One afternoon during my undergraduate years, I was sitting by the college library reading when two students walked by talking about the crucifixion of Christ. Naturally, my ears perked up. They were deeply critical of the whole idea. One of them summed up the nature of their complaint by exclaiming: "Dying on a cross for the sins of the world—that is so sick!"

This was one of many moments at the University of California at Santa Cruz when the "scandal of the Cross" was evident. In the 1970s, "the establishment" was under fierce attack at all American universities, and Christianity, an upstanding member of that establishment, took its share of lumps. This was especially true at UC Santa Cruz, which had been founded only a few years earlier as a radical experiment in undergraduate education.

We Christians on campus spent a fair bit of time and energy trying to show our fellow students that Christians were not as stupid, moribund, irrelevant, and hypercritical as everyone had been led to believe. I've discovered all that damage control was for naught: After living another 35 years as a Christian, I've come to see that like my fellow believers, I really am stupid, moribund, irrelevant, and hypercritical, and that Jesus' death on a cross for sin is just one of many "sick" things I believe.

Both a recent conversation and a book resurrected those college memories. The conversation was with a 20-something Christian who told me a few anecdotes about other 20-something Christians who refuse to identify themselves with the word Christian. They feel it comes with too much baggage and only makes their non-Christian friends think of stuffy churches, televangelists, the Crusades, and witch trials.

The book was Unchristian: What a New ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is former editor in chief of Christianity Today and author, most recently, of Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals.
Previous SoulWork Columns: