10 November 2022

Dark Christianity.

Here’s a good passage to remember:

1 John 1.5-10 NLT
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

People don’t bother to read this passage in context, and presume light and darkness have to do with truth versus lies, or revelation versus mystery. Nope; it has to do with obedience versus sin. Christians shouldn’t sin. When we live in light, we oughta stay away from sin.

But it’s more than that: We shouldn’t fixate on sin either.

We shouldn’t obsess about what sinners are up to. We shouldn’t analyze the devil’s works in order to understand it better, Rv 2.24 since knowledge is power. Our ability to fight the devil and resist temptation isn’t from our studies of devilish strategies anyway: We’re to defeat sin and temptation through God’s power. Ep 6.10 Trust God, resist evil, and lead others to the light.

Yet there are loads of Christians who firmly believe a significant part of our duties—if not our only duty—is to study sin, fight it, and condemn it.

In preparation these folks spend an awful lot of time on the dark side of Christianity. They wanna instruct the church in Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, and be ever vigilant to battle He Who Shall Not Be Named. (Forgive all the Harry Potter references, but there are an awful lot of parallels. It’s almost like J.K. Rowling grew up Christian or something.) Namely these areas:

  • The fall of the angels, the fall of humanity, original sin, total depravity.
  • Sin, mortal sin, unforgiveable sin, spiritual death, spiritual suicide, apostasy, heresy, works of the flesh, temptation.
  • Satan and its fellow tempters: Unclean spirits, devils, demons, idols, antichrists.
  • Spiritual warfare, exorcisms, intercessory prayer, hedges, umbrellas of protection.
  • The End Times: Signs of the times, fulfillment of end-times prophecy, rapture readiness, tribulation, the Beast.
  • Theodicy, judgments, punishments, double predestination, hades, purgatory, hell, second death.

True, all Christian theologians deal with this stuff, ’cause they’re part of Christianity. but they’re the stuff Jesus defeated and frees us from. We’re not to worry about this; we’re to focus on loving our neighbors, and having an abundant life in God’s kingdom.

But dark Christians we’re not free of these things. Not at all. ’Cause there’s still evil in the world, isn’t there? We still have the gates of hell to knock down. Jesus’s mission may have been to destroy the devil’s works, 1Jn 3.8 but they don’t believe he’s yet accomplished it. They believe it’s now our mission. They don’t consider the fact our own depravity constantly gets in the way of accurately identifying evil, or regularly corrupts us into using devilish tactics to fight it—that Jesus really does want us to have nothing to do with evil.

To dark Christians, our primary duty isn’t to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, but fight evil. So it’s all they do.

Hence people don’t see them as bringers of light, peace, hope, love, and good news. Just darkness. Dark Christians make pagans flinch and fellow Christians facepalm. Our job of proclaiming good news becomes substantially harder, because now we gotta make up for the fleshly behavior and jerkish actions of these nimrods: Pagans assume we’re all like that, or suspect any loving actions on our part have, at the back of them, hatred, fear, horror, and judgment.

The “gospel” of the dark Christian.

For the dark Christian, God’s kingdom doesn’t yet exist. It’s not among us in our midst. Lk 17.21 It’s entirely in the future. The gospel isn’t that Jesus conquered sin and death; they don’t believe he’s done that yet, and won’t till he returns. The world is plunged into this present darkness.

To them, Christianity isn’t about living in the kingdom now. That, they consider delusional. Christianity is instead about creating little strongholds to keep out hell. When Jesus said the gates of hell won’t prevail against his church, Mt 16.18 Dark Christians distort that verse drastically. “The gates of hell” isn’t hell’s desperate barricade against our battering ram. Instead the “gates” refer to the rulers of hell. ’Cause back in bible times, the leaders of a village would sit at its gates and judge the people. In their minds, “the gates of hell” are on the assault. And we’re losing badly, ’cause Jesus hasn’t yet returned to save us.

So instead of an attack mentality, it’s a siege mentality. Dark Christians feel overmatched, cornered, and conquered by the devil. Deeply beaten in a losing battle. It’s why sometimes, like a desperate badger, they get so mean.

This focus on being beaten down by hell, has tainted just about everything in their gospel. To them, the Father’s not benevolent. He doesn’t so love the world; Jn 3.16 he doesn’t want all to be saved and learn the truth. 1Ti 2.3-4 Instead the Father is full of wrath. He’d have slaughtered us wholesale had Jesus not shielded us from the Father’s wrath with his own body. And even then, Jesus didn’t die for everyone. Just them.

Yeah, there are verses which imply this is the way atonement works. Dark Christians claim God, without his heavenly dose of Ritalin (a.k.a. penal satisfaction), is gonna go all Old Testament on us. He’s gonna be uncharacteristically graceless, unkind, unforgiving, unloving, impatient, and intemperate. You know, the opposite of the Spirit’s fruit. The only reason God produces such fruit is because the blood of Jesus has him all calm and vengeance-sated. For now. Till the End, anyway.

Nope, doesn’t sound like God at all. Sounds like them. Sounds like what angry human beings would want to do towards sinners, projected upon God, and used to justify our own fruitless behavior. And that’s precisely what it is.

Note the things dark Christians condemn most. Like abortion, homosexuality, egalitarianism, evolution, the role of government, ecumenism, pacifism, Islam. Now, any of them line up with the issues Jesus condemns most? Not in the slightest.

Read the Sermon on the Mount. Note how little of it dark Christians proclaim and practice. Not that they would. The Sermon is about God’s kingdom. And the kingdom, they claim, is entirely in the future. Doesn’t apply.

Instead of anything Christ-like, dark Christians instead point to the things which offend them personally. All these sins come from hell; all these sinners are going to hell. Guaranteed. Unless they stop sinning, denounce their sins, and join the dark Christians in denouncing sin and sinners. Oh, and embrace orthodox Christian beliefs.

How ’bout fruit of the Spirit? Nah. They can just reroute all their anger, bile, and fury back at sin and sinners. Give ’em a little tough love. (That counts as love, right?)

Dark Christian evangelism.

Thanks to their skewed gospel, this is what a dark evangelist proclaims: Not God’s kingdom, but escaping the wrath to come. Getting away from hell.

Yes, judgment and hell and punishment are valid Christian ideas. Are they central to the gospel? Absolutely not. The kingdom is. Yet dark evangelists are fond of saying Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the scriptures. Fifteen times, in the King James Version. (Contrast this to the 115 times he brought up the kingdom. Oh, and the fact Christ means king.) Sin, death, and hell take front and center. That is, when they’re not complaining the rest of us Christians have “watered down the gospel” by not talking about sin, death, and hell enough. We’re too much carrot, not enough stick. So, to compensate, dark evangelists toss out the carrot.

I’ve run into these guys from time to time. So have you. They’re not just the Westboro Baptist clowns.

  • Preachers who just wanna argue.
  • Preachers who think it’s their job, not the Holy Spirit’s, to convict people of sin.
  • Preachers who’d rather denounce the world than love it and minister to it.
  • Preachers who don’t believe in fruit or good works. Doesn’t matter if people produce either: “They’re just trying to earn their salvation.” They reject the idea any of it comes from God. If they don’t like your theology or politics, it’s all fake and devilish.
  • Preachers who think tracts are way better than tips. And Chick tracts are the best tracts.
  • Preachers who can’t easily recognize I’m Christian. They have to apply all sorts of little tests to make sure I have all the correct beliefs, like they do.
  • Preachers who don’t care what you think. They’re not interested in you as a person, but as a conquest. You’re just another jewel in their crown.

We don’t find much grace among dark evangelists. It’s because they don’t actually believe in it. They claim to, but talk to ’em a bit and you’ll find they don’t. God would take great satisfaction in utterly destroying you, if only Jesus hadn’t contractually obligated him to save you instead; he hates sin that much. But because you said the sinner’s prayer, because you have faith (which they redefine as the Christian faith, i.e. orthodox beliefs), God has to grant you grace. Grudgingly. And if you waver in your faith any, God’s totally cool with taking his grace back.

So yeah: Dark evangelists preach a grace which isn’t free, a faith which isn’t faithful, and a gospel which isn’t good. Little surprise they tend to make Christianists instead of Christians.

True, there are some legitimate evangelists who borrow dark evangelistic techniques. Obviously they’ve been listening to the totally wrong Christians. Dark evangelists make a lot of training materials, and because they use the very same fear-based tactics on Christians as they do on pagans (“Some day you’ll answer to God for all those lost souls you passed by!”), they sell a lot of units.

But compare their techniques to how God won you to himself. What’d God use? Grace. Kindness. Patience. Love. Still works a whole lot better than hell and fear.

Hiding those dark Christian prejudices.

Some of the reasons pagans worry we’re really all dark Christians disguised as nice Christians, is because that’s exactly what some of us are.

You’ve met ’em. I’ve been one of ’em. Maybe you’re still one. Plenty of us Christians know we oughta put our best foot forward when it comes to proclaiming Jesus. But that’s not at all who we are. We’re totally repulsed by sinners. Their preferences and actions offend us. The fact they can get away with what they do, outrages us. Forgiveness or no forgiveness, we still kinda want to see them get theirs. We know God wants to rescue them from hell, 2Pe 3.9 but we really don’t. They should go there.

But we clamp down on these beliefs and attitudes for various reasons.

  • Our church frowns on such godless behavior. (As does Jesus.)
  • We tried angrily denouncing such things. But for some reason everyone now treats us like there’s something wrong with us, like we’re the sinners. Man alive, it’s an upside-down world. Anyway, standing up for the truth has left us awfully isolated, and it’s not helping us fight evil any. So we’ve gone into sleeper-cell mode. We’ll wait till people don’t expect it anymore, then spring the Wrath of God on ’em.
  • We work in a secular environment. HR considers our preaching “antagonistic” and won’t let us do it. Really, it’s religious persecution.
  • We’d rather have friends than battle sin. So we’re not gonna battle sin.

That last one was me in high school. But every once in a while my rotten attitude got out.

Y’see, I was raised to be homophobic. My dad (who’s no Christian) is, and a lot of the people in my church were. 1970s and ’80s popular American culture was still pretty weirded out by homosexuality. (It’s changed a lot since—to the worry and outrage of dark Christians, who are pretty sure God’s gonna rain down fire on us for it, like he did in Genesis 19.) But as a hypocrite, my coworkers and classmates had no idea—till I was asked my opinion, or otherwise let my allegiances slip out.

My pastor was really well-known in town for denouncing the gay lifestyle. So much so, folks from the Lambda Community Center actually staged a protest against his statements—outside our church, during Easter. Did this notoriety help me share Jesus any? Not in the slightest. The instant my gay classmates found out where I went to church, they didn’t wanna be my friends anymore. I couldn’t share anything with them, much less Jesus. Because they figured if I went to that church, I must believe as my pastor did. I must want ’em thrown into hell just as much.

And at the time, I kinda did. ’Cause their lifestyle creeped me out just that much. ’Cause that’s how messed up dark Christians are. Yeah I know; they claim they wanna rescue people from hell. But for every one of those, there are ten who are perfectly happy to watch sinners burn. And roast weenies over their screams.

No, I don’t go to a dark Christian church anymore. Haven’t for years. But every once in a while one of my church’s sleeper-cell dark Christians will pop up. Years ago one of our assistant pastors figured he was surrounded by a safe audience, so during a church function he told a joke about two gay men who went to hell. And he was outraged when I told him his joke was wholly inappropriate Christian behavior. He was so tired of being unable to bash gays at his secular day job; he thought the one place he should be free to do so was at church.

Which says all sorts of things about his lack of spiritual maturity. Thankfully he’s no longer a pastor. Unfortunately I’ve heard much, much worse from people who’re still pastors. I see what they post on Facebook. How unlike their Lord they are; for in God is no darkness at all.

Fighting our dark Christian tendencies.

You might assume, since I said I’m out of the dark Christian church, I’ve got rid of all my homophobia. No I haven’t. Still working on it.

Because I’m fighting my old knee-jerk reactions to pre-judge, take offense, exclude, and condemn, I can totally understand when a pagan looks at that, and jumps to the (incorrect) conclusion I’m hiding these attitudes instead of fighting them. But it’s not hard to clear up the confusion. All we gotta do is confess it. I do it Alcoholics Anonymous style: “I’m a recovering homophobe.”

And Christians can do likewise for whatever hangups they still carry: Recovering sexist, recovering racist, recovering anti-Muslim, recovering anti-Catholic, recovering hater, recovering sinner. Aren’t we all?—and trying not to be. And we apologize when any of that old behavior slips out.

I’m a recovering sinner. That’s why I can’t condemn pagans for being sinners. Not that I should. Not even Jesus does that. He came to save, not condemn. Jn 3.17 Dark Christians ignore this fact, and condemn. But that’s not how you get sinners to repent. Grace does that.

Our job is to show pagans God loves them, no matter who or what they are. In part by showing ’em God loved us despite what we were. (That is, assuming we realize there was an old nature in us which the Holy Spirit had to clean up. Your typical dark Christian figures the Spirit really didn’t have to do much.)

Stop giving dark Christians a free pass!

Part of the reason dark Christians get away with their misbehavior, is because true Christians let ’em. We rarely condemn or critique them for emphasizing evil. After all, they’re not wrong about it: There is a devil, there is a hell, and a lot of things in our world are selfish and sinful and destructive. The dark Christians may be going about the gospel all wrong, but they do have the details right. They believe the bible, believe in the trinity, believe Jesus is God, believe in his death and resurrection and ascension and second coming and all that. They have that part sorted out.

Problem is, that’s not how we determine whether someone’s a Christian. We don’t look at their beliefs. Devils can be orthodox. Jm 2.19 We look at their fruit—or their utter lack of it. Mt 7.15-20

Do they lack love? Oh, you know they do. Peace?—they have nothing but fear. Joy?—they suck all the joy out of the room. Patience?—absolutely not. Kindness?—they’re the rudest, least compassionate [stinky ends of a donkey] you’d ever meet. Self-control?—they don’t bother. Grace?—they may preach it, but don’t practice it.

Dark Christians have long taught it’s not fruit of the Spirit which defines us as Christians: It’s that we believe correctly about Jesus, and avoid any major sins. But not fruit. Orthodoxy trumps fruit.

And we let ’em get away with being evil to pagans and Christians alike, supposedly in Jesus’s name, while we sit on the sidelines and say, “Well, I don’t agree with them at all, but they are fellow Christians….”

No they’re not. If they were fellow Christians, they’d make an effort to act like Jesus. 1Jn 2.6 Who befriended sinners. They’d produce fruit. Instead they act like the one they study so carefully, their true father, and love to do the evil things it does. Jn 8.44

How do we deal with such people? Simple: Treat ’em like pagans. No, not like dark Christians treat pagans. (Yikes.) Treat ’em like we’re supposed to treat pagans, like Jesus treats them: Love and forgive them. Correct and rebuke them where necessary. Don’t partner with them—their warped theology does more harm than good, just like a ministry to children should never, ever permit pedophiles to volunteer. Point to Jesus. Guide them out of the dark.

True, some of ’em have embraced the darkness so tightly, they’re not giving it up for anything. Not even Jesus. Dark Christians expect once he returns, he’s gonna kick a lot of ass. He’ll vanquish all the forces which they’ve spent their entire lives fearing and fighting. They’re in for a huge shock when Jesus has the audacity to forgive more people than they would, promote people they wholly disapprove of into high ranks in his kingdom, and proclaim peace instead of turning the entire world outside New Jerusalem into a melée of blood and sulfur. They want to see death. But Jesus came to give life.

They’re expecting the wrong Jesus. We need to show them the real Jesus. We need to help the Spirit wake ’em up before they wind up in the crowd which cries, “But Lord, we did it in your name!”—whom Jesus responds to with, “Begone, you who practice lawlessness.” Mt 7.21-23 They’re not following him. But lucky for them, the grace they deny others is still available to them.