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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God's Not Dead and Why We Need to Stop Defending the Gospel

In the very beginning of God's Not Dead, Josh Wheaton says, "I feel like God wants someone to defend him." For me, this was the moment in which the movie started to go awry.

Christians, we do not need to defend the Gospel. We do not need to defend God. God is GOD. He is all-powerful, all-sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave. He does not need a 17 year-old college freshman to defend him. Or a 35 year-old mostly stay-at-home mom either (did I say 35? I'm sorry, I meant 29). Honestly, y'all, I'm not worried about that Kingdom falling down out of the sky.

In all seriousness, here's exactly why we shouldn't defend the gospel: Because when I do that, I take my precious gospel, my good news, my hope and I ball it up and stick it behind my back. And then I turn and face anyone who doesn't value it like I do with my fists raised, ready to fight. I have just laid the lines clearly for "us" vs "them."  I plant myself firmly between "them" and God, barring their way. And in the process label "them" (anyone who is not a Christian) as the enemy.

I cannot simultaneously defend the gospel and share it. It ceases to be "Good News" when I have drawn lines in the sand AGAINST others.  I cannot defend God AGAINST someone and at the same time send them the message that God is FOR them. It is impossible.

But what about what the Bible says. Doesn't the Bible tell us to defend?

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV)

Look closely - it says be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." That means that if someone asks me why I live my life the way I do, I make no secret that I am who I am and I live how I live because Jesus has filled me so full of love that it can't help but spill over. I cannot help but be worried about the poor, fight for the oppressed, visit the imprisoned, and love the neglected because Jesus has made my heart like his. I can't help but love my neighbors, I want to be the best friend I can be because I know that's the best way for me to love others like Jesus.  And in order for anyone to have cause to ask me, I need to be living my life in relationship with other people. I can't have only Christians in my circle. I must be living a life so full of hope that someone notices and pauses to ask me why. It doesn't say I should start an argument, nor does it say that I should "fight fire with fire."

And did you notice? When I tell them about my hope, I am to do it with gentleness and respect.

I feel like God's Not Dead missed a beautiful opportunity. It could have been a movie that opened up lines of discussion, that sent a message to the masses that God is FOR you, that tore down the lines of "us vs them." But instead it built them up. Instead, it sent a message to anyone who doesn't identify as Christian that Christians don't think very highly of them.  Think about it - every single nonbeliever in this movie was not just someone who didn't love Jesus, they were horrible people. The plot was so unrealistic it that I had to set the storyline down to even think about underlying issues.  The only likable character was Josh Wheaton. 

We need to listen to the response to this movie, Christians. I spent hours researching the movie online, reading reviews, I talked to many friends who watched the movie. Then, instead of watching it alone, I invited three of my close friends to watch it with me (none of whom identify themselves as "Christian.")

So what did I find when I listened? I heard some Christians tell me they were uplifted, that they loved the movie, that it was inspiring. But from people who don't identify as Christian? They said they felt offended, devalued, that the line between "us" and "them" was strengthened (and that they had been relegated to "them"). Worse, I read reviews from Christians online that celebrated the movie because "it sticks a thumb in the liberal’s eye and finally turns the tables on them, in that it portrays them as the evil ones as opposed to Christians and conservatives." (from a post here that goes on to poke fun at negative reviews others left about the movie.)  And while that seems to be an extreme quote, I saw plenty of other reviews in that same vein.  I fail to see gentleness or respect there. 

I'm not saying it's not okay to make a movie "for Christians." I suppose that's fine. And I am going to assume that the intentions of the producers of God's Not Dead were good. I'm not sure I even fault them for making the movie. What upsets me is the culture in American Christianity that teaches it is okay to view non-Christians as the enemy, that it is a positive thing to defeat another person, that it's okay to portray people groups as stereotypes if they aren't Christians.  A culture that says "my Christian preferences should trump yours!"  I hear you saying, "but that's what they do to us!"... I acknowlege you. Yes, that happens, but look back at 1 Peter 3:9: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.”

And when Christian morale-boosting happens at the expense of the people we are supposed to love, we need to take a good hard look at the results of our actions. I want to point people towards Jesus because he's my hope; I want to point people toward Jesus because I want them to know that God loves them, that he accepts them just as they are because Jesus died for them long before they were born.  And if a movie that makes some Christians feel good about themselves makes non-Christians feel devalued, we have missed the mark.

And my friends who watched the movie with me? These women I trust, women whose opinions matter to me, women who are open-minded and intelligent, who are part of my Mom-Network and are helping me raise my kids to be good people - - they found the movie offensive.  Honestly, so did I. We had a lengthy discussion after the movie was over. Our main consensus was that it made the lines between "us" and "them" very clear and strengthened stereotypes about people groups (Muslims, women, Asians, atheists). I asked them if the movie made them feel any differently about God. The answer was a resounding no. Instead, they said that the movie made them want to distance themselves from anyone who would defend the movie.

And then they offered me a beautiful gift. They told me that they don't judge all Christians because of this movie. They said they know I respect them. They offered me grace, even though people from "my group" made a movie that was offensive to them.  They commented how they liked the part in the movie where Josh Wheaton confirms that we all have a choice.  They were the ones who pointed out to me that Josh Wheaton was a likable character. These friends of mine are a blessing. 

I believe we can be united and respectful together. My most positive take-away from this is that my friends agreed to come watch this movie with me even though I told them I was afraid it might offend them. They were willing to hang out and talk about matters of faith and issues of divisiveness.  They know that I believe Jesus loves them. I know that they respect my beliefs, just as I do theirs.  Our relationships will continue. I see God in those friends. He has used them to help me be a better mom, to help me grieve the loss of my dad, to help me try to make sense of injustices. God has blessed me through those relationships.  My life would be worse if these ladies weren't in it and I can't even imagine them being a "them."  God doesn't love me more, doesn't give me more, doesn't value me more than he does them.  We are an "us." 


**semantic disclaimer (that my husband told me I need to include): when I say "defend" I don't mean saying, "this is what I believe to be true and here's why..." No problems there. I mean "defend" in terms of pitting yourself against another in order to prove them wrong. When the point is to win, we've already lost.


5 comments:

  1. Kirsten, do you realize that you are often critical of Christians (your fellow believers) in your posts? Do you think this is a good witness for the Lord – criticizing His children? And, as for the movie, GOD IS NOT DEAD, you state God does not need us to defend Him. You are right in that; He does not need us to do anything for that matter. But, He does use us, and we would be poor witnesses if we do not stand up for Him and His Word. It does not mean we have balled up our fists, as you state. It simply means we stand for Him and His Word. And there is not, nor can be, any ‘us’ between a Christian and a non-believer, because we, as His children, are one in Christ, which they are not. We are either a believer or follower of Jesus Christ, or we are not. And, I suppose, in a way of speaking, that does put us on opposite sides. Doesn’t mean we don’t have the love of Christ for them; doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love them since He died for them just as He did for us. But, they have put the barrier there by not receiving the free gift of forgiveness and salvation for which He bled, died, and rose again.
    You say your three best friends are not Christians; you respect them and they are helping you raise your boys. Do you not think God is the one to whom you should be looking to help you raise those boys? Is He not the One to whom we go with all our needs? How can a person not a Christian possibly help you to raise them according to a God they do not know?
    And, of course, they were offended by the movie. The gospel is offensive to those who do not believe. I pray for them to open their hearts, mind, and souls to the Lord Jesus Christ and that we can become ‘us’. I know that is God’s desire –“… not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”.
    Bobbie Hege

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    1. Hi Bobbie! I’m sorry this response is long, but you raised a bunch of good points and I wanted to address them!

      My goal is not to criticize. I write about things that are important to me and I consider myself a Christian- called to love, to serve, to consider others before myself. And it bothers me when I see trends in Christian culture that don’t point others to the hope we have in Jesus and it bothers me more when I see trends that push people away. This “us vs them” thing is sending a message of hate (unintentionally). We don’t want that, right? If someone doesn't know Jesus, my job isn't to call out their behavior, it's to love them. I want us as Christians to do a better job of representing Jesus. And I agree with you: we do need to stand up for what we believe – we do that every time we love the hateful, value the neglected, stand with the lonely and outcast, work for peace and justice. I also agree that we need to be united, but if Christians are doing something that is unintentionally pushing people away from Jesus, I absolutely want to be a voice that speaks out. What if no one spoke out about slavery because of fear of disunity? I understand the concern behind the question “What will people think if they see us disagreeing?” But if we don’t encourage one another to do better, to love more deeply, to view others as Jesus does, then whoever says something first gets the final say. And what if they’re wrong? And I think it is always okay for a Christian to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get it right…” and then do something different. I think my post was my way of saying, “I’m sorry, we didn’t get it right with God’s Not Dead and here’s how I’d like things to be different.”

      (continued on next reply)

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    2. (continued from earlier - I ran out of room!)

      And I think you misunderstand - I can have friends who aren't Christians who help me be a better parent AND still look to God first for everything. Those aren't mutually exclusive. God created all of us in his image. I see him in my friends when they check in on how I’m doing after my dad died, when they help me with a parenting issue, when we talk about how to make changes in our lives that fight against child slavery or empower women in developing countries. They love my kids and they love me well. My belief is that that comes from God too. And while I think your intention was to encourage me to look to God in my parenting, your comment implied that my friends can’t be good mothers (or good friends) because they aren’t Christians. That doesn’t point them towards Jesus or show them they are loved and valued by God. And it hurts me to see people I love devalued like that. I think God hurts when we devalue each other too. And I wholeheartedly apologize if anything in my post devalued any Christians. I try to write with grace. I know I sure need it and I want to always extend it to others.

      I think there was a BIG "us vs. them" problem. It was US vs GOD. We were separated from him because of sin. Jesus came and broke down that wall, creating a way for us back to God. So now it's just "us." Christians are not better people. We are just as broken, just as sinful. I can only love others because God first loved me. That amazing love that God showed us in Jesus is exactly what broke down the “us vs. them.” If I am to be a “Christian” (meaning “Little Christ”), then the correct response to people is never build up my own walls or draw lines in the sand, but to die for them. Imagine what would happen if the grace with which God treats us became the standard for how we treat others!

      And yes, the gospel is offensive. It tells me that I’m not the center of my own universe; that my life is not about me. It calls me to lay down my life for my friends. It tells me to sell all I have and give to the poor. It should be offensive to all of us because it calls us to live in a way that is entirely unselfish (which runs entirely against my own selfish nature). When Paul talks about the gospel being offensive (Galatians 5:11) he was talking to other Christians! They were teaching that one must be circumcised to become a Christian. The offensiveness of Paul’s gospel was the reminder that we are sinful, that we can’t earn salvation, nor take credit for it. We are not the heroes, we are the broken. The gospel tells me that I am more sinful than I could ever imagine but more loved than I could ever dream (I stole that last part from Tim Keller). The gospel never is offensive in a way that devalues a person who is created and loved by God. And though the gospel may be offensive, we do not need to be offensive in how we present it.

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    3. Kirsten,
      I wasn’t going to answer you last blog because I didn’t want to belabor the issue as I think we are on a different page. But, then, today I sense God’s leading to do so.
      Often, when we are confronted with something, instead of looking at ourselves and see if there’s something we need to change, we attempt to put everything back on the other person or people. It all started in the garden of Eden with Eve placing the blame for her disobedience on the serpent , and Adam placing the blame on ‘the woman you gave me’ as he said to God.
      So, my point is, this entire conversation comes to the realization that it is all about one thing – Jesus Christ. When I was growing up, my wonderful Grandmother told me that when we die, there are only two places we can go…..one is heaven and the other is hell. She told me that God in His love for us provided a way for us to go to heaven and that way – the only way – is through Jesus Christ. So, you see, this final destination of ours has nothing to do with my love for other people or your love for them, nothing to do with anyone else at the particular time a person is confronted with this message of love and redemption - just them and the decision they make about Jesus Christ; having everything to do with whether or not we believe and accept Jesus Christ into our hearts and lives as Lord and Savior; if we accept the fact that He bled, died, and rose again to pay the penalty for our sins that we might be forgiven.
      That is my prayer for the unsaved – to repent; and “…”believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved”.
      In His love……Bobbie

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    4. Amen my friend. Your voice is always welcome here. And because he loves us so, we can love each other and still disagree about other stuff. My prayer is that all will know that sacrificial love of Jesus too. <3

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