"Everett, write something about how we followers of Jesus are so often worked up about all the wrong things," -- the Rev. Robert McNaughton, classmate and colleague, in letters to The Partial Observer, June 3, 2006, responding to my review of The DaVinci Code.
This essay can fly in several different directions, so let me stick to Bob's request. Here are my impressions of why some Christians get worked up about all the wrong things.
At least superficially the religious climate of our time reflects first-century Athens, as described in the Book of Acts: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new." They weren't at work because they had slaves to keep them fed and clothed.
We have mechanical slaves to do this work, powered by gasoline and electricity. In the artificial ease of our environment, religion for many lapses into emotional and intellectual entertainment. Novelty has replaced substance. We can get worked up about the wrong things because we have forgotten what the right things are.
Another reason lies in the possibility that the Christians are not Christians; they bear the name for cultural and historical reasons, not for reasons of faith and conviction. Christ as Lord does not influence how they think, believe, or behave. Christ is one option among many in a buffet of ideas and lifestyles. They may examine, experience, or embrace anything uncritically because they have no perspective from which to evaluate anything.
This group likes the wrong things because they offer an excuse or escape from the right things. The attraction is in the distraction from hard truths and tough demands. As Mark Twain said, "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand." They replace the moral distinction between right and wrong with the neutral distinction between old and new. The new gets attention because it is new. The old has to wait until those who embraced it have passed away. Then, because it has a new audience, it can have another turn at being new. This makes for an interesting and exciting life, at least for a while, but a shallow one. Those who live it embrace nothing long enough to lay hold of it, or for it to lay hold of them.
A third reason is that insecure Christians act as though the wrong things offer a a dangerous challenge to the right things. They anxiously fight back, as though the church of Jesus is not the "household of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." It is built instead on their feeble arguments.
Nils Lund was a great Bible scholar who was the Dean of my alma mater, North Park Theological Seminary, before my time. One of his successors told us how Lund , with his Master's degree from Harvard and his doctorate from the University of Chicago,would hold up his Bible before a roomful of aspiring preachers and say, "Brethren, you don't have to defend this book. All you have to do is preach it."