Accessorizing the Gospel, Part Two: How Secular Christianity Has Already Lost the GospelTuesday, February 21, 2006
John Schroeder (Blogotional) referred to my first article on this matter in his post, "Have You Accessorized Today?" His comments were so accurate and helpful, I thought a follow-up would be in order. His most helpful comments for me personally are these:
"The gospel is...no mere accessory. That's like calling the atomic bomb "just another bullet." The gospel is the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, redeeming us and transforming us. The gospel as accessory is a little bit like walking around with a man-eating lion on a leash. You think you have a pet - but that pet has a whole different set of ideas.We seems to always want to keep the gospel in a tiny little box, where we can control it. But it is not designed to be controlled, it is designed to control us. This is why we accessorize the gospel, so that we never confront it directly - we afraid of that loss of control."
May I coin a new phrase: "secular Christianity." This is just what John is describing...a version of Christianity that is comfortable with using the gospel as an accessory to make money. The gospel decorates secular media like a gold ring in a pig's nose. Now, my desire in this post is not to run rampant with criticism and negativity. That does no good. This blog becomes like almost every other if I stoop to this level. However, if I can raise awareness as to just how secularized we have allowed the gospel to function in our lives, we can more readily identify it, stop it in our own lives, and experience genuine change and deep joy. With this in mind, consider a few examples of how this has happened.
Hollywood secularizes the gospel and uses it as an accessory to do one thing - make money. The slogan of Big Idea productions (the makers of Veggie Tales) is "Sunday morning values, Saturday morning fun." In an instant, this phrase associates something eternal and divine, something infinitely more enjoyable with something temporal, human and barely enjoyable. With the success of The Passion, Hollywood has awakened and discovered that Jesus makes lots of money. So with the release of movies like this and the first release of The Chronicles of Narnia, producers manufacture and distribute marketing materials and promo videos especially for pastors and churches. But rather than angrily respond that the precious gospel has become an accessory to the dollar, the church has strangely tagged along with the strategy. Why don't we see through it?
It doesn't stop there, though, does it? Christian publishers do it with books, CD's, videos, toys, and other products. As I said in the first post on this subject, Christian bookstores are now Christian stores with more non-print product than books. Lots and lots of money can be made with pictures, dishes, glasses, t-shirts, pencil cups, statues, and all kinds of stuff if it has a Bible verse on it. A poster with a sports figure dunking a basketball with Philippians 4:13 at the bottom of the picture wrongly confuses truth with reality. Doing all things through Christ is not and cannot ever be associated with dunking a basketball. The gospel - the person and work of Christ - has just been secularized. Christ and what He offers and provides for us through His atonement and resurrection has nothing to do with slam dunking a ball. We must build this into the fabric of our mental faculties so that we will be on our guard against the world's devaluing of the gospel and our Savior.
Another consideration I offer is a bit tougher. Pastors also use the gospel as accessory with their churches. If I had one dollar for every person I've met or heard of who is in ministry for the money, I'd be very, very wealthy. I remember the first time I met a pastor who, when I asked him how the Lord called him into the ministry, answered in the following way: "well, it seemed like a good way to help people and earn a comfortable living." I was dumbfounded. Yet the longer I'm alive, the more I find it is true. Settling into a church to pastor because it is a comfortable living is using the gospel of Jesus Christ as an accessory to life. It is a tool to get a man in an easy job. Shame on these men. They are hired hands and not true undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd.
Finally, I can say from personal experience that as a parent, I use the gospel many times as an accessory in my fathering. I have used the gospel so many times as a bandaid for my children's consciences...to make them feel better about a sin they've committed. Others have expressed that they take their children to church because it's good for them and they want their kids to be raised with good morals. There it is again - the gospel is a tool to get them something they want - well-behaved kids. In my experience as a pastor and board member for two Christian schools, many parents put their kids in Christian schools because this is precisely what they want. The gospel is an accessory. And an accessory never changed anyone. It only changes how they are perceived.
In all of these venues the message of the gospel and the person of Jesus is lost because sin is ignored and the righteousness of God in Christ is obscured or absconded altogether. Jesus is a happy person who loves everybody and requires no repentance from anyone. He was a kind teacher who hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. Yet strangely people miss how he forgave them and then told them to go and sin no more. They miss His first sermon, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." They miss Him as the righteousness of God which every single person alive needs in order to stand before God justified and find peace with Him and find Him their highest joy and spend eternity with Him!
May we develop more critical thinking about our ability to identify and willingness to be involved with secular christianity. May we cherish the gospel more and more such that we are able to more quickly assess anything that steals its glory and beauty. My prayer is that I would treat the gospel like I treat my wife. She's the most precious thing on earth to me, and I can't imagine allowing anyone or anything else to use her for selfish gain or monetary value. I would never allow my wife to serve as any man's prostitute. And I pray that I would never allow my gospel to serve as anyone's financial whore or convenient love slave. It is a message worth dying for.