My buddy Morgan Guyton has written a new book, How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity. Morgan is the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans. He also blogs regularly on Mercy Not Sacrifice.
Morgan and I have become friends through our writing and sharing struggles. I can tell you this: Morgan is the real deal. A stand-up guy, a smart Christian, and so transparent in his own faith and humanity.
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Here’s what Morgan says about How Jesus Saves the World from Us:
“Christianity has always been about being saved. But today what Christians need saving from most is the toxic understanding of salvation we’ve received through bad theology. The loudest voices in Christianity today sound exactly like the religious authorities who crucified Jesus.”
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to ask Morgan a few questions. Here is the conversation we shared:
- You have written a book about the toxic nature of Christianity today, yet you remain in the mainstream Protestant Church. How does that work? There are plenty of others who have removed themselves from the “establishment” and are content to stand back and poke holes, but offer no solutions. What makes your perspective different and why do you stay?
There’s that praise song that says, “Oh no, you never let go.” I feel like that’s the way it is with God and me. He just won’t leave me alone, no matter where I go. I’ve tried walking away from the church before, but it never lasts. The truth is my heart burns with a need to share the gospel with people, especially Christians who seem like they’ve gotten stuck with bad theology that is making them miserable. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, but my hope is that this book will allow people to interrogate the beliefs that they’ve been fed and discern whether there are more possibilities they hadn’t considered.
- Early in your book, you talk about childlike faith, the curse of performance, and a world without mirrors. I didn’t understand the curse of performance until it nearly killed me. How do we get back to authenticity? Or is it too late?
I’m not sure how to get back to authenticity, to be honest. I spend my life in a constant performance of trying to build my social media platform as well as my campus ministry. So much of what I feel like I have to do is so calculated and utterly unspiritual. It poisons my soul. So my chapter on “worship not performance” is really an exhortation to myself. I’ve had moments of authentic worship before where all the mirrors disappeared and all I knew was God’s joy. They don’t last long enough. But I’ve seen enough to know that those moments are what I desperately want to return to. To truly surrender to God’s grace means abandoning the lie that our self-worth is based upon our performance. For me, this surrender has looked nothing like a one-time conversion event. It’s something I am constantly having to redo. The hard thing about the spiritual journey is that you often have to walk the same steps over and over again.
- As the guy who talks constantly about grace, I can’t possibly skip over the section where you say, “Mercy is dangerous…” Will you tell us more about that?
Mercy is dangerous to moral clarity, because when you’re merciful, you can’t avoid sticking up for sinners against their accusers. You can’t avoid seeing the mitigating circumstances and complexity within sin, which looks like condoning sin to people who are unmerciful. Moral clarity can only be retained by keeping a safe distance from other people and never letting your own mask down. Mercy ruins meritocracy, and that’s precisely the point. Jesus doesn’t want us to be blameless if we’re also cruel; Jesus wants us to love even if we’re messy doing it.
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- One of my favorite sections is about Huck Finn’s Fear of the Lord. I played Huck in a high school play and it’s one of my fondest high school memories. I also grew up scared to death of God. Many of us grew up in a religion based on fear, shame, and guilt, but you are proposing a different approach to faith. Can you expound on this idea?
The fear of the Lord does not mean being afraid. It means having integrity. Every time the fear of the Lord is described in the Bible, it is the honor required to do the right thing when you have the power to do wrong with impunity. God chose to manifest himself most perfectly in the form of Jesus on the cross. When we look at Jesus, we’re not supposed to see the violence that God wants to inflict on us, but the violence God is willing to absorb from us. So whenever we talk about the fear of the Lord, we should think of the Lord we fear as a weak and bloody crucified man. What I fear when I fear the Lord is further crucifying Jesus because I can get away with it. Whatever I do to anybody or anything without power, I am doing to Jesus.
- Over time I’ve grown tired of black and white answers to gray questions. I think it’s true for many people. You talk about the mystery surrounding God and the narrative of Jesus. Why is it important for us to embrace the mystery, rather than searching for explanations?
Only mystery can inspire deep devotion. Any form of knowledge that can be known exhaustively ceases to have any authority once it has been conquered. Those who treat the Bible like a big answer book are seeking to give themselves authority as those who have all the answers. The only way for the Bible to retain authority is if it remains a mystery so that we can endlessly ponder without conquering it. This isn’t to say that we don’t get answers from the Bible. Of course we do. But we should hold those answers lightly because God has far deeper things to reveal once we are mature enough to handle them.
- In light of the toxic Christianity we see all around us, a dear friend of mine still says, “The Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.” Do you agree?
The church is the hope of the world, and it is also the greatest obstacle to that hope insofar as it allows itself to be corrupted by worldly ideologies and pursuits of power.
The Greek word for church is ekklesia, or those who are “called out.” People who live comfortable, suburban lives have not been called out of the world even if they stay away from drugs, premarital sex, and curse words.
Those who actually live as the “called out” church operate according to a completely different logic than the world. They live outside of the meritocracy that defines our culture. They are utterly unpretentious and unnaturally safe to be around. I’ve met people who belong to the real church. They embody Christ’s love in a way that is so refreshingly different from the loud, mean voices of so many Christian celebrities.
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The Church needs this book now more than ever.
If you’ve read much here lately, you know I was once so filled with religious fervor that I was more concerned with being right than being kind. It is a struggle many of us still face often. It’s disheartening and frustrating, seeing the Gospel shared in condemnation, rather than in conversation. But instead of condemning folks just like me, Morgan Guyton seeks to start some healthy dialogue. This is not a book by another church-bashing hater. Morgan captures the toxic nature of modern-day Christianity in a way that is honest, while providing twelve antidotes to deal with the problems we face with grace and hope. This is absolutely a must-read.
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Order your copy of How Jesus Saves the World from Us on Amazon today.