Does Christian Hypocrisy Undermine the Reasonability of the Faith?
Christian hypocrisy has done massive damage to the Christian faith. According to author and social critic Os Guinness, the challenge of hypocrisy is second only to the problem of suffering and evil, and is one of the main reasons people duck the challenge of the gospel.
Hypocrisy is such a massive challenge, says Guinness, because Christians are called to be God’s witnesses to the world (Isa. 43:10; John 3:28): “In other words, before we are asked to preach, proclaim or try to persuade people of the claims of Jesus and his Father, we are asked simply to be witnesses for him—to provide an honest and factual account of what we have seen and heard objectively, and what we ourselves have experienced (‘Once I was blind, but now I can see’)—and to live lives that support what we say.”
It is tempting for Christians to respond by pointing out the hypocrisy in other people and worldviews. For instance, the voices of tolerance and inclusiveness are often remarkably intolerant and non-inclusive of people with traditional values. Such hypocrisy should be rightly pointed out. But this doesn’t get Christians off the hook. After all, James said, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Christians are called to a higher standard. Whether we like it or not, people will judge the truthfulness of Christianity by the lives of its adherents.
As with the charge that the church has caused injustice in the world, Christians should first look inside and see if there is any merit to this claim. Have we been hypocritical in any way? Have our lives betrayed our principles? Have we contributed to this narrative? Rather than blame others, we need to take an honest look inside, identify our own hypocrisy, repent of it, and then admit our shortcomings.
As for the claim itself, it is an example of a “genetic fallacy,” which is a claim that is dismissed because of some perceived fault in its origin (its genesis). Guinness explains,
There is an important difference between the source of a truth claim and the standard by which it should be assessed. It is therefore wrong to reject a claim just because of the character and condition of its source. . . . The issue is always truth, and truth is not a matter of where someone is “coming from” or how oddly or shabbily they have behaved in the past before making the claim. . . . If the Christian faith is true, it would still be true even if no one believed it, or if all who did were hypocrites; and if it is false, would still be false even if everyone believed it and there was no apparent hypocrisy in their behavior (196).
If you are upset about hypocrisy in the church, then you are in good company—Jesus felt the same way. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy, calling them blind guides, snakes, and even killers of the prophets (Matt. 23). He condemned them for not practicing what they preached. If hypocrisy troubles you, then you’re on the side of Jesus.
If you are not a believer, and have been dismissing Christianity because of the failure of Christians, I am sorry that Christians have let you down. But Jesus never will. Maybe it’s time to consider the message of Christ himself.
Have you considered the evidence that he is actually God in human flesh? If Jesus is not God, then Christianity is certainly false. But if he is God, then everything changes. That’s why Jesus said that the most important question is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 188.