Friday, February 18, 2011

Sounds Like a Squirrel

You've heard the old Sunday School joke. The teacher comes in to a class of 4th graders and asks,"What is gray and furry, climbs in trees, has a bushy tail and likes to eat nuts?' The class was silent for a few moments when one brave little girl said, "Well, teacher, it sounds to me like a squirrel, but since this is Sunday School, I'm going to be safe and say the answer is Jesus!"

Why is it that the Church thinks that the answer to everything has to be reduced to the simplistic answer of "Jesus"? The evangelical community seems to believe that unless any book, movie, song and conversation mentions the actual Name Jesus, it's not really Christ-centered. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'll never forget that when sweet, little Amy Grant, just coming out of Vanderbilt University and have already released albums that were focused on praise, worship and love songs mentioning the Name of Jesus, decided to become a little more "subtle" and write songs about redemptive love or other redemptive themes that unbelievers could relate to or songs with a positive message without mentioning the Name jesus, received a very cool response from the evangelical community. It's like she was turning her back on her Christian faith and compromising in the minds of many.

I have a friend that I've known since college, a fraternity brother, who leads an organization that seeks to build bridges between thoughtful Christianity and culture. The name of the organization is The Clapham Group. On his web site,, we read that the Clapham Group "is committed to promoting the good, true and beautiful in the public arenas of politics, policy and pop culture."

In a recent post, my friend Mark quoted CS Lewis when he said, "What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects - with their Christianity latent." We have reduced conversations about squirrels to artificial conversations about Jesus. Believers are to seek to speak thoughtfully and in a relevant fashion about all areas of life and we're to bring a Biblical world and life view perspective into the conversation...or song, or film, or book, or essay...and we might not ever mention the name Jesus. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the speak true truth is to speak Jesus.

Now, are there times when we need to bring the truths of the Gospel to peoples' hearts so that they can see their need for the cross? Of course...but so much of what needs to happen in our day is really "pre-evangelism." In addition, Christ is in fact exalted when we speak about beauty, goodness and truth and never mention the name Jesus.

I was listening to XM radio 32, The Message, yesterday. There were two songs in a by the popular singer and ex-American Idol star didn't mention the name Jesus, but it was truth and it was redemtive in focus...I thought it was great. It was followed up by a song by JJ Heller entitled Who Will Love Me for Me...again, no mention of Jesus, but it was filled with the gospel. It seems that some people are starting to "get it."

I hope my friend Mark doesn't mind me quoting him some more, but he shares about a conversation he had some time back with Bono from U2 and his frustration with the expectations of the super-spirituality of Jesus songs by Christian artists instead of just allowing them to "preach truth."

Mark writes: "In preparation of a meeting with contemporary Christian music (CCM) artists to talk about global AIDS, he wrote me a note: "If the truth sets us free and it does ... Why aren't Christian singers allowed to ring true?" What Bono meant, of course, is that the Church often stifles the creativity and voice of an artist to conform to its own sense of propriety and (in our American context) "family friendly" fare.

The questions is a good one. Do we let the truth shape us and our culture, or do we let our culture shape us and the truth?

Later at the meeting, Bono remarked to the group that they probably couldn't put Song of Solomon (one of only two books of the Bible which does not reference God) to song and sell it in a Christian bookstore. Why? Not enough Jesus' per minute. Too sensual. Not "on message."

So, next time someone asks you, "What is gray and furry, climbs in trees, has a bushy tail and likes to eat nuts?' Tell the truth! It's a squirrel! After all, Jesus would look funny with a tail!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Christian Meets Oscar

The Academy Awards show is Sunday night, February 27. The Oscars will be given out to actors, actresses, directors, producers, photographers, fashion designers, etc. The biggest night in Hollywood. What should a Christian's response to the Oscars be? I'm a firm believer that the Gospel calls us to find ways to BUILD bridges with our culture rather than constantly looking for excuses to BURN them! That's why I'm really excited about one of the small groups in our church. One of our small groups has come up with a beautiful plan for their meeting that week.

Their discussion that night is going to be about why movies matter for those in our culture who are seeking, sharing and showing grace (our church Mission Statement). What would your brief response be if someone asked you, as a Christian, "Why do movies matter?" Here's my very brief response...

First, it connects us with what is going on in culture. Usually art and film are WAAAAY ahead of the curve of the general population...the film industry tends to SET philosophy, not react to it. The "person on the street" can think they are coming up with their own opinions all they want...the fact is that the educators, the philosophers, the "intelligentsia" are constantly influencing the world-views of others. The next group to process the world-views of the intellectuals, also the group that begins to "popularize" such world-views...are the artists...those leading the way in music, film and literature. The people on Hollywood Boulevard are constantly influencing the people on Main Street.

I am always surprised to discover that most people really don't understand that few artists aren't absolutely intentional about what they are doing. Almost all art, film and literature is presented precisely to make a influence world-view. Christians who thoughtfully watch and process films can learn a lot...and then think through a Christian response.

Second, most POPULAR films are record-breakers precisely because they touch a nerve of the human soul...popular films are usually popular because they are simply an echo of the Larger Story of God's plan of redemption. So, movies matter to thoughtful Christians because we are reminded of the Plan of Redemption...not just our redemption in Christ but our role in being agents of redemption in all of life and culture. Heroes in the great films usually bring redemption to those in need. Villains in the stories remind us of the great battles we face in life and that evil is real, not imaginary. Those who go about doing great good call out that which is in us by God's grace.

Third, knowledge and awareness of popular films enable us to engage our neighbors, friends, work associates in conversation. There are many themes of "Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation" that can lead to Christ-centered discussions.

Few things get me processing the gospel like a good movie. I love Oscar time. My bets are on The King's Speech. A GREAT story with many echoes of the Larger Story. I'm excited about the great time that small group in our church is going to have that Sunday night...may their tribe increase!