One word sums it all up. REAL. That’s the buzz word. That’s the summa of modern American philosophy. Ask someone what they want in a pastor and they’ll tell you that he needs to be “real.” Ask a student who her favorite teacher is and she’ll likely give you a name followed by a description that includes the word “real.” Seemingly, if something or someone isn’t “real” they’re not for real.
But what does all that mean? Is “real” even a real category? Assuming that the person or object under consideration exists, he/she/it is real. If one doesn’t exist and is therefore unreal, can he/she/it be real?
Moreover, the quest for “real” is real open-ended. One can be a real good guy but one can also be a real idiot. Or, you can be real wrong. How about real screwed up? “Real” as a category sounds good but it’s too broad to be helpful. Those on a quest for the “real” must mean something more.
In reality, those seeking the “real” don’t want “real” in all areas after all. What this generation means by “real” is what a previous generation called “authentic.” Before that, the trait in mind was referred to “as being true to your self.” Back up another generation or two and the same thought was encapsulated in the idea of “honesty” and “character.”
You see, “real” is nothing new. Every generation has sought the “real.” No one wants a pastor that’s superficial or artificial. They want the real deal, the real thing, someone who is open, honest, and admirable.
That being the case, “real” has nothing to do with the type of clothes a person wears. You can be “real” in Birkenstocks and square-framed classes and you can be “real” in Brooks Brothers suit. “Real” is more than denim deep.
“Real” also has nothing to do with whether your church has a pulpit, podium, or a park bench for the pastor to speak from. A man can be a dishonest hypocrite sitting down just as easily as he can standing behind a lectern. The “real” that we’re all looking for is a genuineness that takes what one believes and puts it into action.
Jesus was “real” (in more ways that one, contrary to liberal thinking). He wore contemporary clothing. Heck, he even walked around in a pair of sandals. How “real” is that? Yet, He also obeyed the letter of the Law, understood the necessity of authority and submitted to it, and honored the cultural traditions of an earlier generation. In the end, Jesus was “real” not because He set out to do things differently just because He could but because everything He did, from the traditional to the non-traditional, He did as an overworking of His character. What you saw was what you got. Now that’s “real.”
Today, a lot of folks in the church are trying to be “real.” They do so with an arrogance that suggests that the previous generations sought anything but authenticity. Sure, the older generation has made some mistakes. Some have lived a faith of “do what I say not what I do.” But, you know what? So have many in the rising generation as well. It’s time that we stop comparing ourselves to each other. It’s time to stop criticizing others for what they do or don’t do just because it’s not what we want to do.
It’s time we look to Jesus and compare ourselves to Him. As Christians we’re supposed to be “little Christs.” It’s time we start acting like it. When we do, unbelievers will finally see what “real” Christianity is all about. It’s not about clothing. It’s not about coffee house church gatherings. It’s about sharing the love of God because He’s shared it with us.
So, let’s get “real.” Let’s quit dressing up in the uniforms of our generations, let’s quit equating Christianity with our worship places, and let’s clothe ourselves in Christ’s righteousness. Let’s do what Christ would do because He’s “real” to us. Now, that’s authentic Christianity. Really.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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