Who Is the Enemy in the Hunger Games?

catching fireThe previews and posters for Hunger Games: Catching Fire implore us to “Remember who the enemy is.” But who or what is the enemy in this series?

Author Suzanne Collins describes a dystopian future where the remains of the United States have fallen under the oppressive control of The Capitol which rules the twelve districts of Panem from which it obtains resources to finance its lavish lifestyle. To maintain control, the Capitol hosts annual Hunger Games where they select two tributes from the children of each district to fight to the death in an arena for the entertainment of the nation. The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She volunteers as a tribute in the place of her sister and fights in the games, eventually emerging victorious alongside her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark. Their victory becomes a powerful symbol of rebellion against the Capitol and has the potential to unite the districts in revolution.

The villain of The Hunger Games is the Capitol and its blood-scented ruler President Snow. Before entering the games Peeta says, “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” And later, after the death of a tribute Katniss contemplates, “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.” The Hunger Games series seems poised to tread familiar territory – a group of unlikely, semi-reluctant freedom fighters are out to overthrow oppression; see Star Wars, Harry Potter,  Braveheart, etc.

Yet Collins is a different kind of author and The Hunger Games is a different kind of story. Collins’ grew up with war. Her grandfather was gassed in World War I and her uncle received wounds in World War II. When she was 6, her father left to fight in Vietnam and she struggled with his absence. Upon returning, he endured nightmares that lasted his whole life. Her family moved around with the military, spending time at West Point and Brussels. Her father took every opportunity to educate her about the realities of war. A family trip to a castle which she imagined would be “fairy-tale magical” became a lesson on fortresses. She says, “My dad’s holding me back from the tour to show me where they poured the boiling oil, where the arrow slits are. And then you’re just like, wait a minute! This isn’t what I had in mind.”

Collins’ inspiration for the Hunger Games came one night while flipping television channels between reality television and Iraq war coverage. Concerned about the desensitizing effect of television on younger viewers, she decided to write a series that would educate teens about the realities of war – like her father did for her. She says, “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have? We think we’re sheltering them but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.” She rejects any attempt to morph her books into an allegory for the struggles of adolescence, saying, “I don’t write about adolescence. I write about war for adolescents.”

Enter The Hunger Games. The world created by Collins is devoid of anything transcendent. There are no churches, no mosques, no temples, and no religious beliefs of any kind. Religious names have disappeared; Michael, Mohammed, and Mary are replaced with Primrose, Peeta, and Plutarch. There is no expectation of life after death or any purpose beyond the daily struggles of existence. Katniss’ initial exchange of herself for her sister is noble but she fights in the arena simply to survive. She helps others along the way so she can live with herself should she escape. Neither she nor anyone else is fighting for love, truth, justice, liberty, goodness, or any other transcendent quality. Even the desire for freedom is grounded in dislike of the Capitol’s oppression, not any belief about the right of humanity to be free. The general motivation of those who oppose the Capitol seems simply to be: Capitol bad, anything else better. When Katniss asks what people want to replace the Capitol with, she is told a republic with elected representatives because it worked in the history books. A far cry from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” or the bold declaration of inalienable rights each human is endowed with by their Creator that inspired the first American republic.

For all its cruelty and vanity, The Capitol is an inadequate enemy for Collins. The real enemy of The Hunger Games is war. That is why Panem lacks anything transcendent. Love, justice, liberty, religion, etc. are not worth fighting for because the ultimate problem is the fight itself. As the series continues this is why each character in the story becomes morally compromised; war dirties us all. This is why the body count rises exponentially; war spares no one. This may be why many readers left the final book of the series “Mockingjay” feeling disheartened. As the top reviewer on Amazon states, “When I first closed the book last night, I felt shattered, empty, and drained.”

This is not Harry Potter’s fight for love which, though it claims many lives, ends with love victorious and the world a better place. Readers and viewers alike will wrestle with the question: Is the world of The Hunger Games a better place after Katniss’ efforts or has the enemy of war ultimately won?

There is much to commend about The Hunger Games. Collins creates a fascinating world with compelling characters and a narrative that sucks the reader in and refuses to let go. It also pushes back against the glorification of violence and the emptiness of the media in our culture. Katniss herself has good qualities; she sacrifices herself for her sister, serves others (if occasionally for selfish motives), takes responsibility for her family, faces adversity with courage, and possesses unique talents and abilities.

Yet Katniss is a hero without conviction. She is largely motivated by survival, anger, and pragmatism and is not guided by any purpose, truth or standard beyond herself. She exists in a world that lacks any meaning or higher cause worthy of sacrifice. Should war and conflict be vanquished in Panem, will the people have anything to live for besides a higher standard of living?

The gospel story is different. It features a hero who believed so strongly in love and justice that he died a violent death so both could triumph. He gave us a world full of meaning, lives with incredible purpose, and a cause that makes every sacrifice worthwhile. Yes, there will be war, conflict, and struggle. But when the author of the gospel is finished writing the story of this world, we will not be disheartened but will have inexpressible joy that goes on forever.

-Brian

Interview of Suzanne Collins from New York Times

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YEC East Session One

At the end of January I had the chance to speak at YEC East for SBCV in Virginia Beach. I had a lot of fun and was blessed by Matt Papa and Kristian Stanfill leading worship and illusions from Harris III. Below is my message from Exodus 14 from the Friday night session for those churches who were able to brave the snow and make it out!

Brian Jennings: YEC East from Innovative Faith Resources on Vimeo.

On Your Shelf: A Bible and an Elf

elfonshelfThat latest research confirms 2.5 million American homes have adopted a new Christmas tradition: Elf on the Shelf, a storybook accompanied by an actual elf doll.

Any family can have an elf. Elves are adopted, taken home and given a name. Once a year, during the Christmas season, families read the elf story together and their elf comes out of hibernation! He is placed prominently in the house so he can fulfill his chief task: observing behavior. Each night, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa all the good deeds and not so good deeds. It is from these reports Santa makes his final gift decisions.

The elf moves around the house all throughout the Christmas season…you never know where he will show up: the freezer, the bathtub, under the table or on top of the ceiling fan.  It is with great anticipation that children wake up to find him in his new spot each morning and with great diligence they behave well for him throughout the day. After all, Christmas presents are on the line.

As exciting and magical as the Elf on the Shelf tradition might feel during the Christmas season, the reality of being constantly observed and then rewarded based on behavior is a weighty burden for everyday life. Many wrongly believe this is how the God of the Bible relates to humanity.

Unlike the elf, God never sleeps (Psalm 121:4). He sees and has always seen all good and evil deeds on planet Earth. Unlike the elf, God does not see our physical actions only, but straight through to our thoughts and motives, hearts and souls (Jeremiah 11:20). Unlike the elf, God is not logging a report of  behaviors (Psalm 103:10-13) to determine the kind and number of gifts He will give; He is storing up wrath against sin (Colossians 3:6). Those who have rejected Him will suffer that wrath (Romans 2:8). Those who have repented and believed in Jesus will escape it, as He stands in their place (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God isn’t looking down to separate the good little boys and girls from the bad; He came down because we were all bad (Genesis 6:5, Romans 3:10). It is because we are bad God freely offers the greatest gift known to man: the free gift of salvation and eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). Even on our very best, most well-behaved day, we cannot earn it.

In the comings and goings of your household this and every Christmas season, consider what you most desire to impart to your family. What will you lift the highest, teach the loudest and champion with the greatest zeal? Will it be the earning of temporary gifts by offering temporary good behavior to a temporary tradition? Or, will it be the truth of an eternal God Who came for a hopeless people to exchange their bad behavior for His righteousness? The true answers to these questions will come years from now, from the mouths of our children.

In the gospel, God gave to us because he loved us, not because of our behavior. May Jesus Christ, infinitely greater than the elf, be the source of your joy and worship this Christmas.

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15

-Emily

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Sheep of Justice: Who Are the Least of These in Matthew 25?

Well, 2011 is at a close and we want to thank all of you who have read, shared, and commented on the articles here at the Entire Gospel! To celebrate the end of this year and kick off the next, we are going to reveal and repost our top 5 most viewed articles of 2011! Coming in at number 5 is “Sheep of Justice”:

Are you sure you know what a passage in the Bible means? Be sure to check yourself before you wreck yourself (and anyone who will listen to you). One Sunday night I planned to teach on the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. I was looking forward to the opportunity to do what I had done numerous times before – press my hearers to abandon their selfishness and involve themselves in ministry to the poor and hurting of the world. But as I studied and wrestled with this parable I ran into a problem – that’s not what Jesus was saying.

You know the parable. At the end of time the Son of Man will come in his glory and gather all nations before him. He will separate out the people like sheep and goats based on how they treated the “least of these”. Those who gave them food and drink, who welcomed them, clothed them, and visited them while sick and in prison are the sheep. Those who did not are the goats. The sheep depart to eternal life while the goats depart to eternal punishment. So this is a pretty big deal.

Now for those who think Jesus is teaching we must earn our way to heaven through acts of social justice let me put your mind at ease.  When understanding Jesus’ parables it is important to know who his audience is. In this case, it is his disciples (Matt. 24:1) who are already in the kingdom of heaven. This parable is not telling them how to enter the kingdom but how those in it will live. If this parable was addressed to the crowds it would be a different story, but it’s not (?). It is telling those who are already sheep how sheep will live their lives between Jesus’ first and second coming.

Now for those who think we are off the hook, let me disturb your peace. The reason it seems Jesus sends people to eternal life based on these actions is because he meant it to seem that way. Actions of mercy to the “least of these” flow so naturally from saving faith that if someone does not do them it brings into question whether or not they’ve met Jesus. To put it another way – feeding the hungry and clothing the naked won’t save you; only faith in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection will do that. But that kind of faith necessarily produces acts of mercy and kindness to the “least of these”. Sheep act a certain way. If you don’t act like a sheep you’re probably a goat.

Ministry to the “least of these” is vitally important for anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ. So who are they? Anyone that is hungry, thirsty, poor, sick, or in prison, right? After all, this is one of the key passages for those claiming Jesus’ message was ultimately one of social justice – not one of personal salvation.

Setting aside Jesus’ overall message, that is not his message in this parable. The “least of these” are not just anyone, but the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or imprisoned who are followers of Christ and thus part of His body. While we’re familiar with the phrase “the least of these” we are less familiar with the two critical words that follow it – “my brothers”. Who are Jesus’ brothers? I’ll let him answer from Matthew 12:49-50:

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

A brother of Jesus is his disciple who does the will of his father; in other words, a Christian! Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus call anyone a brother if they do not believe in him. Now the parable begins to make more sense. The people in prison sheep are to visit are probably persecuted Christians. The reason meeting the needs of the “least of these” is like ministering to Jesus himself is because they are part of the body of Christ. Craig Blomberg in the New American Commentary explains the phrase “the least of these my brothers” this way:

Who are these brothers? The majority view throughout church history has taken them to be some or all of Christ’s disciples since the word “least” is the superlative form of the adjective “little ones”, which without exception in Matthew refers to the disciples, while brothers in this Gospel when not referring to literal biological siblings, always means spiritual kin.

The parable of the sheep and the goats shows Jesus’ followers the critical importance of caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world after his first coming and before his second and may be the fuel behind the radical sharing of the early church in Acts 2:45.

Two questions arise. First, can’t we go on applying this parable to all of the needy in the world? We can’t because it would be a lie. We would be misrepresenting Jesus Christ and using the Bible for our own purposes. Second, won’t Christians lose their passion for the starving and suffering of the world? No they won’t because Jesus addresses the needs of those outside the faith elsewhere. While they may not be our brothers, they are our neighbors who we are commanded to love as ourselves as seen most clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Just because the Bible teaches something, doesn’t mean it teaches it in every passage. Let us faithfully teach each passage of Scripture without having to bend it to our agenda. At least that’s probably what a sheep would do.

-Brian

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Rob Bell Ignites Controversy by Repainting Hell (and the faith)

This week, Rob Bell released his latest book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived. To say this book ignited controversy would be an understatement. Bell became one of the top ten trending topics on Twitter. CNN reported on it twice, USA Today ran an article, and MSNBC interviewed Bell. Both Christianity Today and Relevant Magazine have done reports. If we measured theological controversies like earthquakes, this would be a nine. Most theological issues don’t even register to the average churchgoer, much less shake up Twitter. So why has Bell’s book on eternity generated so much discussion?

For a hurricane to form it needs warm water and a cool atmosphere. This storm was formed by the volatile combination of Hell and Bell; a warm place and a cool personality. Bell has been repainting the faith in culturally attractive shades for years. He is a gifted communicator with the ability to express concepts in such artistic ways that they capture your heart and resonate with your mind. In fact, he can resonate powerfully with both the Christian and the culture, as Bell’s successful speaking tours testify.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Rob Bell was asked how he would Tweet the gospel. He responded:

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

Now that’s an attractive gospel. Aside from a reference to a tomb, any Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, or Jedi Knight could appreciate it. And that’s the problem. There is no sin. No cross. No blood. No Son of God. No saving faith. No Jesus. While it might be more tuned to the culture, this is not the biblical, Christian gospel. Bell’s message, however, has become a haven for Christians navigating conservative evangelicalism while skirting liberal theology.

Then there’s hell. Hell is increasingly unpopular in both the American culture and the church. Shying away from the “fire and brimstone” preacher, the subject of hell is rarely mentioned in most sermons. In 2008, USA Today reported 52% of Christians believe people of other faiths will go to heaven. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, just 59% of Americans believe in some kind of hell; down from 71% in 2001. According to a Barna survey, while 65% of adults believe they will go to heaven, only half of one percent believes they will go to hell. The attitude toward hell has become, “if there is one, me and my friends won’t be going.” Anyone who has discussed Christianity with a non-believer knows how difficult hell is to defend and explain in this particular culture.

Thus, when you have a creative, popular preacher willing to rethink a culturally offensive topic like hell, you have the conditions for a storm. The danger Bell’s book poses is that it will resonate, especially with young Christians. It will tell us what we want to hear and our sinful flesh will leap at the chance to remove the offense of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). What should we do to avoid being swept away?

Beware of blindly following a favorite preacher. When I was in college I loved Rob Bell’s Nooma videos and messages. We should be thankful for any truth we learned, but realize its impact on us was ultimately due to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Our allegiance is to Christ, his Spirit, and his book, not any man or woman. If we are willing to sacrifice Jesus (who taught about Hell more than any other) or the Bible for a teacher  we are idolaters, turning a man into a god.

Beware of flowery, well crafted words. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

And I… did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Cut through the lofty speech and ask yourself, “what is this person really saying?” While Bell claims to believe in hell, in Love Wins he paints it as something we create for ourselves. Eventually God’s love will penetrate our hells and everyone will enter the New Jerusalem. That’s not the traditional Christian view, despite what he claims. Unlike Paul’s desire to be centered on Christ and him crucified, this is a view centered on man and him glorified. Don’t be fooled by well-chosen Bible verses and the skillful use of a thesaurus; compare it to the whole counsel of the Word of God.

This is not the first theological earthquake, nor will it be the last. If we are willing to evaluate the teachers we listen to and cut through the rhetoric to evaluate the message by the Word of God we’ll still be standing after the tremors fade. The gospel is “folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18) and we “will be hated by all” (Matt. 10:22) for the sake of it; but that’s no reason to repaint it.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

-Romans 1:16

For an excellent review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, click here for Kevin DeYoung’s review.

For an assessment of Rob Bell’s theology in Love Wins, click here for Al Mohler’s review.

For an excellent biblical, philosophical defense of hell, click here for Tim Keller’s article.

For an excellent biblical, theological defense of hell, click here for the chapter from Mark Driscoll’s book.

To watch MSNBC’s Martin Bashir point out issues with Love Wins in an interview with Bell, click here

-Brian

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The Gospel Is Not About Doing

Why did Jesus die on the cross? For years I thought it was so I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. Or so I wouldn’t say certain four letter words the culture had deemed inappropriate. Or so I wouldn’t listen to Metallica or the Beastie Boys. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but my impression was that Jesus died to make up for my shortcomings in the things I was supposed to be doing for him. God was displeased with us but, because of Jesus, would forgive so we could try and do better the next time. We were good people trying to do what God wanted and who rejoiced in the cross inasmuch as it made up for the few (or many) failings we had.

This impression of the gospel was encouraged and continues to be encouraged. You’ll find it in youth groups designed to entertain students so they won’t go out sinning on the weekends. You’ll find it in sermons insinuating guilt for those who fail to live up to the right standard while listing behaviors good Christians are supposed to be doing. You’ll find it in churches where the outwardly righteous gather and ‘sinners’ feel uncomfortable because they don’t have it all together. Those who preach this version of the gospel usually do so out of a sincere desire to steer people away from sin and towards a more godly life. God likes good people so be a good person but since we’re all sinners God sent his Son to make up the difference. The essence of the message – God wants our good behavior. This is not the gospel.

Why did Jesus die on the cross? Was it so his followers would work to eradicate poverty? Was it so they could join arms as part of the kingdom that would bring justice to the earth? Was it so humanity could abandon violence and love their neighbor as themselves? This version of the gospel has become popular in a culture that increasingly sees the life and ethic of Jesus as more acceptable than the person and death of Jesus. Jesus died to set an example and unleash his followers to bring peace and justice to the earth and create the kingdom of God in their wake. God is displeased with those who neglect the poor and don’t recycle while living selfish American lives.

This can be seen in places like the United Methodist Church which recently released a “Rethink Church” ad campaign that asked, ‘if church was a literacy program for homeless children, would you come?’ and ‘what if church considered ecology part of theology, would you come?’ It can be seen in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments at the progressive Catholic forum where she said, “some (who) oppose immigration reform, are sitting in those pews, and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels.” It can be seen in churches that cancel the worship of the risen Savior to serve the community. In other words, Jesus died so homeless children could read, the planet could be saved, the borders could be opened to immigrants, and the lady down the street’s yard could be mowed.  Those who preach this version of the gospel do so out of a sincere desire to be a force for good in the world and follow the example of Christ. God likes those who care for the planet and the people on it and his cross is our ultimate inspiration to offer our lives on behalf of others. This is also not the gospel.

While it is true that the gospel should lead believers to godly behavior and that Christ’s followers should strive to make a difference in the world – neither of these is the gospel. The clearest definition of the gospel in the Bible is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

To sum up, the gospel is not about what we do but about what He has done. Christ died for our sins. We are all sinners and all have no hope whatsoever of pleasing a holy God. It doesn’t matter if we save sex until marriage, use clean language, and avoid the Beastie Boys. It doesn’t matter if we feed the hungry, bring justice, negotiate peace treaties, or serve our neighbors. All have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10), and we are dead in our sin (Eph. 2:1) and enemies of God (Rom. 5:10).

This means we had no hope. The nice church lady who spends her time baking cookies and visiting sick people has no more hope than the prostitute addicted to cocaine. Both are sinners who can do nothing to fix their situation. That is why Christ’s death and resurrection is the gospel. It is through His death and resurrection that the price for our sins – past, present, and future – is paid and we have life. Without His death and resurrection, our sins condemn us to eternal death.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t die to promote abstinence, clean up our language, filter our entertainment choices, give teens a healthy alternative on the weekend, give me a new to-do list every sermon, or fill a church with ‘good’ people. Some of these may be good, but when we focus on them we preach the wrong gospel. Jesus also didn’t die to eradicate poverty, spread social justice, end violence, teach English to children, save the planet, promote immigration reform, or have a good reputation in the neighborhood. Some of these may be good, but when we focus on them we preach the wrong gospel. Jesus died to save sinners from their sins and give them life to the glory of God. It’s all about what He has done and not what we do. Until we understand that, we will never live godly lives or change the world for His glory.

-Brian

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Mildew in “The Shack”

If Christian subculture has proved anything, it’s that we are easily infatuated with movements: WWJD bracelets, “praise and worship” music and boycotting Disney, all while we kissed dating goodbye. More recently, Christians are enamored with figures – certain men or women who are in the driver’s seat of Christian culture because of their latest book, blog or podcast. In our lack of wisdom we jump on many trains and sometimes board really bad ones.  As one of my professors put it, we become “intellectual sluts,” sleeping with every idea that comes our way. Such carelessness is dangerous for Christians.

Few things have demonstrated this phenomenon as clearly as William P.Young and his book, The Shack. The author of a New York Times article published June 24, 2008 reported:

1“Just over a year after it was originally published as a paperback, “The Shack” had its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8 and has stayed there ever since. It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since the end of May, outselling even Mr. Tolle’s spiritual guide “A New Earth,” selected by Ms. Winfrey’s book club in January.”

Today The Shack is still on the top 15 paperback trade fiction list and has remained there for 114 weeks. The website entirely devoted to the book has these instructions:

2“If you are as taken with the message of this book as we are, you may already have some unique ideas as to how you can best let others know about it. Here are some ideas to help you about ways to let others know about this remarkable book:”

“If you know of people (authors, speakers, etc.) who have a voice to the wider culture, ask them if they would review a copy and make it some comment on it in their website, newsletters, etc.”

“Buy a set of books as gifts to battered women’s shelters, prisons, rehabilitation homes and the like where people might be really encouraged by the story and its message.”

Not many seem to notice that the Christian community has gained energy on the coattails of a theological narrative with unfounded and misleading ideas about God where sin is not a big deal, the trinity is open to interpretation and if you have experienced tragedy in your life, God will come down from heaven (apparently the incarnation of the Son of God wasn’t enough) and make everything okay. The Shack paints a false picture of God and His redemptive plan. And yet, I have watched many Christians swallow the story whole and then give it t to their lost friends as an evangelistic gesture.

This is not a blow by blow critique of the unbiblical viewpoint and poor theology expressed throughout the story; Dr. Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, and others have done this effectively. This is a question for Christians: when did we allow a book to steal our affections for and confidence in the gospel of Christ? Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power unto salvation for all who believe.” Acts 4:12 says, “There is no other name under heaven or earth by which man can be saved (emphasis mine).” If Christians believe this is true, why would we point them to anything less than the gospel? Isn’t it captivating and sufficient enough for the ugliest of days and most cynical individuals?

The statements above from the book’s website prove that some no longer believe the gospel changes lives, but parts of the gospel plus something else (like their own ideas) might. The Shack cheerleaders believe its message is so hopeful and compelling that it should be taken to battered women’s shelters…nothing like junk theology couched in bad writing to help an abused woman. What happens when she’s done reading it? The book ends, it collects dust and she is no closer to understanding the truth of Jesus and His salvation than she was before. There is no anchor of hope, no promise of redemption and no one for her to follow.

The Shack is not the first train going nowhere. In the last ten years, many books have captivated multitudes, both Christians and non-Christians, overshadowing the heard-it-before story of Jesus and His cross. With creative titles, non-controversial statements and questionable theology, they distracted us from the piercing truth of the gospel: every human being is sinful and doomed to hell apart from Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Jesus commanded in Mark 12:30 to love Him with our entire mind which includes discerning what we read for both truth and error and wisely choosing how to respond. Indiscriminately consuming whatever comes along paves the way for unbiblical ideas to slip into our minds, vocabulary and eventually our practice, robbing God of worship and the world of its Savior.

Secondary to the Bible, reading gospel-centered material is healthy for believers. In my personal pursuit of this, I have occasionally allowed zeal about a particular book to steal my focus and blind me to fallacies it contained. It’s most problematic when the gospel takes a backseat and the lost around us hear the praises of works that do not alter their course to a Christ-less eternity. The true gospel is unpopular, offensive and costly…didn’t I hear that somewhere?

-emily

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/books/bestseller/bestpapertradefiction.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=The%20Shack%20Young&st=cse

2. http://theshackbook.com/missy-project.html

Read Dr. Al Mohler’s critique of The Shack

Watch and listen to Mark Driscoll’s critique of The Shack

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Why Revolutionary Christianity Fizzles, pt.2

“Revolutionary” Christianity identifies problems and dissatisfactions within Christianity or the church and seeks to address them with more intense commitment to Christ, more faithful and culturally relevant lives, or more rethinking of doctrine in light of new understanding. Those who preach the messages, write the books, and lead the movements of “Revolutionary” Christianity vary from biblically faithful leaders desiring to change the world for the glory of God to leaders seeking to redefine and rewrite the faith. But why, with all the energy being spent on igniting Christians to seize a new and glorious future is the American church largely on the same path? Why do individual Christians inspired by “Revolutionary” Christianity still find life on the same mediocre, ineffective path? Why do all the passions, sacrifices, enthusiasms, commitments and changes fizzle out?

First, “Revolutionary” Christianity fizzles out because it fails to deal with idols in our hearts. Idolatry, as Tim Keller writes, happens when “the human heart takes good things… and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.” In a worship service I may be moved to sacrificially give more money than I can afford because that is what success looks like for a committed Christian. But on Monday success at my job looks like earning a promotion, success with my friends looks like a new car, and success at the gym looks like only 2% body fat. If success is the idol of my heart my Christianity will change according to its demands. This is why, for some, their commitment to Christ varies widely depending on who they are dating. The idol of their heart is a relationship; they are crazy or apathetic about Jesus depending on the demands of the relationship. Unless we deal with the idols of our hearts, any attempt to live out a “Revolutionary” Christianity will fizzle.

Second, “Revolutionary” Christianity fizzles out because it fails to take sin seriously. In the midst of the books and messages screaming at Christians to feed the poor, end all slavery, right political wrongs, go green, fix the church, engage the culture, rediscover New Testament Christianity, create authentic community, plant churches and heal the world in a big group hug is largely absent any discussion of sin. I can sleep with my girlfriend as long as I feed the homeless. No one would say this, but when killing sin is not part of our “Revolutionary” Christianity we might as well be. Paul proposed a revolution when he said in Colossians 3:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

“Revolutionary” Christianity fizzles when it is brought down by an earthly addiction. All of our good deeds can quickly become poisoned by unchecked pride and envy. Until putting sin to death and putting on Christ is part of our revolution it will burn out like MC Hammer’s career.

Third, “Revolutionary” Christianity fizzles out because it fails to deal with reality. I was reading one popular book that attempted to encourage me by telling the stories of Christians who were living out an intense commitment to Christ. Rather than inspiring me, I found the stories discouraged me. The people in the accounts were all doing amazing things for God and had no struggles, no fears, no sins, no mistakes, no doubts, and never swerved from their calling. I, on the other hand, fight doubts and fears, struggle with sin, make mistakes, fall short of God’s call and my accomplishments for Christ feel unexciting.  The author mentioned that if the stories in the Bible felt unattainable, hopefully these Christians were easier to emulate. Actually, I could relate to the Bible characters easier. Moses was a murderer who wanted out of God’s call. David committed adultery and fell into pride. Peter denied Christ and made mistakes. Elijah got so depressed he wanted to die. Jonah was selfish and disobedient. Jacob wrestled with God all his life and in his tent. Abraham lied. Thomas doubted. Noah drank. Christianity isn’t lived in some glorious adventure moment that inspires generations but in the midst of real life. Any commitment that fails to touch real life will fizzle out.

Finally, “Revolutionary” Christianity fizzles out because it is not driven by a deep understanding of the gospel. Did you know that changing the world, making a difference, living a life of significance, and being hardcore for Jesus are not biblical motivations? The Bible motivates us by teaching us about who God is and what He has done for us. When Paul wants the Corinthian church to be generous, he reminds of them of Christ’s generosity to them (2 Cor. 8). When Peter wants Christians to live holy lives, he reminds them that they were ransomed with the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1). When Jesus commands to make disciples he reminds us who He is; that he will be with us, empower us, and has the authority to carry out the mission through us (Matt. 28, Acts 1). “Revolutionary” Christianity seeks to motivate us to do and accomplish for Christ; but if it bypasses or marginalizes who God is and what He has done for us then what we are doing will not be driven by a powerful “why” and it will fizzle.

In the final part of this series, we will examine how we might live a life intensely committed to Christ that does not fizzle out.