John Fischer

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 including Real 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 made.

 

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 Believer?"

[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 hypocrisy?

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 it."

No way. See, this is what I'm talking about....who was she?

 

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.

 

You 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 sin.

 

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. 

For more on real Christianity, check out Phil's bestseller Making Life Rich Without Any Money.

 

 

 

 

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