Jesus Needs New PR

Jesus Needs New PR

The problem with assuming… #BestOf2010

A few years ago I received an email from Dr. Stephen Arterburn asking me if I’d be willing to fly out to California to join a small group of authors to discuss a new project that he was dreaming up. Now, if you’re not familiar with Stephen, he’s one of the co-authors of Every Man’s Battle, a multimillion copy selling book series that offers advice to men about how to handle sexual desire, lust, temptation, etc. He’s also a radio host, a speaker, and one of creators of the Women of Faith conference, etc.

I had read Every Man’s Battle. I had also read Every Young Man’s Battle. And I had thumbed through Every Toddler’s Battle and Every She-man who lives in Houston’s Battle. (The last title was far more interesting than it sounds.)


I didn’t like the “Every man” series of books. (I’m talking about the real ones, of course.) It wasn’t because I think they’re bad or unneeded, but I find books like that frustrating because they often offer easy answers for people who are dealing with issues and stories that are anything but easy. Too often they’re not truly for “every man.”

But because of those books, I assumed a lot of things about Stephen. I assumed he was strict and unfunny and boring and possibly scary. Still, I nervously agreed to attend.

Upon joining the group, I was fearful that I wouldn’t fit in. My first book–The Christian Culture Survival Guide–had just released, so I was new to the “author scene.” But that wasn’t why I was fear-filled. I was scared because of what I assumed about Stephen. I expected to hate everything that came out of his mouth. I expected our personalities would clash and that anything I said would potentially create tension with everything he said. I expected him to act as though his life was perfect. I expected him to constantly direct the focus of our meetings back to something from the Old Testament or the teachings of the Apostle Paul or his book Every Man’s Battle. I expected him to hate my book.


I assumed more. I assumed a lot. I assumed that I’d probably not get invited back to the next gathering.

But I was wrong. Like really wrong.

Stephen wasn’t anything like his book, or how I personally had received his book. :) Not stuffy. Not uppity. Not opinionated. Not judgmental. Not perfect. Not Bible superman.

He’s hilarious. And genuine. And giving. And creative. And loves a good glass of wine from time to time.

Quite honestly, a part of me wondered how somebody so down-to-earth and friendly could have written Every Man’s Battle.


“Did you really write that book?” I asked him. “Because I expected you to be…”

“What? What did you expect me to be, Matthew?”

“An ass. I expected you to be an ass.”

He laughed.

“But you’re not an ass,” I said. “You’re actually a cool guy… But I still don’t like your book.”

He laughed again. “And that’s okay. I may not like yours either. But you seem all right.”

We laughed again.

I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve been guilty of assuming I know somebody based only on a book or two, a blog, a Twitter feed, a couple of sermons, comments left at my blog, etc. etc.


But here’s what I’m learning. Sometimes my assumptions are correct. Sometimes they’re very misguided. Sometimes my assumptions showcase MY PERSONAL ISSUES more than they describe the other person. Sometimes my assumptions limit me. Sometimes they limit relationships. My career. My church experience. And sometimes they limit my ability to showcase anything remotely close to how Jesus wants me to live and be and engage…

We live in a day when it’s so easy to just assume. We see people as books. Or as blog posts. Or as Tweets. Or as avatars. Or as champions of one cause. Or as political positions. Or as (fill in the blank).

I don’t know about you, but my “online identity” is only a small portion of who I really am. Yet all of us are guilty of e-ssuming far too much about people based on their online identity.


And by doing that, what do we lose?

The truth is, my gut tells me that, in person, I’d really like John Piper despite not caring much for his Tweets and some of the videos he posts on his YouTube page. I’m inclined to believe that Mark Driscoll and I would probably find a lot in common despite hating his Facebook status updates. Sure, we would disagree about topics and issues. And our personalities might clash. And we might not be destined to become best friends. But I still believe we could have an engaging conversation.

But let’s face it: How often do those experiences not happen because we’ve already assumed that we know everything there is to know about somebody based on how we disagree? And that’s despite all of us knowing that we are more than the topics we write about and the issues we proclaim/support/hate. Even if we never show the “more” part online; that’s no reason to e-ssume we know everything about each other and then “define” somebody by those e-ssumptions.


At 11:30 p.m., when I got off the plane in Nashville from that meeting in California, there was a message on my cell phone. I listened. “Hello?” The voice was thickly southern.

“Who is this?” I think.

“Mr. Turner, this is the Reverend Jerry Falwell, and I’m calling to tell you that I did not appreciate what you wrote about me in your book The Christian Culture …”

And then I hear laughter.

“Actually it’s Arterburn. Hope you got home safely. We were just sitting here reading your book and laughing hysterically. I love it. Wish you were here with us.”

So yeah, I was the one who ended up being the ass. And you why, right?

Because I assumed.

Comments read comments(12)
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Jason Sagel

posted December 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm

This blog post made me this of Joshua Harris’ I kissed dating goodbye. I read it, I hated it, I thought it was super feminine, but I thought deeper. I don’t agree with everything my best friends think or do or respond with. I guess unity through diversity not uniformity is what the goal is…

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Ben of BenandJacq

posted December 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

But how will we make it into the headlines without totally putting people in boxes and then mutilating those boxes?

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posted December 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

To quote Gru, “That’s what Iiii’mmm Talkinnnnnng abouwwwt!”. That you for this post.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm

BTW, cute ass.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I read “Every Married Woman’s Battle,” and while yes, it was based on a more complementarian view than I would espouse, it was actually very helpful to me in my marriage. It pays to be open minded!

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posted December 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Perhaps there is a difference between assuming and caution? I think caution is a necessary tactic when entering into potentially unsafe situations… whether physical or emotional.

I’ve noticed that lots of people in positions of authority presume that it is their place to tell me how to do things. This is true of differing kinds of authority, but especially true of people who consider themselves moral authorities. They think that they know what’s right and that my moral code is inferior if I don’t conform to their moral code. Case in point, I had a pastor tell me once about A+ Christians and D- Christians. A+ Christians essentially conformed to what the (Baptist) church thought was good and decent behavior, works, and faith while D- Christians were still technically saved, but were backsliders. He asked me to think about what grade I’d give myself.

I thought it over and eventually I decided that this sort of thing was total bullsh*t! My moral code has developed because of what *I* think is moral based on how it affects others (harm principle) and what consequences my actions have for me. So for some pastor to tell me how to act is total crap. Especially if said pastor is working from a system (like the Baptist one) in which women are automatically second class citizens regardless of our abilities and intelligence.

Hence, I feel cautious around Christians in general and conservative Christians specifically. When they make “general” pronouncements about “sinful” behavior, they are often talking about behavior that I find to be normal to adult functioning (like sex) or unpleasantries necessary for navigating our complicated world (like sometimes lying is necessary to prevent harm) or hard and very personal decisions that are life altering (like whether or not to maintain an unwanted pregnancy). Quite frankly, it is no pastor’s business what moral choices I make for my life because that pastor is not an expert on MY life. Neither is his congregation, and yet so many Christians try to force people to conform to standards of behavior we disagree with (ie the Religious Right would just love to take a woman’s right to choose away and force motherhood on women for DARING to enjoy our bodies).

So where is the line between assuming and being protective of oneself?

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bill (cycleguy)

posted December 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm

As I read this (again) Matthew my mind ran to the line from Under Siege 2 where one of the characters says, “Assumption is the mother of all mess-ups” (only he didn’t use that last word. He used the more crass one). I cannot even begin to think how many times I have assumed or presumed upon someone simply because of my preconceived ideas. I also cannot being to count how many times I have been wrong. Thanks for the good reminder. :)

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David N.

posted December 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Great post, Matthew. I am guilty of this all the time. I think I have a problem with being fundamentalist toward fundamentalists, and it often keeps me disengaged in environments where I could probably learn and grow if I were willing. My wife and I attend a pretty conservative church. We don’t agree with the pastors on a lot of doctrinal stuff, and we don’t have a lot in common with the people we go to church with, but we’ve found that a lot of people who disagree with us and live and think more conservatively are real, genuine, kind, good-hearted and intelligent, and are not trying to be judgmental or close-minded at all. Some of the people we have learned from the most are ones we would never have given a chance if we had gone with our initial assumptions.

My pastor and I could not be more opposite – he’s a young earth creationist, a Calvinist, a Biblical inerrantist (is that a word?), and he doesn’t know his Radiohead from his Mumford and Sons, but our friendship and conversations have meant more to me than most relationships in my life because he’s honest, he cares, and he’s fair. People are so much more than we project onto them.

Now, if only I could remember this on Sunday mornings more often…

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posted December 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Assumptions are certainly dangerous territory. I met a man at Thanksgiving 2009, thought he was a cool guy, and then became his Facebook friend. I read his profile and was stunned to see he was a conservative Christian fundamentalist who thinks the Bible is inerrant and the earth is only a few thousand years old. He was so different from what I would have ASSUMED someone with those views would be like. He was sweet, kind, charming, non-judgmental, helpful, funny and a great conversationalist. We have wonderful discussions on his views and while he feels strongly about his own beliefs, he would often shrug and say “but we could all be wrong, so why argue about it?” He’s one of the best people I know.

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posted December 30, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Hey Matthew! I was THERE!! I remember everyone sitting around his livingroom with laptops open and sizing each other up. Steve was phenomenal, more fun and open than anyone might have anticipated. The evening in Newport Beach was priceless. I guess that’s when I decided that I actually liked you. LOL!

The assumptions happen even when we’re not consciously making them. Secret judgements…. There are always different facets to people and many times the assumptions are right, but when they’re wrong, for me they’re really wrong. We’re all a work in progress aren’t we?

Great insights! Happy New Year!!

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