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.