Author: Rev. A. Trevor Sutton
Publisher: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018
Rating: 5/5 stars
In his concluding chapter, Pastor Sutton writes that we Christians are to be bold as we proclaim the Gospel—that is, a boldness that is “subtle, quiet, steadfast, or unmovable… Boldness is simply standing out from the others when it counts” (152). And because Christians are called to be humble “in a culture drunk on pride and self-promotion” (152), being humble itself is a bold move.
Sutton’s book is a bold and humble book that speaks on clarifying true Christianity in a long era of confusion that has no idea what Christianity truly is even though people think they know what Christianity is about. Especially in a technological age where the Internet spreads this confusion at an alarming rate.
As I began Sutton’s book, the meme to the right came to mind. Obviously, the Internet was not around during Lincoln’s time period, so this quote can’t be true.
Exactly. That’s the point of the meme. Don’t believe everything you read or see on the Internet because it is extremely easy to spread misinformation across the webs of the Internet, hence the meme. Unfortunately, many people will believe everything they read and see on the Internet without question. Even, and perhaps especially, things concerning Christianity.
Sutton argues that not only is there massive confusion about Christianity among non-Christians and Christians, but also the world itself “has descended into such profound and widespread confusion” (xiv). Simply venture into the tiresome world of politics. Today, people don’t know what to believe, so they rely on the biases of their favourite politicians and media sources to tell them what to believe rather than thinking and investigating for themselves (something which the movie Dead Poets Society encourages). If the world is confused about itself, of course it’s going to be confused about Christianity.
However, as Sutton notes, this confusion about Christianity is not a new problem; it has been around for ages. Thus, as you read the book you will not only read about theology and church history, but also about culture, the rise of technology and the Internet and social media, and, of course, Jesus—whom Christianity is all about.
Sutton divides his book into two parts. Part 1 is dedicated to delineating the age of confusion we’re in, exploring “what it means to be confused about God, how this confusion has been manifested throughout human history, and how it has spread over the generations up until the present day,” as well as “how the internet and social media have amplified the confusion in our world” (xiv).
Part 2 is dedicated to clearing the confusion where Sutton presents “specific ways that people are currently confused about Christianity” and “addresses common misconceptions and accusations made against the followers of Jesus” (xv). As Sutton warns, it is important to keep in mind that this book “does not cover the entire depth and breadth of the Christian faith” (xv), for this is not a book on dogmatics. For that, you can read Pieper or the LCMS’s new dogmatics, Confessing the Gospel. Rather, he covers specific common confusions that abound in our culture and presents unequivocal clarifications to these confusions.
Part 1: The Age of Confusion
This first section consists of merely two chapters where Sutton provides an adequate history of confusion and how the rise of the Internet has exacerbated this confusion.
What does it mean to be confused? I’m a nerd when it comes to etymology (the study of the origin of words), so I was pleased that Pastor Sutton tracked our English word “confused” to its Latin origin, confundo, which “has the sense of pouring together or mixing two different substances. Confusion is the mingling and mixing of truth and falsehood, information and misinformation, knowledge and ignorance. Like ink poured into water, confusion is falsehood poured into truth resulting in an opaque mess” (4).
When you mix oil with water, you can no longer tell what is water and what is oil. It becomes an “opaque mess.” Similarly, confusion is mixing truth with falsehood and information with misinformation so that you can no longer tell what is true and what is untrue.
Today, we know exactly what this looks like. We call it fake news. While some will use this term to describe anything they disagree with, the University of Michigan defines fake news “as those news stories that are false: the story itself is fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources, or quotes.” The event that took place might be true, but the clickbait title and/or the content within the article/video purposefully contains falsehood and misinformation in order to mislead and deceive people. The age we live in is so confused that even Snopes—a notorious fact checking source—is incapable of distinguishing between satire and truth, fact from fiction.
An extremely common example of fake news is in a meme that consists of a bullet point list of “facts” while it fails to provide a list of its source (or sources) to verify the so-called facts. More likely, these are opinions being provided as “facts” that cannot be verified; thus, it becomes fake news.
A current example of this is the meme to the left. It provides a bullet point list of supposed reasons why mask wearing is harmful without providing any sources to verify these “facts.” More likely, these are the opinions of a frustrated person who didn’t bother to research such claims. Without any verifiable information, this can only be categorised as fake news.
There are other factours of confusion we see manifesting itself online than just fake news, however. One of them Sutton covers is the “hive mind,” also known as groupthink (a term used in George Orwell’s dystopian book, 1984, hmmmm). One common example is “online shaming. The digital hive finds its target—someone holding to an unpopular view, doing something perceived by others as wrong, or making a simple mistake—and begins to swarm with public condemnation” (24).
A recent example of this is when celebrity Terry Crews tweeted, “If you are a child of God, you are my brother and sister. I have family of every race, creed and ideology. We must ensure #blacklivesmatter doesn’t morph into #blacklivesbetter.” Immediately, advocates of BLM as an organisation and other political liberals fumed in rage as they swarmed to their keyboards and smartphones to publicly shame Terry Crews for having an opinion contrary to what is popular. As Sutton says, “No time or incentive to think for yourself or consider the individual person being shamed—there is only enough time to swarm, destroy, and move on to the next target” (24). These hive minds are eager to violate the 8th Commandment (damaging and ruining your neighbour’s reputation).
While Sutton includes participatory culture in his list of manifestations of confusion, the above example also fits into the recent cancel culture. The book was written in 2018, however, so cancel culture wouldn’t have been on his mind to discuss, but it is certainly to be included.
While all these things are recent manifestations of the age of confusion, this age itself is not new at all. Sutton helps the reader to see that the age of confusion actually dates all the way back to the Fall of Man. “The first instance of confusion occurred when the serpent said, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ (Genesis 3:1)” (4). By questioning the truth of God’s Word, Satan confused Eve when he said this and she fell into deception, then temptation, and finally sin.
The serpent also said, “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'” (Genesis 3:4-5). Satan mixed truth with falsehood, information with misinformation. It is true that Adam and Eve would not die immediately, but yes, they would die; and they did, and now so do we. It is true that they would know good and evil and, in this sense, be like God, but they would not be gods like God is God. Only God can be God.
Hence Adam and Eve’s confusion. They only knew what life and good were because all they had was God’s life and His goodness; they had no idea what death and evil were since these things do not come from God, until they bit into that fruit. Since they only knew what life and good were, how could they understand what death and evil were? They couldn’t. Hence their confusion and temptation. Since then, the entire world has lived in the perennial age of confusion especially regarding God, His Word, and who He is.
Sutton then gives a brief history of the world’s massive confusion concerning God throughout the Old Testament (i.e. the beginnings of human history), and into the 5th century, up to the present day. Currently, the Internet—especially social media—plays a large role in this. Confusion is not only a prevailing problem of our culture; it is also the prevailing problem of the fallen world in which we live. The world has fallen from the state of certainty in God’s Word to a state of constant confusion about His Word.
Part 2: Clearing the Confusion
The rest of the book is dedicated to putting an end to all this confusion with the Word of God. As this second and last section consists of more than half the book, there are numerous examples Sutton delineates.
One example of today’s confusion about Christianity is that it’s about trying to be a good person. In reality, “The central message of Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not aimed at good people… Jesus did not come to make good people better. Jesus did not come to help bad people learn how to become good people. Jesus did not come to give good advice or proclaim a message of moral perfection… Jesus came to proclaim Good News to bad people” (34).
As Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). In other words, Jesus came not for good people, but for bad people. That is incredibly good news! Yet the world is confused about this. Despite the testimony of the Gospels, people think Jesus came for good people and that Christianity is all about being good. This could not be further from the truth.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make this extremely clear. Jesus called Levi, a tax collector, to follow Him (Mark 2:14). To both the Romans and the Jews of this day, tax collectors were not seen as good people by any means. We still don’t like tax collectors today! Who likes paying taxes? Many other examples could be listed, of which Sutton goes through several.
There are many other examples listed throughout the rest of the book of how so many people are confused about Christianity. I won’t go through the rest of these so as not to give anymore spoilers, but this book is well worth the read. It’s an easy and quick read and I highly recommend it for either individual reading or even for a Bible study group.
At the end of each chapter, Sutton provides discussion questions that suit a Bible study group. I would recommend every pastor to use this book for one or several Bible study groups for the purpose of clearing any confusion they have about Christianity because they will have confusions themselves. Take it one chapter at a time for each week; they’re not very long and the book is not hard to read. Each Bible study session, I think, should first consist of a review of what was read, then the discussion questions should follow.
I would even encourage non-Christians to read this book so they can also be convicted of their own misunderstandings about Christianity and come to a better understanding of what Christianity really is. That being said, this book should not be used to convert anybody because that is only the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God; but for the sake of intellectual honesty, I think it would still be a good book for unbelievers to read.
As Sutton says at the very beginning, “If you are confused, then you should get some clarification. If you are unclear as to how all the parts and pieces fit together, then you should get a clearer understanding” (xii). If you know you don’t understand Christianity very well or even if you think you understand it, what point is there to remaining in your confusion? If you’re confused, you seek clarification. So, why not seek clarification about Christianity? Sutton’s Clearly Christian sets forth an easy-to-read, bold, humble, and coherent presentation of what it means to be clearly Christian in a perennial age of being confused about Christianity.