Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Vast Evangelical Wasteland

The other night we were being entertained by some late-night infomercial tv. First, there was the offer to buy some videos that could show you how to make more money in a day selling stuff on ebay than most people make in a month. (Yeah, right - read the fine print: "Results not typical...") Then there was the infomercial on the Swedish foam rubber mattress. (Well, better than the ebay thing. At least I've seen the ads in U.S. News & World Report, but I'm not currently in the market for a new mattress, and it wouldn't hurt to check out Consumer Reports on that one, either.) Then there was the infomercial posing as an interview to plug an author's book.

But it wasn't just any author; he was a well-known evangelical Christian author, and he would probably be recognized by most evangelical Christians in the States. He was plugging a book and series of videos that purported to help people find meaning in life - just follow the simple steps that he discloses. All you have to do is call the number on the screen and order the set - only 3 easy payments of $X each. But wait! If you call within the next Y minutes, he will cancel one of those payments! Such a deal! How on earth did we ever survive without the insights divulged in this wonderful offer?

If you spend any amount of time in your average Christian bookstore, you will wonder how the Church has managed to survive 2000 years without the benefit of the cumulative wisdom and insight of 20th/21st century Christianity. We've got everything boiled down to a step-by-step approach to the problems of life, which evidently revolve mainly around the individual's personal happiness and fulfillment. And God is not only eager but anxiously waiting to help everyone (Christians and non-Christians alike, I guess) develop their full potential and thereby lead healthy, happy, productive lives.

At least that's the impression that I get from Christian bookstores - and definitely the main message in the Christian infomercial. The author mentioned God from time to time, but not once in the course of the 30-minute "interview" did I hear him mention the name of Jesus Christ. Not once did he mention the possibility that sin might be a bit bigger problem than failure to live up to one's potential. Not once did he ask the question, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36) I suppose some will argue that Christians already know this, so it would be superfluous to cover that angle.

Two problems with that attitude:

1. What about an unbeliever who would be watching the infomercial? He wouldn't necessarily be expected to have heard it before, and after watching, he would remain in his ignorance.

2. Are you certain that it is superfluous to remind Christians that there are far more pressing issues than personal fulfillment?

The Christian media tell me otherwise. They tell me that most Christians are so earthly-minded that they're no heavenly good. Christian diet books, romance novels, and apocalyptic thrillers sell far better than books on theology and doctrine. You're more likely to hear a radio program about "how to improve your marriage" or "how to get along with your coworkers" than one that offers solid exposition of a Biblical passage. You're more likely to hear songs about how happy God makes me than ones that glorify God.

I tremble when I think of the current state of the Church...


Anonymous said...

The current state of the church? It is not trembling before the holiness of God, that's for sure. It is not working out its own salvation with fear and trembling before the God who is thrice times holy. The whole loaf is leavened and it is HIGH time the leaven was purged from the loaf.

Talking about tv, that reminds me once again of a very most excellent DVD we have, called, can you guess? Yep. Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism, available at one of the most bestest websites on the Internet, am I allowed to mention it, oh I will anyway, Monergism Books, a division of the BEST website on the www called :) Hey, I can tell you, that DVD is just what the Doctor ordered for the illness that inflicts the church. Great for small group studies, et cetera.

Now where did I leave that foam matteress, they're not cheap ya know!

Anselm said...

I generally agree with your assessment of the state of the church, however I'n inclined to thinkit has been ever thus. In my zelaous youth I read a lot of the church fathers and a lot of early church history and the variety of heresies including antinomianism is scary. There are a lot of groups accused of being antinomian now, but that's like calling Bush Hitler. He may or may not be right, but he's no Hitler. Same eith these groups. Calvin presided (indirectly) over executions of Armenians, the Puritans were into holiness, but also legalism and may have been pretty pharasailcal. Read a Jonathan Edwards sermon and you get the idea that he thought there was a problem with the church then. I could go on and on. Of course that doesn't mean we should be unconcerned as you point out. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

The church is people and people are creatures of the culture they live in. But the church of Jesus is a Kingdom of its own, a culture of its own. I spend a lot of time living cross-culturally and it isn't comfortable. Everything is different. Almost nothing is like what I grew up with. There's a temptation to create my own little America wherever I am, to isolate myself from the foreign discomfort of wherever I am.

Something like that happens to the church, too. We want the walk with Christ to be less foreign, more like what we know best. So we try to force the church to speak the language of our culture, to embrace the values of our culture, and pretty soon, the church isn't different any longer -- it's just like us.

So I guess we need to keep encouraging each other to live outside of our comfort zone, to live as citizens of heaven, not earth, not America. To leave behind the comforts of worldly culture and embrace the culture of Jesus. It's a hard thing to sustain, though. And a lot of us try to have it both ways. Thanks for your thought-provoking post, Janet.

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