands? How
about a "Christian" romance novel to while away the hours?
Need a plumber? Check the Christian Yellow Pages.
John, you're talking to a Christian magazine editor.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there any call to
believers to form a separate culture. All we've done is leave the
world without a witness from the inside. Much of the Christian
sub-culture is really a marketing entity. If it weren't for people
who saw the opportunity to make money, I don't think we would have
all the "Christian" things that we do. All these Christian
books, videos and events are not just designed to help us be better
Christians. People realize there's a market here and money to be
You say the word Christian used to be a noun and now it's
an adjective. What do you mean?
Before the Christian sub-culture came about, a Christian
was a person whose life was turned over to Christ. But slowly the
word began to find new usage as an adjective identifying a host of
things that have been given a Christian version: music, seminars,
theme parks, or types of people like Christian entertainers and
athletes. These are all cultural things. Many of them were
originally worldly ideas, like aerobics for instance, that we have
somehow "captured for Christ."
So you didn't buy the aerobics album "Firm
[Laughs] The greatest danger of a Christian sub-culture
is that it subverts the reason God placed us in the world. The more
ingrown we become, the more irrelevant we become, and the less we
have to contribute to the world around us.
You make your living in those very industries. Isn't that
For sure, it's like sawing off the limb I'm sitting on.
But not everybody on this platform is wasting time, so as much as we
can let's use it for good. My goal is to get people thinking, not
only about their faith, but about the world around them. I want to
encourage younger people for instance, to bypass the whole Christian
marketplace and get out there and earn the right to be heard in the
world. We need more Christians who are known for being outstanding
people in whose hearts Christ is Lord.
You've said "thinking Christian" is an
oxymoron. Like military intelligence. Why?
Because thinking Christians are rare. They haven't been
taught to or been given permission to ask serious questions or
disagree with the pastor or raise issues in the church. Because of
an underlying assumption that to question something equals lack of
faith, or rebelliousness, we bypass the healthy part of questioning
which is the process of understanding and growing. It is important
for us to grapple with the truth. The apostle Paul applauded the
Berean Christians because they searched the scriptures to see
whether what he taught them was true. We are convinced that we can't
discover the truth by ourselves; we have to go to that seminar, buy
that book, get the latest fix on truth. And so we remain needy
consumers of even spiritual things and ignorant of the fact that we
are rich with the Holy Spirit and have a responsibility to come to
our own conclusions about things.
During one interview I asked a popular author who battled
depression what she would recommend to help others. She said,
"When I get really depressed I get one of my books and read
No way. See, this is what I'm talking about....who was
Um, I can't give you her name but I'll give you her
initials. Not really...but I wonder if believers are too believing?
If so, we've misunderstood the term. We believe
everything. We're appalled when teachers fall, but the real tragedy
is that so many were gullible enough to follow them. The Bible
doesn't advise us to invest our time in bashing false teachers, but
rather in studying the scriptures so that we will know when to stay
away from them.
You charge that we're guilty of Christian
pragmatism—the thinking that whatever works is true.
I believe faith works, but what does that mean? On what
level? Each generation defines what it means by working. For
example, many people were led astray by believing that faith works
by making the American dream possible for me. Faith will make me
healthy and wealthy in the world's goods. Where did that idea come
from? From a pragmatic way of thinking--do these things and this
will happen. Truth is proven by the results it gets in our lives. I
think you would have a hard time selling that to the martyrs.
Your book deals more with solutions than problems. How
are we to live?
I Peter 3 is a wonderful resource. Peter is concerned
ultimately about the proclamation of the gospel, but he wants it to
come through our lives and our reputation. So he beings with,
"Who can harm you if you are eager to do good?" Our first
responsibility is to be known as people who are making positive
contributions in our society, not just to Christians, but to
non-Christians. Jesus spent three years healing people before He did
what He did. Along with that came His message, but it was verified
by the fact that He had deep compassion on human beings and took
care of their physical needs along with their spiritual needs. Peter
also tells us not to be frightened. I think of all the culture wars
that are going on right now in America, and all the things I'm
hearing on Christian radio that are fear-based. That is an
indictment on us because one of our greatest messages should be that
we're not afraid because God is in control.
say Jesus did not come to make the world safe; He came to save it.
I think the church has become sidetracked in the last few
years by making social morality the issue instead of the gospel.
Now, at least in America, when people think of Christians, they
think of a certain political agenda. And they are against Christians
for reasons that have nothing to do with the gospel. That tells me
that we have made the wrong thing important. We need to be very
careful what agendas we get behind. There are many people in our
culture who are not hearing the gospel because all they're hearing
from Christians are one or two political issues. Not all issues are
"Christian." There are many non-believers who are
pro-life, for example, and we can stand with them simply as human
beings without making that the gauge of Christianity.
What about our testimony as Christians?
We have tried to draw people to Christ by showcasing our
rightness, when all along the good news of Christ's forgiveness of
our wrongness is the real message. When we see ourselves as saints
too soon, we leave the point of the gospel behind. By cutting
ourselves off from that which makes us common with the rest of
mankind and trying to convince the world that we are different, we
only succeed in convincing many of them that they don't want to have
anything to do with us. It is time to join the apostle Paul on the
"worst of sinners" list. Every believer should be
absolutely convinced of being the worst sinner on the face of the
earth. And if this is not the case, then there is reason to believe
that we have not yet done adequate business with God about our own
We often hear the term "students of the Word."
You believe we should be students of the world. Why?
In order to have the right to speak to our culture, we
need to listen to people and to their world. In any conversation or
relationship, if all you do is talk and say what you have to say,
that's not only rude, it's disrespectful. There needs to be give and
take, hearing what the other person has to say. Then hopefully you
will try to connect what you have to say to what you've heard. That's
what it means to listen to our culture. If we aren't listening, we
lose our compassion and cannot agonize when people sing and talk and
act out what life is from the confused state of the world, without a
Savior, without a God who loves.
What about being separate from the world?
The Bible is talking about being separate internally, in
what you think and in what you value--not in location. In I
Corinthians 5 Paul tells us that in order to completely disassociate
ourselves from those who are unbelievers, we would have to physically
leave this planet. We are not to find relief from this frightening
world by separating ourselves from it; rather, we are to keep the
frightening world from ruling our hearts by letting Christ rule there
instead. This is a much deeper, more difficult alignment, but this is
how we can impact society from the inside. It is not our job to make
Christ Lord of our society. Christ is Lord in our hearts and in the
church, but not in Washington, or on the school board, or at work, or
in the university classroom. He seeks lordship only in the hearts of
believers and he will deal with the rest of the world later. There
will come a time when every knee bows to him (Phil.2:10); but right
now, only our knees are familiar with this position.
more on real Christianity, check out Phil's bestseller
Making Life Rich Without Any Money.
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Phil Callaway. Read more of Phil's