50 Shades of Perspective, part 2

In my last post I said I would use this one to explain why it’s good that 50 Shades of Grey is out there. I’m going to do that, but first I want to make something very clear so that I don’t get loads of hate mail. Of course this movie is not good and it will not be in Heaven. It would be far better if the pursuit of righteousness was embraced by all and sin no longer reigned in anyone’s heart. That just isn’t the world we live in (for now), and so there are aspects of this movie coming out and the buzz about it that will help the Kingdom of God grow and expand if Christians seek it out.

Clearer battlefield

In the classic movie Monsters Inc., there is a scene where Sully is being attacked by Randall who is invisible. After some clever banter with Mike, Mike throws a snowball at Sully, hitting Randall who know becomes visible. Sully, much more powerful than Randall, slugs him and knocks him out now that he can be seen.

When we encounter something that is a social phenomenon based entirely on sin, it can be like a snowball on Randall’s invisible chameleon body. We finally get a look at just what it is we’re fighting so we can slug it. Of course our mission isn’t to go slug everyone who sees this movie or reads the book, but it does help us target the Gospel much more clearly.  When everyone lives their respectably moral lives in their respectable homes with their respectable families the lines between believers and unbelievers are much less clear. This is especially a problem for evangelism in the South and Midwest where the cultural expectation is linked to popular moral virtue.

Helps us show people their true hope

Galatians 5:19-21 says that the works of the flesh are “evident”, that is they can be seen. When people are busy covering up their works of the flesh not only is it harder for us to see them but it’s harder for them. Many people adjust their lives to account for just so much lust or greed or deception, and when they get past their normal levels even their seared consciences will start to bother them.

Imagine the conversation you can have with someone who wants to talk about 50 Shades with you. You can ask why they decided to see it. You can talk about whether their expectations were met and how it changed or challenged their preconceived notions. That line of discussion helps you ask about where they got their preconceived notions, their worldview and their greatest hopes. The fact that they had an expectation indicates they had hoped for something when they went. How does that line up with, or illustrate their greatest hope? Their answers may surprise you, but they may also surprise them. Passively giving into heart cravings and actively discussing them are two different things.

Fewer excuses for Christians

Another application of Gal 5:19 – 21 is that works of the flesh are evident, meaning Christians have plenty of evidence that America is not a Christian nation. Hopefully we already understood that, but if we didn’t this movie is perhaps the barometer of sorts from the comment I cited yesterday. I don’t bemoan that many Christians are late to the battle, I rejoice that because of this movie many are awakened by the bugle for perhaps the very first time. It ought to be obvious by now that the struggles our brothers and sisters in Europe have been having for decades have been on our shores a while.

Here’s a news flash for my happy suburban middle class evangelical Christian brothers and sisters. If this movie makes $100m, it will be primarily your neighbors and not mine that made it happen. We cannot look at the popularly of stuff like this and pretend that it is an anomaly. While some Christians will undoubtedly mistakenly see this movie, the droves of people who go desperately need Christ and they live next door to you. What are you doing to reach them? Are you praying for them as fervently as you are promoting boycott messages on Facebook? If the movie helps suburban consumeristic Christians to remember that we are in a battle and in enemy territory then I’m happy for it.

Highlights our hope

Christians have a lot of hobby horses, and many of them are worthwhile. The problem with homeschooling, organic food, classical education, and adoption is that they will not save anyone from the wrath of God. Neither will boycotts and protests aimed at people on their way to hell doing what people on their way to hell want to do. If the thoughts of this movie produce in you a desire to protest something more than a desire to pray then I would say you may have your hope set on the wrong savior. We don’t long for a day when bad movies don’t exist, we long for a day when Jesus is treasured in every heart. I hope that describes you, dear reader, and I hope it is evident to all in your interactions with others regarding 50 Shades.

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Fifty shades of perspective

If you do not know something about 50 Shades of Grey, you might just be living in a cave. I know very little about it except that it seems to be a romance story including extramarital sex that would be non-standard for most people. What is more prevalent to me is the Christian outrage over the movie and how it cheapens the sexual relationship God intended between a husband and wife. I actually have a problem with the outrage and I’ll give several reasons why.

Inequity

I’m sure the book and movie cheapen the sexual relationship God intended but does it really do that any more than the bazillions of other movies coming out in the recent past? Is it that the movie challenges God’s standards or our standards? Hint: every movie with anything less than sacrificially loving sex between a husband and wife following Jesus together challenges God’s standards but there are not 50 million Christian blog posts about them. If you should determine it’s more about offending your standard than God’s standard then that’s the definition of self-righteousness.

Let me give you an example. We watched the 2008 movie Iron Man the other night. Almost at the beginning of the movie the main character hooks up with a reporter, abandons her at his home and leaves his assistant to get rid of her (which she describes as “taking out the trash”). Is that more honoring marriage and keeping the marriage bed undefiled (Heb 13:4) than 50 Shades?

Inequity Part 2

How about movies and books that celebrate kids rebelling against their parents or something like The Blindside that was praised in Christian circles but showed Sandra Bullock as the controlling wife and mom clearly leading her family more than her husband? Where are the 50 million blog posts opposing envy and strife and jealousy? According to Galatians 5, these seem to offend God just as much as sexual immorality and impurity.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19 – 21 ESV)

Proof of Cultural Disengagement?

After the obligatory nod to the number of immoral movies available, one popular Christian blogger wrote “I believe that 50 Shades of Grey can serve as a kind of cultural barometer that alerts us to the colossal changes that have been occurring in recent years, and to the consequences they bring.”

Sometimes I wonder how much contact with unbelievers most evangelical Christians have. Outside the evangelical subculture the “phenomenon” of 50 shades is just not that big of a deal, any more than the phenomenon of Harry Potter increased the practice of witchcraft. Yes, it’s true that pushing sexual boundaries is more available than turning beetles into dragons, but it’s fiction written for an audience the author expected would like it. If people had not already turned their hearts against God’s standard for sex this book would have never gotten past the initial editor.

Here’s the reality: Back in 2011 Forbes reported that 13% of all internet searches were for porn. That’s not 50%, but it’s clearly sufficient to demonstrate that 50 Shades is nothing shocking or special. It’s the logical and predictable extension of where the culture has been going for a long time.

More than that, America is not the most sexualized culture in history. In Paul’s day, sex was part of their formal religion. If a movie rather than a shrine filled with temple prostitutes, is the cultural barometer then we should not be making this seem like somehow it’s proof that world is so bad the rapture must be right around the corner.

Which Leads Us To…

What did we expect? Are we so insulated from the world that we are shocked by when it acts like the Bible says it’s supposed to act? Are we so ready to be offended when sin is around us that we choose to further distance ourselves from the sinners who desperately need us to compassionately love them and show them the Rescuer of their souls and the real source of abundant life?

Yes it is sad that people we see every day have chosen to drink water from broken cisterns they have created rather than run to the River of Life (Jer 2:13), but outrage is not the proper response. Love is. Next time I write I’ll share some thoughts about how this book and movie actually helps the Kingdom of God.

Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus- J. Mack Stiles

I had been looking forward to this book for a while and was glad when God gave me a reason to expedite my reading of it. I’m sorry to be so disappointed in this book. Mack is a great brother and the series generally has been very helpful but this one just misses the mark.

One of the things that sets this book apart in a good way is the emphasis on the church culture as part of the momentum toward or resistance to evangelism. Stiles very correctly points out the way God used community to draw in new followers. This was as true in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, and it is largely missing in books on the topic today. The well known quote from Francis Schaffer should be more embraced: “ But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” The love of God that saves sinners is really only ever observable in community.

The enormous miss here is the basic lack of accountability for those most responsible for church culture in the first place, namely its leadership. When churches care more about the root of a Greek word or their kid’s next soccer practice than their neighbors eternal state, they got that way somehow. Usually it’s because loving unbelievers at personal cost is not modeled for them by their leaders and sadly Mack mostly misses this and blames everyday believers for looking for programs. Even in his example about Pastor Juan which set Pastor Juan up as a hero, where was the admonition for lack of faith and training by Pastor Juan? How is it that his responsibility for a culture that produces what Mack saw as a problem question is abdicated by the fact that he invited a stranger in to talk about evangelism for four hours?

If Stiles is right that culture drives evangelism, then the book would have been more effective if it had described at least one example where leaders repented of their inward focus and challenged the typical 9Marks book reader to do the same. I do not deny the very real difficulties of shifting a church culture from an inward focus to an evangelism focus, especially as we are living in an increasingly self centered and consumer society, but that only highlights the need to address leaders on this point head on. This, by the way, is one of the great advantages of church planting because there is no inward focus to overcome and only those committed to evangelism end up sticking around. My pastor when I was first married once said something I will never forget about church members – “The way you get them is the way you keep them.” In the west, churches attracting people because of great exegesis are just as inwardly focused as those attracting people with great drama because the reason people show up is to get what they want rather than to enlist in an army to do what their Commander wants.

I also was disappointed by some smaller things. I don’t know why he talked about “pastors and elders” when the 9Marks book on elders made it clear these are the same office. I don’t know why he repeatedly used two mutually exclusive meanings for “church”. Why would you call the organizational body the “church” after criticizing everyday believers for expecting the “church” to do something about a new immigrant population? I think his points would have been more effective if he said church leaders or church administrators if that’s what he meant in most of those cases.

If you are interested in a book to strengthen your personal evangelism then I would encourage you to consider Tell the Truth by Will Metzger or better yet the evangelism chapter in Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.