Abusing Authenticity

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There is little doubt that authenticity appeals to people. We don’t see as much of the people who speak from on high delivering holy decree after holy decree as if the messenger was half as holy as the words he spoke. One of the reasons authors like Donald Miller are so popular is that there is a sense of transparency as you read a book like Blue Like Jazz. What results is refreshing and drawing even if you don’t agree with everything be written at least you know it is honest. Authenticity is a must in the church but let’s not fool ourselves into think that authenticity cannot be abused.

There are a few dangers that come, not from authenticity itself, but from how someone approaches just how authentic they are and why they chose to be so. Authenticity can lead us into telling a story that should be about how God forgave us for something but the focus ends up being on self instead. So someone tells the story of a place in their life where they compromised their values and fell into sin. Instead of telling the story of reconciliation that came through God’s grace in dealing with the situation the story with the authenticity spin becomes more like – “See, I have done far more and far worse things than you ever thought.” The main story, the God-centered one, gets pushed behind the curtain and the self-centered one…the one that says “have a look at me and see how far I have come,” makes its way to center stage. What results can quickly turn into flaunting sin and a message of go ahead and sin as long as you are honest with yourself and others about it. Just don’t be a hypocrite and everything will be fine. Because authenticity connects so well with audiences there can be a real temptation to make decisions that will allow someone to relate to the world just that much more.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans there is a verse that follows two of the most famous (and most blogged) verses in the New Testament – “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” – Rom 12:3

Bottom line – we have to be authentic. We cannot see ourselves as “holier than thou” but we also have to remember that we are not the star of the show and that sin does not elevate us or add to our resume. I think the missing ingredient in all of this is shame. It is hard to be arrogantly authentic when we are actually ashamed for having to say what we have done in a true tone of confession rather than a foolish display of self aggrandizement.

0 Responses

  1. Matt,

    Really thought-provoking post. It has shocked me how people have responded positively to things I’ve revealed about myself (whether shortcomings or even hobbies) that I would expect I could even be reprimanded for. People want ministers who are not ‘holier than thou’ in their attitude. I also wonder if they view a minister’s shortcomings as a good excuse to do as he does and not as he says, so to speak.

    But yes, there is also a big temptation for ministers to spend all their time tooting their own horn. Many people will follow authenticity so much, they cease thinking critically about the content of the message they are being presented. I know of some local megachurches that are very much cults around a minister’s personality. They’ll swallow anything these guys throw out because “he’s just so real.”

    I could blather a lot more on this subject, but I’ll stop here and look forward to what others have to say.


  2. Our culture hungers & thirsts for authenticity.

    I think it was Charles Campbell (“The Word Before the Powers” is a must read, people) where I first heard this, but it went something like…

    “In a world filled with lies, people are desperate for truth-telling.”

    The principalities & powers (our system of govt. being preeminently included in that group) self-servingly seek to prop themselves up with dishonest tales. It falls to preachers to fill that void of truth-telling with courageous authenticity.

    “Authenticity” is a great buzzword. I could just wax an elephant about that word for hours & hours.

    R. Willingham at Harding liked to talk about “Courageous Authenticity.” He liked to use Noah as his example of this — how people must have laughed & howled at the prospect of building a giant boat because water was going to fall out of the sky and flood the Earth. But Moses was brave enough to be authentic — to be true to himself, to the mission God gave him, etc.

    Alright, I’ll stop there, but thanks for getting to me to thinking about authenticity 🙂

  3. You’ve made a great point Matt. What’s not really authentic, when honest, feels like a sham. Recently, I began reevaluating things in my own life to be certain that my faith and convictions were authentic, that I believed them because I was convinced, not necessarily because I was taught to. There’s a difference.

    In preacher training schools or Christian colleges, you don’t really have the time to think through a lot that is taught. That is unfortunate, because we might be producing disingenuous servants.

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