Can We Learn From Justin Bieber's Philosophy on Christians and Church?

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In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber shared some of his thoughts on God, Christians, and going to church. 

In the interview, Bieber begins by acknowledging the need for God, saying “If we can understand that we’re all imperfect, let’s come to God and come for his help. You’re not weak by doing that.”

I find myself silently agreeing. Yes, I'm sinful. Yes, I need God. No, it does not make me weak. Check, check, and check. 

Bieber goes on to make a generic statement about Christians, “Christians leave such a bad taste in people’s mouths, even myself. I was like, I’m not gonna go to church.” 

So, Bieber is OK with needing God, but. . . he has an issue with Christians.  

He then addresses church: “It doesn’t make you a Christian just by going to church. I think that going to church is fellowship, it’s relationship, it’s what we’re here on the earth to do, to have this connection that you feel there’s no insecurities. I think that’s where we need to be. Like I said, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” 

Minus the last strange comment about Taco Bell, Bieber seems to touch on a couple of the major cultural perceptions on church and christians: 

  1. The first point I think Bieber brings to light is that many people have had experiences that leave them feeling like Christians are hypocrites. Perhaps they have been burned by a judgemental person in the name of Jesus. Or maybe they visited a church that was particularly unwelcoming. 
  2. Secondly, I think Bieber reveals an underlying belief that the church is disposable. As long as we have relationships and connections, we don't need church. Perhaps church is an insitution that just complicates things. 

I appreciate Justin Bieber's honesty. He started (very publicly) an important conversation that we should be having as Christians. Some of the questions that this interview leaves me with include: 

  • How do we work towards removing the cultural stigma attached to the word "Christian"? 
  • How do we show the value of the church—of committed believers regulary coming together to offer encouragement and collective spiritual growth? 
  • How would Jesus respond to Bieber's sentiments? 

I'd love to hear your initial reactions and questions to this interview! Post your comment below to get the conversation started. 

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Participant

This is a great piece. It touches on issues that a lot of young people today have with the Church, and gets people thinking about why its important. My kids are tweens and teens, and we talked about Bieber's "taco" comment once already. I think I will use this for our family's devotions one night this weekend. Thanks for writing it, Staci!

Participant

And I found a passage to go with it: Ephesians 2:19-22. I'll let you know how it goes!

Admin

Thanks so much, Shannon! This interview was so interesting to me because it seems like a HUGE opportunity to start conversations with people in our lives (and social circles) on the misconceptions about Christians and church. So cool that you are talking about this with your kids!

Thanks Staci for a refreshing article.  I like your use of Justin Bieber to get to the heart of what many in our society are thinking about God and Christianity.  I don’t want to put words in Justin’s mouth or interpret him wrongly, but you are asking what we (your readers) think or what is our opinion in regard to his comments.

I think that secular society (including Bieber), as well as other religious societies, are offended by Christianity because Christians have and have had throughout history the attitude of, “we are right and you are wrong.”  Christianity has always proclaimed there is no other name under heaven, or no other way in the world by which to please God than by Jesus.  Whereas, we think we are very gracious and loving by presenting the good news of Jesus, the world thinks that Christians are summarily dismissing what they believe.  We go to foreign mission fields and tell Muslims, Hindus, or Jews that their religion will not get them to heaven, and we tell Americans and Canadians that the good they do doesn’t count with God.  But of course that is a Christian view and not one shared by the world.  Secular societies and other religions believe that the good a person does counts with God.  So, the Christian attitude and message of, we are right and you are wrong, makes Christianity very offensive to most the world.

And to Bieber and to much of society, they think the church is disposable because the church is full of hypocrites who think they are right and everyone else is wrong about a loving God who sends everyone to hell except those who believe like us (Christians).

Maybe Jesus has already responded to Bieber in stories like the one of the sheep and goats on judgment day.  The sheep who make it to heaven are those who have done good (as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done unto me) and the goats who go to hell are those who have not done good (as you have not done it...).  Maybe Jesus is saying, take stock of your life and do good. Or maybe Jesus might have already responded to Bieber by retelling the story of the good Samaritan (who represents the unbeliever) who does what is loving for the injured man, unlike those others who clung to their faith.  Again do good, regardless of what you believe.  Or he might retell the story of the house built on the rock, which is a house of good deeds.  I have a feeling that people in our society might appreciate Jesus’ example and much of his teaching without appreciating the hypocrisy of most Christians (my way or no way).

Of course, we, as Christians, have a different perception of society’s take on us.  But the world doesn’t see it, do they?  Thanks Staci.

Admin

Hi Roger: 

Thanks for sharing! Really good point about how Christians can come across as offensive when we proclaim that there is no other name/no other way to get to God than through Jesus. For a tolerant "live and let live" society, this is problematic. I think part of the challenge is finding ways to build relationships first (hopefully removing some of the collective stigma of Christians) and through these relationships, share the gospel and pray for the message to be received (with the help of the Holy Spirit). Thanks for also mentioning the parables. Important to look at how Jesus responds! 

Thanks again!
Staci

 

Thanks for the post, Staci. 

You raise an important question when you ask: How do we work towards removing the cultural stigma attached to the word "Christian"? I really like the "Love Wins" approach of Bob Goff, where we as Christians need to show the love of Christ in fun and creative ways to the world around us. There is a little saying that comes to mind: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. If we would be less judgmental and more loving, perhaps the Bieb's and others would be more open to the gospel. One last thought that might apply to this question. Chuck Colson often used a quote attributed to Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."
 
Thanks again for challenging us to think about these things.

Thanks Staci and Tim.  I appreciate your openness and willingness to share.  No doubt, in my mind Staci, you raise some important questions and concerns in regard to the gospel.  And you put those concerns into a format that is easy to understand.  Both you and Tim, probably hit onto something, by suggesting the building of  relationships and letting love lead the way for Christian witness.  But that still doesn’t remove the offense of the gospel, Christ is the only hope.  We are still saying to the world - whatever you may have thought or whatever other religions teach, ours is the only way to find acceptance with God.  Whether building a relationship or showing love, our message is still the same, no other name than Christ.  Our way is the only way.  It’s not Christians who are always offensive, but the message, especially when it rubs up against other religions or other opinions.  I wonder, I know some wonderful people who are not Christian. Christians aren’t the only caring and nice people.  Does their niceness, love, or the building of a relationship make their message of God’s love (a different message from ours), change the way Christians think?  Christians say, don’t be deceived, only our message is the true message.  Don’t be fooled by their kindness.  By the same token, do you really think our kindness is really going to convince any thoughtful person?  Bottom line, Christianity is still offensive to the world. That’s the nature of the gospel.  And the church is still full of closed minded people, even if they’re nice.  I doubt that Christianity will ever win any popularity contests, especially in more advanced cultures.

Participant

I love the statement, “Like I said, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” Partially because it’s true and partially because I really love tacos.

But the rest of it is cause for deep thought. I wonder if Justin really means what you mean, Staci, about ‘imperfection.’ Does Justin really mean sinful – like, ‘I deserve to die’ sinful [Lev. 4]? ‘I can’t ever make life right between me and God’ sinful?  I know that’s what Christians read into ‘imperfect’  – and thanks to our teachers for connecting that for us – but I’m not sure that’s how Justin, or even most unbelievers, take it.

If not, then the idea of needing Jesus alone to be both sin offering and Lord for us kinda flies by the hearts of the people we’re speaking with and showing love to in our neighborhoods, And if Jesus isn’t essential to life itself, then certainly the Church isn’t worth putting up with. We’ll still come off as ‘holier than thou’ because we insist that, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” [John 3.18] Not that the Church is essentially more acceptable to God than the rest of the world, but we’ve been made acceptable by our faith and trust in Jesus’ resurrection for that moral unacceptability. Most people I talk to either get it and don’t think I stink, or they’re really offended and can’t stand the smell of my faith.

But isn’t that what Paul affirms in 2 Corinthians 2.15-16? “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Now, maybe Paul just didn’t love people, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. Which makes me ask another question: Is being liked really the obstacle for the gospel, or is it more of an obstacle for our own egos?

Admin

Hi Michael! Thanks so much for your thoughts -- you raise some interesting points. Understanding sin as TOTAL depravity and need of God is indeed different than just realizing we are imperfect. I completely agree that our understanding of sin influences our need of Jesus (and a savior in general).

Re: your last question "Is being liked really the obstacle for the gospel...", I might be missing part of your explanation. What I more wonder is "what is it about Christians/the church that are turning people away?" I'm not sure it's the gospel but instead I wonder if it has more to do with the behavior of the followers.  

Thanks again for your thoughts! Really appreciate the additional questions to consider.