The Top Ten Obstacles to the “Gospel” in Seattle
As I previously wrote, over the last six months I’ve spent considerable time in the city, speaking with neighbors, baristas, Real Change-sellers, grocery store clerks, artists, street musicians, lawyers, other pastors, and business professionals. One of the questions that I always ask in some form is, “What do you think are the primary obstacles to the Gospel (or the message of Christianity) in Seattle?” To others, I’ve asked, “What do you think of when you hear ‘Gospel’?” As with the last question I wrote a post on, “What do you think are the primary obstacles to the Christian Church in Seattle?”, the responses have been fascinating and telling. In light of this, I’ve compiled the following list of the top ten obstacles to the Gospel in Seattle, according to my unofficial survey.
“My primary obstacle to the message of Christianity is __________” – Average Seattlite
#1 “It’s too exclusive” or “There can’t be just one true religion.”
This was, by far, the most popular objection to the Christian message. The Gospel is seen as exclusive and intolerant. How can any one belief system claim to hold the corner on the market of truth? This, in turn, doesn’t seem to be reconcilable with God being a God of love and grace (see #5).
#2 “I have no idea” or “Good news about Jesus?”
There was also a strong contingency that knew nothing about Christianity. Most, of course, knew of “Jesus” but few knew anything about him. Fewer have an understanding of the Gospel. Of those that do, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus came to show us how to live (which is depressing news, really).
#3 “Doesn’t adequately deal with the problem of evil.”
Some brought up the problem of evil and a belief that Christianity is unable to adequately address it. With all the man-made evil and natural disasters that make daily headlines, how can Christians be audacious enough to call God loving? That’s a great question and one that deserves an answer.
#4 “Just like every other religion” or “all paths lead to the same place.”
Others lumped Christianity into the same pile as all of the other world religions under the assumption that all belief systems are the same and lead to the same place. Many mentioned the ubiquitous and universalistic “ant hill” and “blind man meets an elephant” metaphors.
#5 “Contradictory…how can a God of love send people to hell?”
There were many who brought up their inability to reconcile how a God of love could send people to hell. In addition to this many mentioned contradictions in the Bible, though when pressed few were able to actually name any.
#6 “Based on an old archaic book written for a different people in a different time.”
In general the Bible is seen as an old book with helpful bits of wisdom, like Aesop’s Fables, but definitely not divinely inspired and inerrant. Few that I spoke with have ever read a Bible, but most have heard excerpts read during a church service/wedding/funeral at some point in their life.
#7 “Disproved by science.”
Others give the claims of Christianity little thought as they are fully convinced that science has usurped Christian faith. The problem of violence, humankind’s quest for purpose, various social ills, and the vast host of medical issues can and will be addressed in time through scientific practice and method.
#8 “It is too restricting.”
Some mentioned that the Christian belief system is too restricting and close-minded. Their understanding of the message of the Gospel is that Christians are called to give up what they genuinely love to do in exchange for what is generally boring, uncomfortable and not fun.
#9 “Is a male dominated belief system.”
This is a big issue in Seattle. It seemed that many have a view of a Christianity that is primarily male-dominated and oppressive to women. Those I spoke with pointed to Jesus choosing 12 men as disciples and the Apostle Paul indicating that only men should serve as pastors.
#10 “Does not welcome and affirm alternative lifestyles.”
Another very important issue in Seattle is that of alternate lifestyles (LGBT). This is a major stumbling block for people in this city, which is home to the second highest density of LGBT on the West Coast.
There’s nothing surprising here. Many of these objections have been the same objections used throughout the history of the church. But, this does not mean we should simply excuse them. Whether or not these are misconceptions or excuses, as followers of Jesus we have a responsibility to adequately, accurately and humbly answer each of these objections. Together, these form a substantial obstacle to the message of Christianity in Seattle. It’s no wonder Seattle has become a refuge for those seeking to escape it. Clearly, these objections are overly simplistic. However, they are the objections of our great city to our faith that we must consider and engage with intelligent wit and sacrificial love. We are not to withdraw from the city in fear, but to redemptively engage it in word and deed. The Church of Jesus Christ is intended to be a people dedicated to truth and grace, holiness and mercy, creativity and beauty, service and sacrifice, love and joy, passion and relevance (after all, Jesus is reality, Col 1:15-20).