So wrote J. R. R. Tolkien in a 1963 letter to his son Michael. The day after reading this, I happened onto a blog by a Christian writer. I'll let his blog title speak for itself.
"I have no idea what I believe at least half the time, and I’m afraid to write because I know I’ll look back on it in a few months and realize I was wrong.
I say swear words sometimes, even when I pray. Especially when I pray.
I have all this baggage about the Bible and the Church, but I believe desperately, deeply in Jesus and His Kingdom.
(Except for when I don’t.)
We don’t have our shit together. Not at all."
Now, I commend the writer for his honesty. But I'll be honest too: I think a lot of younger evangelicals are overreacting against hypocrisy. They grew up in churches where everybody had to pretend to have their lives together. Now, everybody has to pretend that they don't have their stuff together. We risk creating a culture where people who actually are growing in grace, wisdom, and maturity dare not acknowledge it, to themselves or to others. We risk creating a culture of shame for those have their stuff together rather than those who don't.
I imagine Jesus re-telling his parable of the Pharisee and tax collector like this:
"Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like this Pharisee. I never fast, I don't tithe, and I really don't like going to church. Thank you, Lord, that I'm a mess because now I'll never be tempted to be a hypocrite like that horrible Pharisee. And I really, really thank you that you haven't given me your Spirit in order to shape me, mold me, and in general help me get my stuff together. I pray that you would leave me as I am so that I'll always feel superior to the hypocritical Pharisees. Help me to have the boldness to proclaim my brokenness over and over so everyone will know how genuine, authentic, and humble I am.'"
Jesus says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. But I suspect that we sometimes try to humble ourselves (and do it loudly and publicly) as a way of exalting ourselves--look how humble and messed up I am!
Hypocrisy is a huge problem. But so is inverted hypocrisy. We're all sinners. We're all saved by grace. And we're all being molded by the Spirit more and more into the image of Christ. The goal is not to put on a good face. The goal is not to put on an "authentic" face. The goal is to put on Jesus.
So I don't just want leaders, writers, and fellow Christians who will tell me how bad and broken they are. I also want leaders, writers, and fellow Christians who have the Spirit-empowered audacity to say, as Paul did, "Imitate me, just as I imitate Jesus" (1 Cor. 11:1)