Sunday, November 9, 2008

decaffeinated christianity

my term "decaffeinated christianity" does not refer to a lukewarm version of christianity, one in which the christian merely does the actions of a believer without devoting themselves in mind, heart, and spirit to the christian walk and a relationship with Christ. it is not the opposite, either.

what it does refer to is the christian worldview in which we live in, our christian culture, this reality in which mainstream christianity in the united states exists. the music, the worship, the books, sermons, evangelism, ideas, solutions, standards; the christian essence. but if christianity is decaffeinated, then what does caffeination look like?

in short, our world. mainstream christianity has launched a rather aggressive campaign to quite literally be "a part of the world but not of it." and it has accomplished to create the greatest of taks: safety. this is evidenced in numerous places. christian music mimics the music of the world, except it is safe. the ever-mediocre christian movie industry presents thrillers, romances, horrors, life-affirming movies meant to simulate those of the world, minus the parts that make us uncomfortable (most often sex, less often violence). i have personally walked into christian bookstores and seen shelves containing one christian romance novel written specifically for each state in the united states. guitar hero? we've got guitar praise.

the trend is very clear: make things we enjoy safe. the message is even clearer: we love what the world has to offer and would hate to leave it behind.

and why shouldn't we like what the world has to offer? it has so many things christian culture does not: drive, motivation, creativity, quality, vision, purpose. so we take and pillage and water-down until we are left with a replica that just so happens to align more closely with God's world.

which leaves us with a bubble, a christian bubble, one that we don't ever have to leave and one in which we can enjoy all the pleasures of the world guiltless. we are, if i can use an even more ridiculous and culture-specific image, tofurkey.

but this is disastrous. this bubble rids us from ever interacting with the world - the first step in alienating ourselves from unbelievers around us. next we claim our replica is better than the original, and we judge. and how harshly we judge. we fret over morality, over the disappearing social fabric, ethics, behaviors. we force unbelievers to change to our decaffeinated world through laws or angry signs or protests. we delight in telling them how wrong they are.

but how right the world is! how perfectly it understands suffering and loss, the depravity of mankind, our selfish nature. movie after movie, play after play, song after song points to that universal truth that we are lost, fallen, imperfect, incapable of redemption. and through that darkness it also knows light - a kind deed, selfless acts, responsibility, integrity, wealth in giving and not in receiving.

that the world's culture misses the point is obvious. but how are unbelievers expected to know the truth about why they are fallen when christians won't leave their bubble? how are they supposed to know that murder selfishly destroys something precious to God when all christians care about is getting them to stop having abortions? how are they supposed to know the destruction of divorce when all christians care about is making sure only the right people can legally marry?

at the heart of the problem is a rather unhealthy fear that, i quite strongly believe, empowers satan to intimidate us and belittles our God's power and glory over his creation. satan's intimidation is like the u.s. government's colored threat alerts - it is only good for fear-mongering and submission, then for blindly rallying behind divisive and irrational acts. fear of the world causes us to judge, denounce, condemn. this is how we often treat unbelievers, especially when we attempt to evangelize. we cry "sinner, repent!" or just hand them a piece of paper (to fulfill their origami needs, no doubt). and when we do this, when we focus on the wrong, our fallen human nature shines brightest. we are no different than the unbeliever, we adhere to no higher power, we have given in to fear. and fear, to quote the film "persepolis," is what makes us lose our conscience.

all mankind was originally created in God's image (genesis 1:27), yet even after the fall we were still made in God's image (genesis 9:6). how often we miss this crucial point. the most wretched unbeliever we know, whoever that may be, is made in the image of God, just like us. which means that all mankind has the capacity for good, since God is good, and all mankind has the capacity to know truth, since God is truth, regardless of whether they are saved or not. their mere existence already makes them like God, according to the bible.

when referring to his disciples in john 17:15, Christ prays to God, "my prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them from the evil one" (niv). how often we miss this too. Christ does not want us to live in safe christian bubbles, he wants our protection as we live in the world. for at the end of the day, the world is not wrong, it is lost. at the end of the day, our goal is not to bring morality to unbelievers, it is to bring Christ to unbelievers. we are not supposed to be right, we are supposed to be truth.

acts 17:18-34 is such an incredible example of the type of evangelists we should be. the apostle paul knows so clearly the world of athens that he can name their gods, their poets, their beliefs. he knows the world. knows it! he does not shy away from it, he does not preach from the nearest church, he does not demean. he acknowledges the truths that they know with utmost grace and then, only then, points them to Christ. his speech should be memorized by everyone who claims to be an evangelist, in my opinion.

and just like paul, we need to caffeinate our christian worldview. we need to know exactly what is happening in our world so we can identify the Godly truths that unbelievers already know and let them know who's behind them. we need to learn to look for God in our unbelieving friends and let them know that they are made in his image, that the reason they know to be selfless is because their Creator is selfless, that the reason they seek justice is because their Creator seeks justice.

because finally, to push the metaphor to its extreme (if rather clumsily), while the world is caffeinated coffee, God created the cacao beans. the struggle of good and evil so present in the world's art? biblical. the stories of suffering after relying on oneself to fix mistakes? biblical. existentialism? life without God, as the writer albert camus wrote of his book "the stranger."

so if the caffeinated world is a copy of biblical struggles, that makes the decaffeinated christianity we enjoy a water-downed version of a water-downed version of God's worldview. ouch. so let's ditch decaf and pray like Christ prayed - for God to protect us from the world but not to isolate us from the world. let's follow the apostle paul's lead and read what the world reads, study what it studies, so we can point to Christ in a way that makes sense to those around us. our God is far more powerful that we like to think.

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