Pop Culture, Shattered Faith — February 9, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Sh*tty Christian Ripoffs

by

Madeleine L’Engle, the beloved children’s author, novelist, and writing teacher, tells this story: “Not long ago, a college senior asked if she could talk to me about being a Christian writer. If she wanted to write Christian fiction, how was she to go about it?

“I told her that if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus or not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the Lord.” [1]

The attitude of the college senior in this story is a symptom of what I most want to change about the way Christianity is practiced today in America. I think that we like to slap the Christian label onto cultural things – Christian movies, Christian radio, a Christian novelist – to escape the hard work of inner heart transformation and the corresponding (and outward) life realignment that comes with new life in Christ.

It looks to me like most Christians walk around with their beliefs in one compartmentalized section of the brain while the stuff of day-to-day life—paying bills, studying for tests, cooking dinner—remains in a separate compartment. And when we need to feel that our lives are Christian enough, we reach out to some cultural activity labeled as “Christian” trusting that it will be safe and good.

In my life, I can trace the habit of compartmentalizing and pre-packaging culturally Christian goods to the way I hear Christianity talked about. Just yesterday I was in the car scanning the radio. I paused for a moment on a national Christian radio station just in time to hear a commercial featuring different music artists answering the question “Why Jesus?” The first singer to answer in the commercial said, simply, “Jesus saves.”[2]

True statement: Jesus does save us from our sins. But it’s also not the whole truth; in the case of the radio commercial, it’s what the singer didn’t say that shapes a larger, cultural understanding of Christianity.

After 20 years of thinking that the forgiveness of sins was the only essential to the Christian life, I had still yet to experience the abundance of life and peace that I read about in the New Testament.

That’s because just as essential as the forgiveness of sin is Jesus’ redemption of ordinary life. That’s where abundant life is. That’s where I need peace. But that is much more complex statement.

Occasionally I see the spiritual box and the ordinary life box interacting in the public sphere, like in a debate about abortion or the morality of a particular politician’s decisions. But these public examples are so few and far between (and inherently limited in scope and topic) that the world isn’t able to also see all the small ways that Jesus brings our lives into alignment with the intended order of creation.

If only people who are not Christians could see the day-to-day process of redemption working our in our lives in addition to (or perhaps instead of?) public finger pointing. And if only Christians would think more deeply about daily life and reject that a “Christian” label on a cultural item doesn’t equal redemption.

I think the cost we (the ecumenical community of Christians in America) pay for the compartmentalizing is two-fold:

1) Internal: Our limited vocabulary of describing what it means to be a Christian today also limits our access to new life in Christ, to spiritual growth and maturity;

2) External: We have a severe image problem because what we rant about publicly and contribute culturally seems entirely disconnected from a God worthy of worship.

I want to see that college seniors in L’Engle’s story who is a Christian planning to be a writer strive to be best writer she can possibly be so that when she gets a job as a writer, the work that she does—whether or not she uses expletives or PTLs[3]—is intrinsically marked by redemption.

[1] Madeleine L’Engle. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. New York: North Point press, 1995. 121-122.

[2] I’m not sure these are the exact words, but I do think I’m representing the commercial accurately.

[3] A trendy acronym among some Christians meaning “Praise the Lord.”

4 Comments

  • Great points Ms. Hamilton.

    Bringing ideas from conception into the real world is one of the ways human beings are created in the image of God.

    Those of us who aspire to create beautiful things should resisting looking to pop culture as our muse, and instead expand our horizons and experiences, deepen our relationships (especially with those outside of our own tribe), look for clues about timeless human themes from art, music and literature that has stood the test of time — and finally, carve out time to look inside of ourselves.

  • I think you have an excellent point and touch on one of the main reasons why so many people default to Christian subculture–its a lot easier to associate yourself with Christ by slapping a Christian label on yourself, than to actually live according to his code.

    G.K. Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” I think that applies to a lot of us today who want to be associated with the name of Christ, but want nothing of his cross. Ancient Greeks used to reserve final judgement about the quality of a man until he was dead because only upon examining the whole of his life could they tell if he was truly virtuous. Sometimes I wish we could do the same with Christians.

  • You are absolutely correct. Jesus’ message of loving seems to be ignored in favor of expressing our salvation. It’s like telling only half the story. Many seem to forget that Jesus tells us our salvation is secured by believing in Him AND following His command to love God and our neighbor.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ms. Hamilton.

    One’s “Christian” witness is infinitely more effective by living life as the best possible (whatever your vocation/occupation) each and every day as opposed to passing out tracts and bludgeoning others with the Bible. Drop the stuffy “christian” persona, quit paying 20% more for mediocre products at a “christian” book store, and just LOVE OTHERS!

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