I remember when I first realized that Hulk Hogan wasn’t really as tough as I thought he was. Suddenly, my world of back suplexes, DDT’s, and submission holds came crashing down around me as I realized that professional wrestling … is … not … real! Difficult? Yes. Physically demanding? Absolutely. But real? In the realest sense of the word? No.
Here’s the truly funny thing—I wonder how many people look at the church in the same way they look at professional wrestling? The question with both is one of authenticity. Both make grand claims. Both have engaging personalities. Both are, in a sense, entertaining.
But is it real?
That’s a question we all should ask ourselves about our faith. It’s certainly one that’s being asked of us. And that question—Is it real?—has spawned an effort in the last decade in the church toward authenticity. At some point along the line, we realized that much of our faith was fabricated and that we hid behind personas of our true selves. We didn’t really know ourselves, or each other, we just knew stuff about ourselves and each other. So the Christian world “got real.”
The question of authenticity is a difficult one, and one that can drive you crazy. It’s an arduous task to try and sort through all the mixed emotions, motivations, and feelings behind an action to get to the bottom of it, even if the action is a good one. And to do that forces one into some difficult questions of him or herself. You have to ask, Do I really believe what I’m singing or am I doing it out of habit? Do I really think God is real or am I just hoping that He is? Do I really love other people or do I just treat them nicely in order for them to like me? Lots of questions. And if we, inside the church, ask those questions, imagine what those outside the church must be asking. After all as Madeleine L’Engle once said, “We try to be too reasonable about what we believe. What I believe is not reasonable at all. In fact, it’s hilariously impossible.”
Do you see the problem? We are striving to be real about that which is unreal, that which is hilariously impossible. Hilariously impossible, that is, except to those who believe it. Given all those complications, we would do well to ask what exactly we are trying to be, or to do, when we say we want authenticity.
So what is authenticity? I would argue that in an attempt to be authentic, some people have made authenticity an excuse. These people (and by these people I mean me) say anything, act any way, and think anything they want because it’s “real.” If that’s true, then authenticity is rawness. It’s rough. And maybe it is, but we must be careful to not make authenticity a catch-all for our behavior. What I mean is that I think it’s possible that in some cases, we’ve become so concerned about being real that we’ve stopped changing. We’ve stopped becoming more like Christ. We keep all our same character flaws, holding them out like trophies of authenticity. But that can’t be where we stop.
Along with being real about our sin, insecurities, and failings, we must also be real about our desire to grow to become more like Christ. That too must be authentic. And when it is, authenticity isn’t championed for its own sake; rather, it’s seen as a way to actually move forward in our pursuit of holiness.