While driving to vacation this week, I listened to 4 or 5 Christian radio stations in three different states. That’s one way to get a pulse on what is on the top shelf for evangelicals, especially in the South. And it is sad, terrifying, .and maddening.
Here are the key repeated themes we heard:
Let me translate. The Christianity to which we adhere is safe (for all the ears in your car and for the places you go–not like those nasty, dirty secular people), patriotic (which most likely means we’re conservative, Tea Party-leaning Republicans in politics and economics, not like those nasty Democratic secular liberals), for our families (which of course means intact nuclear families with Norman Rockwell suburban dreams, not like all the nasty secularists who want to tear us apart or redefine family) and positive (not like those negative, cynical secular people).
Just one question keeps popping into my head: where is the gospel underneath all of that? Where is Jesus? Both are in some of the songs, but in the themes and emphases and advertising and promos and patter of the disc jockeys, both can get seriously distorted. There are some seriously missing notes.
The gospel is good news for everybody. The gospel is bloody on the front end (for Jesus) and calls for everything from those who follow after Jesus, which means it may end up bloody for us, too. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me” is not safe—and Jesus made it very clear that those who called His name would be persecuted, and face serious trouble. Spreading the gospel is not safe, for the world hates it as they hated Jesus enough to torturously execute him. We are his followers and students—and “no student is above his master.”
This also means that to be faithful to the gospel’s advance, we must deal with those messy, nasty, cynical, secular people. Light makes no difference unless it enters the dark and salt can flavor nothing without touching it. We’re raising a generation of Christians who are unable to discern the reality of the world we’re called to reach –or communicate with those in it– because we never engage it.
The gospel is the good news of the Kingdom—God’s, not our nation’s. We should love our nation, be grateful to God for its blessings, prayerfully support our leaders and work hard as participants in our democracy, according to our consciences, no matter which political party that looks like. But we must remember that our true citizenship is in heaven and that God’s sovereign, global Kingdom agenda always takes precedence over our national allegiance, needs, and even success. The two are not always the same and to assume they are is dangerous ground.
The gospel calls for an allegiance that places Jesus and His purposes as priority over everything, including our families. Remember that thing Jesus said about anyone who comes after me and does not hate his mother and father, etc…cannot be my disciple”? That the ones who do the will of the father are his family? Yes, we need to deeply love our spouses and our children and our siblings, but within the context of loving God with all our heart, souls, mind and strength. Yes, we need to vigorously communicate the Biblical definitions of manhood, womanhood and the family in a culture where all three are up for grabs. But those issues are no replacement for the glory of God or the centrality of His gospel. I sometimes fear the contemporary church is dangerously close to making an idol out of the family.
The gospel is wonderfully positive good news for rebel sinners. It speaks of grace and mercy to undeserving souls, followed by real joy, hope, peace and life. Yes! But it begins with a vision of a gloriously holy King, before who we would fall as dead if we caught a glimpse of His terrible beauty. It calls rebel hearts to repent and for sin to be fought and forsaken – not just among those who have never trusted Jesus, but among those who have walked with Him for years. Commitment to that gospel does not always result in blessings and shiny happy moments; it more often causes the demon hordes of hell to come calling with Lucifer-fueled terror. The positive truth of the gospel holds a straight line against both Christian hypocrisy and the world’s crookedness. Thus, it is a positive that may not always “feel” positive to those who encounter it.
So, to be more accurate, the gospel we are called to live is…
+fiercely loyal to the Kingdom of heaven
+costly to our closest relationships
+ and true or real in a way that cannot be reduced to merely positive.
It would be good and helpful to hear just a little more of that on the radio.
Thus endeth the rant.