Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Settling for Poor Substitutes

Last week it was revealed that the 2010 book "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" was a work of fiction. The young man whose "story" the book purports to tell made a public announcement that the book was a work of fiction. What should have been a minor story with a short shelf life has become a story with "legs" (a longer shelf life than expected) and with a reach that may include LifeWay, the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing operation.

It seems that both the publisher of the book (Tyndale House) and LifeWay were made aware of the controversial nature of the story itself some time ago (in the case of Tyndale, a couple of years) and yet chose to do nothing. As with stories of this nature, the truth is sadly hard to discover and we may never really know who knew what about this story. It is a sad thing that Christian men and Christian companies appear to be evading honest disclosure about this matter. (Here's a link to the story: http://www.christianpost.com/news/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-publisher-retailer-warned-story-was-a-lie-continued-to-sell-despite-concerns-from-mother-christian-leaders-132775/)

Stories such as this were once the nearly exclusive domain of small publishing houses and those who could afford to self-publish. But Christian media of all kinds has become BIG business. The movie version of the book "Heaven is for Real" made almost $92 MILLION DOLLARS (source; IMDB)  and Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life" sold over 30 MILLION COPIES (source:  The Christian Post). Yes, Christian media has become big business, but that's not necessarily good news.

Please note that I have never read "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven." and will not. What concerns me is the rapidity with which the Christian community in North America is abandoning the Bible and orthodoxy for those things that appeal to a fanciful interpretation of what the Christian faith is all about. I have been a Christian since 1971 and have seen (sadly) a re imagining of Christianity over the last 40 plus years. I remember when guitars and lifted hands were looked on with suspicion. We sang that new song "Pass It On" around campfires as a youth group and listened to music groups that actually used drums in their music! (Scandalous, I know) But through all that we were taught that the Bible was the standard for belief and behavior. We did not worship the Bible, but we reverenced it as the word of God and any time that our opinions collided with the Bible  it was the Bible that won the day.

I don't make any apologies for my stand on the centrality of the Bible for the Christian's life and faith. In fact, I blame the church for much of what the faith has become. When the church became more concerned with flashy services, big crowds and competing with the culture as opposed to countering it we slowly but surely began to drift from our moorings. Please understand that I am not condemning large ministries or new things or modern technology in themselves. I believe that we should use all the tools at our disposal to share the Gospel with those around us. The problem comes when the tools become more important than our message. The Bible was and is and always will be the Word of God and the standard for belief and behavior. We don't have to like it....that's just the way God made it, and everything we do, every tool we use should be held up next to the Bible to ensure that we are in line with its message.

Closely aligned with the over emphasis on tools is our desire to make the gospel "easier." In our desire to when folks for Christ we have created a gospel that lacks a clear call to sacrifice and commitment. Jesus said that we must be willing to deny ourselves and carry a cross (Luke 9:23). That's not easy and it's not popular in a culture that values individual freedom and comfort as much as ours does. There are those who have watered down that dynamic call to a matter of simple mental assent, an easy believing that really makes no demands on us at all. Those will be the people who stand before the Lord and wonder why God doesn't know them (Matt. 7).

It seems to me that in the midst of all the Christian books and cd's, movies, clothing and everything else that we have lost the centrality of the hard things that Jesus calls us to do. Being born again is hard and it requires hard things of all who would follow Jesus. Is it possible that in our rush to be bigger and more successful and relevant that we have substituted genuine wisdom for a poor substitute that only serves to tantalize our imaginations and not point us to a true faith in the one and only living God?

I fear for a church in which popular, relevant, and trendy are more sought after than truth, justice and love for one another and  for God. God desires our reverential awe (the Bible calls that fear) and transformed lives. I don't think that he's that interested in unbiblical tales of trips to heaven, no matter how many copies they sell.

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