Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Things I've Been Thinking About Recently

I don’t even know where to start with this post. I have several issues I’ve been mulling over to address, but I suspect it will be much too long a post, and I’ve never been very good about breaking these things down into a blog series. This is a potentially touchy subject and lots of potential for misunderstanding and y'all know I don't like to drum up controversy or step on toes or stir up hornets' nests or make people mad at me, but, I've had this stuff rolling around in my head for a long time now and just need to work out my thoughts, so here we go.
Here’s the thing. I am becoming completely disillusioned with the evangelical subculture. Don’t hear that wrong, okay? Hear the rest of what I’m saying before jumping to a wrong conclusion.
The thing is, the more I grow in my walk with Jesus, the more I appreciate the depth and breadth and scope of the amazing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the more I realize just how holy and awesome our God is, the less I like what the subculture of evangicalism has done with watering down the gospel and trivializing it and becoming so much like the world that the world either can’t see any difference or thinks we’re sort of a shallow wanna-be of the world’s coolness, or on the other hand sees us as mostly a political lobbying group. 
That sounds harsh. It is. That sounds judgmental. You better believe it. I am being judgmental. With a capital J. I’m examining the subculture in which I have been steeped for most of my life and I’m finding that it is wanting at best and dangerous at worst. And I am not being snide, snarky, or gleeful with this. I am writing this post with a profound amount of sadness. Because this is the culture and subculture in which I am raising my own children, and I find it so hard to find that sometimes I have to shelter them even more from things within the fold than from things without. I wish you could see how much sadness these thoughts bring me, my friends.
Let me give you a little bit of context for where I’m coming from today. I grew up in the church, was saved at a young age, and as I look back over the years and some of the influences that surrounded me and pulled at me from various sides, I am speechless at the mercy and grace God showed me in sparing me and/or rescuing me from all kinds of ditches, pitfalls, and error that so easily could have taken hold on my thinking. Only by His grace do I have the love for His word and hunger to know Him and His word and hunger for righteousness and truth that I have today. And looking back, I can say that I was blessed with a lot of good teaching, but there was a lot there that wasn’t good along the way, too. Thank God He has spared me from error and is still leading me through the mine field that evangelicalism has become. 
I just finished reading the book, Radical, by David Platt. I had heard a lot of good things about that book and seen that quite a few bloggers I appreciate had spoken well of the book, but until our Sunday school group decided to read it together, I had never before seen the subtitle, which is, “Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream.” Intriguing, yes? Challenging book. I am still processing it and I sent it back with my husband to read when he was home this weekend. I want us to begin praying about our own blind spots in this area. Though I had begun thinking along these lines already, I found that I had many blind spots where I’ve bought into the American Dream and not even realizing where my thinking was actually detrimental to a committed Christian walk that surprised and grieved me as I read. In fact, I would have agreed that the seeker mentality all the rage in our churches is too self-centered and would have self-righteously patted myself on the back about that, without seeing how very self-centered so much of my  thinking still is. I find that I am hungering for a gospel-saturated, Jesus-exalting worldview. I find that it is good to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith and to search the scriptures and know what is true. I recommend the book, highly, by the way.
So, back to what I was already processing before I read the book. I read this post a while back. You’ll need to read that post to understand this next paragraph. Here’s what I’ve been pondering since I learned about the fictional “Becky” target market, and what I wish the marketeers would get. I used to be ‘Becky’ until I got so sated with the shallowness that was Christian radio that I finally just turned it off. I’d rather listen to secular music than stupid songs about lost car keys being the stuff that drives me crazy. Honestly, that sappy love song to Jesus stuff may be what the fictional Becky ‘wants’, but you know what she (and I) need? Music that takes our minds off of us and our self-centered little selves and points us to Someone better and higher. We need the gospel. We need to have our appetites whetted for the majesty of who God is, and, yes, reminded that sin is offensive to Him. I need to be reminded of His holiness and love and grace, not in songs that sound like a teenager mooning in a lovesick way, but in the depth of true worship.  Those are the songs that really feed our souls. Because if you want the honest, heart-wrenching truth, I am so self-centered all on my own, I don’t need happy, clappy, shallow junk. I can be shallow all on my own. I need something to point me away from me. And you know what else? Life, real life, isn’t happy, slappy, clappy romantic pie-in-the-sky all the time. That just doesn’t hold up when life happens. That doesn’t hold up when life happens and I'm feeling like I'm drowning and I’ve hit the wall and want to scream. What I need is the gospel, and lots and lots of it. I don’t need to be encouraged in my self-centeredness. I need to focus on who God is. But, you Christian radio people go right on marketing to that fictional Becky who doesn’t want any of that theology stuff, and I’ll just steer way clear of your stations. 
Told you this would be a long post.
That’s what I’ve been pondering writing about for a while, but here’s what got me grieved enough to finally get the post written. I went into a Christian bookstore the other day. I may have mentioned this before, but I have been growing more and more frustrated with Christian books in the past few years. It isn’t that there are no good ones. It’s just that you have to wade through so much that isn’t good to find it. 
So, anyway, I was wandering through, kind of mindlessly browsing the shelves when I stumbled upon the Young Adult section. And had to take a picture. Here are a few pictures, and you tell me if at first glance, if I had not told you where I was, would you have assumed these were Christian books?

Now, I guess in a way I’m doing what I got frustrated with someone else for doing when I heard them criticize The Hunger Games in a way that, in my opinion, missed it because he admitted he hadn’t read the book but was speaking from a review he had read, that also, in my opinion, got it wrong, because I am pretty much judging these books by their covers and what I read when I looked them up online later. I haven’t read any of these books, so take what I’m saying for what it’s worth. Maybe I've just been burned by being too trusting before and maybe they aren't what they look like at face value, but from appearance, I'm very wary. But at least let me finish the point I wanted to make, please.
Here’s my quibble. Some of those books even looked kind of interesting, while some looked downright awful (horrifying) when I read about them. BUT. Remember that I was standing in a Christian bookstore. Just by the fact that this is where they are, there is an implied stamp of approval plastered on those books that they are A-okay for a Christian kid to read. I mean, as a mom, I want to think that if my kid picks a book from the shelf of the Christian bookstore, should be a wholesome thing for him to read, right? Well, when I went and read about some of those titles, I thought, I don’t even want to fill my head with that creepy stuff, I sure won’t let my kids read them. (Hmmm....Twilight is all the rage, guess we probably can't write about vampires, what to do, oh....let's make our immortal characters angels! That should make it okay! SERIOUSLY?) (And Tim Challies has a good review of the original book that last picture is based on.)
Full disclosure, I and my kids read all the Harry Potter books and all three of The Hunger Games books and liked them and found much to discuss about while reading them. I’m not usually a knee-jerk kind of parent.  But I'd have a problem with them being on the shelf in a Christian bookstore, too. 

I am not even saying I wouldn’t let them read ANY of the books in my picture, nor am I saying anything about the fact that they are out there at all. I'm also not saying that Christian fiction books have to have a formula gospel or can't deal with heavy topics, but a lot of these had eerie, spooky, occult, or paranormal type elements that I think are unwise to be focusing on. I’m not even saying no one should ever read any of these books. I am saying if you read them, don’t assume they are something Christians should read without any discernment or without concern. And a couple of them, maybe I am saying it would be better not to be reading them, at least, if what I read about them is an accurate portrayal. What I take issue with is, why from Christian publishers? I purposely haven't mentioned the name of the bookstore, because, honestly, I think the problem lies with the parent company and the fact that I really wish Christian publishers would give more good stuff to the bookstores to work with than with the individual store I visited.And I looked, these books are published by Christian publishing companies, so I can see why the bookstore might think they're okay.  Why do our YA shelves look just as dark and disturbing as the local secular bookstore or public library YA bookshelves when we should have something SO MUCH better to offer? Shouldn't we look different? My kids heard what I said to my husband about the books, and later we were at the public library. My middle son came to me and said, "Mom, you know how you said all the books at the store were all dark and stuff? Well, it's the same kind of stuff here in my section." Shouldn't it bother us a little bit that our shelves look just like the world? Aren't we supposed to be the people of light, not darkness? Shouldn't we look different? To be honest, when I read about a couple of those books, I thought, “And I’m a bad Christian mom for letting my kids read The Hunger Games?? Really?? This is more dangerous than what they encountered in that.” 
At least with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and other books we’ve read together, I knew what the issues were we’d need to address. Honestly, I believe it is better for my kids to read those things with me and have the discussions we’ve had than to read a bunch of creepy stuff that’s got a Christian label on it and could do a lot more to damage their thinking because you assume if it’s “Christian” it’s okay. I’d rather they read secular stuff and learn to discern as they read than to confuse themselves with really bad theology in “Christian” books. It is HARD to write Christian fiction without running into some ditch or other. There is so much bad theology I find in a lot of "Christian" books it makes my head hurt. And it makes me weep. 

I am not saying this just to be overly critical or shrewish. I am saying this because I am deeply, profoundly SAD. I am sad that, though I grew up in the evangelical subculture and really was saved at a young age, I am not sure I really apprehended the depth or richness of the gospel until fairly recently, and I wish we, as a movement, would get back to being passionate about the truth and not so interested in following the world's fads. I am extremely thankful that for some reason God, in His mercy, chose to make me dissatisfied with the steady diet of shallow and error-prone stuff that makes up so much of evangelicalism and led me to good teaching amid the rubble. 
I don’t know if this made any sense, and sometimes I feel like maybe I’m just too picky or that I am just completely out of sync with, well, just about everyone. I get so frustrated when Christians knee-jerk about things like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games (or worse, try to' redeem' them by forcing a Christian reading onto them that was never intended rather than learning how to read intelligently), but stuff that is, seems to me, way more dangerous gets not a word said, not a notice or blip on the radar screen. I know not everyone who reads this will agree with me. But I weep when I see how much harder it is getting to find the meat amid the bones. So many, many bones to spit out these days among things that identify as “Christian”. 

And I didn't even show you the pictures I took of the devotional books for girls.......

1 comment:

Veronica @ A Quiet Heart said...

This: "I find it so hard to find that sometimes I have to shelter them even more from things within the fold than from things without."
This post echoed some of the same thoughts I've had recently...