23 June 2014

of fads and harvest

There is a point in life where one is probably taken in to some sort of fad or trend - one which connects us to some larger culture around us.  For certain people, keeping up with trends is a way of life, something that they do naturally and as a part of their daily routine.  For others, fads are ridiculous and are to be avoided at all costs.  (Here is a catalog of fads found online)

I might suppose that most people aren't too caught up in fads and trends (at least, not consciously), but that every now and then something simultaneously catches our attention and a wider popularity.  And off we go.

Although I think technological gadgetry is quite magical and cool, and I am a self-diagnosed bibliophile, I can honestly say that I'm not really a trendy sort of a person.  I don't rush to the movies just because everyone else tells me to; as a rule, I ignore the "best sellers" that greet you in stacks at the front of the bookstore; and I am quite leery when it comes to trends within the church, mostly out of a conviction that marketing and gospel can quickly be at odds with one another.  So, I get a bit concerned when fads masquerade as spiritual moments and victories, all of which are (by their own devices) short-lived, leaving little impact in their wake.  The Christian entertainment industry seems to be the primary driver of these sorts of fads in our current culture, though pastors and other church leaders have certainly perpetuated the problem.

So, what am I saying?  Do I have a problem with The Passion of the Christ, Fireproof, God's Not Dead, Heaven Is for Real, Left Behind(s) etc?  Well, yes I do and no I do not.  It is not so much that I have a problem with Christian content being made into movies for either artistic or entertainment purposes, but these happen to be examples of Christian marketing outpacing the initial spiritual statement that was being made.  We poured out our collective souls during The Passion, made our marriages Fireproof, made our intellectual assertion that God Is Not Dead, and proved that Heaven Is for Real, all while telling everyone how they should not be Left Behind.  It seems that we have made quite the rounds in the Christian entertainment industry, yet very little (perhaps we might make the case that nothing) has changed as a result.

My point is that we have created these great marketing-based movements around a Christianized idea, which has relegated the core of the gospel to a fad.  And the gospel is no fad.  It is not something to be made hip for a while and then put away in some box of memories.  The gospel is dynamic and life-changing, and should be a foolishness that confounds the clever tricks of worldly wisdom.

I am confronted with one simple argument: Yes, but aren't we at least planting seeds?  What is the harm in placing the Christian message into the world?  To the latter, nothing - until it falls prey to the here-today-gone-tomorrowism of fads.  To the first question, aren't we setting the bar rather low for the power of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ?  It seems that there is a great amount of time, energy and resources given to the lowest-common-denominator of expectation here, and perhaps is the root of why our evangelicalism has become so shallow.  In other words, we do not have because we do not ask (Jas. 4:2), here applied to the dynamic and transformative power of God.  We do not truly experience God in our evangelicalism because we have not truly asked for his presence - we are aiming for the lowest level instead of living by faith.

Furthermore, I wonder about this notion of planting seeds, which again speaks to the lowest-common-demoniator of the gospel.  I fear that it has become commonplace for evangelicals to settle with planting seeds because we simply do not wish to do any more for the gospel than to throw money or sermons or books and film at our surrounding culture and call it a day.  This is the path of least resistance and least commitment, and we cover our lack of missional service with the spiritualized phrase of planting seeds.  Interestingly, Jesus told us that "the harvest is plentiful, but the  workers are few" (Mt. 9).  While we are supposed to be asking the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers to gather in the fields, we have instead decided that we needed to plant more seeds on top of the readied fields (because we know what our culture needs more than the Lord of the harvest).

Instead of seeing our cultural engagement as planting seeds, perhaps we should work at bringing in the prepared harvest.  There are many other spiritual and religious options that are not holding back from drawing people to themselves, and yet evangelicalism is so worried that this work is beyond what we can (or should) be doing.  This makes certain sense, if indeed we have surrendered our faith in the power of the gospel to transform.

In the end, this post is not a blanket dismissal of the church's engagement with culture that comes through the means of media.  I find that some of it is good and profitable for its various purposes, and there are many people who produce such things with sincere and humble hearts (and there are those who are simply making a profit for the sake of making a profit, which is exploiting Christian belief for monetary gain, but that can be addressed another time ... ).  My point is that we as a church ought to keep things in their rightful place, whether it is a piece of Christian entertainment, regardless of its value of edification, or our vocation as the people of God who hear his voice calling us to the fields ready for harvest.

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