On Christian Cynicism

If you were to look up cynicism in the dictionary (or Wikipedia), you will read that the contemporary form is characterized as a general distrust of people—a lack of faith in others because of their naiveté—resulting in a continual flow of ridicule and scorn.

This cynicism manifests itself out of frustration with persons, institutions, organizations, and authorities that have left her victims disillusioned and angry. Cynics feel cheated, robbed, lied to, and taken advantage of.

I have personally experienced this “jaded negativity” and the pitiful pit of cynical despair after having spent 7 years in ministry, and coming to terms with many ugly realities of organized Christianity.

When I finally realized that I had been raised in fundamentalism, served in fundamentalist churches, and that pop-culture Christianity in America was a thousand miles wide but about an inch deep… I was angry.

No, that’s an understatement.

I was bitterly frustrated to the point of giving up.

Reveling in Cynicism

Truth be told… I left fundamentalism, but reveled in cynicism for a time.

I must admit that there was something strangely comforting being able to criticize and scrutinize from the outside looking in on what was clearly wrong with the church. I was safe and guarded against more pain.

It protected me from being hurt again, but it also kept me from people—all those for whom Jesus died—including religious hypocrites.

I knew deep down that my cynicism was a sickness. And I wanted healing.

I saw the harmful effects of social networks forming online just for Christian cynics. I found folks declaring themselves “free” from religion, but they were mostly a bitter believer’s club throwing salt on open wounds.

Christian cynicism can completely immobilize followers of Jesus.

Cynicism can even keep the Christian from ever recovering again.

It’s true. If cynic-saints are not intentional about moving forward in Christ to a renewed place of life in the Kingdom, they will forfeit their inheritance.

Let’s be done with the reveling and embrace resurrection.

Trading Cynicism for Hopeful Realism

Do you know any Christian cynics? Are you a Christian cynic?

You need to know that healing can come if you keep your heart open to Christ and your feet moving in the direction of his love for you and others.

This doesn’t mean that you forget what you’ve learned, what’s been revealed to you by Christ, or the reality of the current state of affairs. It doesn’t mean that you set aside your doubts and uncertainty. It doesn’t mean you must compromise your convictions.

But it does mean that you allow the Lord to shine a light on the darkness that is overcoming the living hope of Christ within you, and that is keeping that hope from being fully expressed as resurrection life to others.

You cannot faithfully follow Christ and harbor bitterness toward any segment of the church. Imagining that certain groups or that organized Christianity is not the true church doesn’t justify this behavior.

Be loving, patient, kind, forgiving, and compassionate as Christ. There’s no room for cynicism in Christ. Give it up. It’s killing you. And it’s hurting the Body of Christ. You can’t effect change this way.

Let the Lord have your cynicism. Trade it in for hopeful realism.

What is hopeful realism? It’s Christ getting the last word on the matter. It’s reality being confronted by the Kingdom of God. It’s new life in the face of death. It allows us to see a world poised for resurrection.

Healing for the Cynic-Saint

In his book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (IVP 2011), Andrew Byers writes:

“We are in dire need for redeemed cynics to dress their wounds that they may rise up and flourish in the truths revealed to them for the health of the church and for the glory of God.” (p. 12)

I have reviewed Andy’s book and interviewed him here at the blog. His book offers a great help to those looking for a way out of their cynicism.

It’s not going to be easy, but if healing is going to come to the cynic-saint, he must take his hands out of the festering wound and let Jesus dress it with his loving kindness. He’s the great healer.

We need the keen insight and revitalized faith that redeemed cynics can bring to a struggling church. And we need it now more than ever.

Please don’t abandon the Lord’s work for self-absorbed cynicism or an idealistic pipedream for the church. Be intentional in rising above it.

Let the Lord reveal new possibilities to you. Allow him to show you his power and ability to resurrect the dead and dying parts of you, the church, and the world. Ask him. He will do it.

Remember that you are loved, you are missed, and you are needed.

Do you want to trade your cynicism in for a renewed hope and vision for Christ and his Kingdom? What intentional steps can you make today to embrace hopeful realism? Commit today to moving forward.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

17 responses to “On Christian Cynicism

  • Seth Roach

    I am definitely a recovering cynic when it comes to the Church and many of my relationships. After getting burned by people close to you over and again it is difficult to trust and perhaps some of it may of happened because of misplaced trust. It is much easier to keep people at arms bay but I see that it is absolutely necessary to be vulnerable again and again yet perhaps not as naively as in our youth. Love is powerful and strong and hope is more than just believing things will be different some day. Christ is the reality of these and He is constantly moment by moment calling me into that healing river of his life and hopeful realism as you put it.

    I read this excerpt last night with my wife from a little book called “Preparing for Christmas” by Richard Rohr.

    “When we demand satisfaction of one another, when we demand any completion to history on our terms, when we demand that our anxiety or any dissatisfaction be taken away, saying as it were, “Why weren’t you this for me? Why didn’t life do that for me?” we are refusing to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are refusing to hold out for the full picture that is always given by God.

    “Come, Lord Jesus” is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves. We are able to trust that he will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world. Our Christian past then becomes our Christian prologue, and “Come, Lord Jesus” is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope.”

    This little booklet is about advent and preparing our hearts for the Lord but I thought it was relevant given the season and focus of this post. Hope or hopeful realism takes on a whole new reality when we allow our selves to be rooted and grounded in Christ as it were and let the Lord root out those weeds of cynicism. I am reminded when Paul said, “We walk by faith not by sight”.

    I am choosing to lay down my cynicism and the expectations I place on others in return for the living Christ who is the hope of glory.

    Thank you David for this post it comes on the heals (last night) of a turning point in my heart concerning this very subject and it was simply robbing me and distracting me from Him and the hope that is in Him.

  • andrewwehrheim

    I find that the doctrine of the sinfulness of humanity, and a narrow view of what constitutes the new birth/regeneration are too often used as justification not to trust, have community, or work with others to build the kingdom. But it is not viewed as cynicism, rather it is viewed as faithfulness to orthodoxy. Anyway, good article. I am seeking to rise above my own cynicism and grow into a hopeful realist.

  • pat

    Great Post David! I am a Christian cynic. But I am trading my cynicism in for a renewed hope and vision for Christ and his Kingdom. I am committed to embracing hopeful realism.

  • john morris

    David, thanks again for a perfectly timed article. I am also at a crossroads, my ideas of the perfect fellowship are meeting the reality of what the Lord has placed before me. Thanks for the encouragement to move forward

  • Trevor Lloyd

    Great post, David. Having come close to bitter cynicism a few times as a Christian and a church leader, I have often thought I could inoculate myself against it with what I liked to call healthy skepticism. But I think your idea of hopeful realism is much better. Thanks.

  • S Anderson

    I have been a cynic. It became difficult for me to separate my irreverance for instituional methods from my love of God’s children.

    The Holy Spirit gave me Hebrews 12:14-16 in one of my lowest points…
    “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many. And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal.”

    I prayed and asked God for forgivenesss, and He’s given me huge freedom now in this area. I am liberated, and what’s more important, I believe now I’m more useable to help others find liberation from things as opposed to causing them to simply build their defences.

  • Chris Thomas

    I once heard a brother encourage us to remain sweet toward others. He pointed to the examples of Elijah and Moses toward the end of their ministries on earth. He posited that the open display of some element of bitterness, or indignation, was cause for their removal from the place the Lord had called them to. They ceased to display the gracious mercy that constitutes a large portion of the glory of God.

    • Tim Chisolm

      Chris, I do believe that the Lord removed me from the exact place that He had called me to for this very reason. I see it very clearly now, especially after reading this post. Cynical, what a waste of precious time I could have had in His presence. As Seth stated earlier, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Patricia Milner

    I came upon this blog because I am searching for help. I was abused for several years as a child. I have been married for 55 years and I just remembered that my husbands father had told him that he thought I was cynical. I believe The Lord has brought this to my attention now because He wants me to work on this. I have been very active in a healing ministry for years and have never doubted what God can do. However, I am having trouble getting close to Jesus in my relationship with him. When I looked up “cynical” I have to admit that this has been my lifestyle almost all of my 75 years…..I can put a name to it now. I am not cynical about the Bible…….I believe it is the inerrant Word of God, but I am about people and circumstances. I need to find healing quickly! :). I have more work to do for the Kingdom. Can you help me?

  • Rob Grayson

    Great post, David. I am in a space where the danger of falling into cynicism is real. I really like your “third way” of hopeful realism. I think a big part of the problem (for me, anyway) is that there are so few models of such hopeful realism out there. The choice offered to us often appears to be polarised: either you’re in and you toe the line and go along with everything, no matter how crazy or dangerous, or you’re on the outside looking in and you’re a cynic. There are things I can no longer accept uncritically, but I don’t want to end up a cynic either.

    Thanks for giving me some food for thought.

  • Kathie Loughney Fleming

    I guess I must be healed or recovered.

    During a study, “Lord, I want to know You” by Kay Arthur, God revealed Himself as the Lord heals, Jehovah Rapha. EX 15;22. I had been struggling with bad feelings about the body of Christ and really couldn’t find an interest in attending another fellowship. My thoughts were not that it should be perfect but it should be trying to live according to the Word it says it believes. I was bitter, like the waters at Mirah and I didn’t know it.

    I simply asked myself during that study time, “why am I wallowing in this bitter water when I have everlasting water of Jesus?” That was it and I was healed of those awful resentments and feelings of “why bother with anymore people for they are all disappointing”…”they make me feel that the Word of God is not true, so why be around them?”… was my attitude and then I WAS HEALED. It never occurred to me to ask God for healing and I really didn’t, I just asked why am I wallowing in the bitter waters when I have a fount of living waters.

    I have tried to remember the feeling that was deep in my gut for so many years as I searched for the answer to “why bother going to church and being in a body?” Since that day in Ex 15 where God showed me He is healer, I can’t conger up that feeling at all. I’m truly thankful God reveals and heals.

  • Brad

    David, I can’t thank you enough for this….even though I’m reading it 2 1/2 years after you posted it. I don’t know you and only came across your post because I googled “What does the Bible say about cynicism?” I’ve been following Jesus for 32 of my 37 years of life, raised in a Baptist church, third-generation Baptist pastor, graduate of a Baptist college, ordained minister and former foreign missionary. All of that and recent struggles in my current ministry have lead me deep into the pit of cynicism. Truth be told, I didn’t even see it in myself until random people began making observations about me. True to cynicism, I didn’t give much weight to their observations until there were too many “random” comments to ignore. Most likely out a desire to prove them wrong, I began researching cynicism and what the Bible might say about it. It didn’t take long for the Lord to reveal the grip that cynicism has on me. I’m just beginning to fight in this battle but your two posts on this topic have served as a catalyst for me to overcome this. The first time I read the words “Hopeful Realist” it stopped me in my tracks. I always explain away my attitude as that of a realist….and I don’t think it is bad to be a realist. However, this is the first time I’ve considered that my realism has slid into cynicism because I’ve lost sight of hope. I’ve been burned in ministry more than a few times and most recently the wounds have been deepest…and the scars…well there are obvious scars. We probably won’t ever meet in this life but please know that the Lord used your thoughts, your words to push me into a battle against the cynicism that has taken hold of me. I am confident that the Lord will see me through to victory and you have a part in that. Thank you.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Brad,
      Brother, you’re a warrior, and an honest one. If more of the saints were honest with their struggles, their healing would come quickly and their testimony would soar, touching the lives of others next to them. Press on in hope! Thank you for taking the time to comment. I could not receive a greater compliment. Blessings!

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