Gratuitous faith

th-8In our discussion with actor Erin Bethea last night on Catch Radio, we talked about the gratuitous use of sex, violence and profanity in much of Hollywood filmmaking. The definition of gratuitous is something uncalled for or lacking good reason. It’s something thrown in to the story to add a little spice, but it’s not essential to the story line. For instance, a passionate kiss might serve the story just as well as a nude love scene, in some cases, maybe better.

That is actually something you can discover in older films that used restraint. The sexual tension that builds in these films conveys, in most cases, more power than a blatant love scene.

In the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, the mere touch of each other’s hand at the end of the movie is all the sex we need to see. The touch carries all the power necessary to serve the story, and it says they’ve told the story well. There was even reference made in the film to the 1957 movie An Affair to Remember when Hollywood used to stimulate our imagination instead of do everything for us.

In the same way, however, I wonder if Christian art, movies, and songs might fall prey to gratuitous faith, or at least unnecessary symbols of faith or known Christian phrases or propositions to indicate that this is Christian product. Often it’s put there to reassure Christians that this is not Hollywood, but if it is not integrated into the depth of the story, it will seem unrealistic, even unnecessary.

I think sometimes this can be true in real life. Sometimes I think we feel obligated to speak about our faith when our whole life is already telling the story. Like a friend of mine used to say, “Why be cute when you’re already beautiful?”

In the early days of Christian music, it wasn’t enough to have a song about a dad loving his child, there had to be something biblical or something about Jesus or God in it to indicate it was a Christian song worthy of being on a Christian album. As if loving your family wasn’t Christian enough.

This is certainly not to say we don’t talk about our faith at the appropriate times (usually when someone asks us), but if faith is an add on, it’s better left off.

Faith doesn’t have to be pointed out if it is integral to a person’s whole being. You don’t th-10have to raise a little flag when it’s time to announce you are a born-again Christian. Faith that is necessary will spill out of the natural human need in our lives for God, for love and for forgiveness. If it’s real, the touch will be good enough. If it’s not, preaching will be superfluous. If you need to be saved every day, the gospel will flow out the present realities of your life; if you were saved years ago, it will be gratuitous when you talk about it.

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6 Responses to Gratuitous faith

  1. You know, John, this was nice: making the comparison between Hollywood’s gratuitous use of non-essentials, the Christian music industry’s gratuitous use of non-essentials, and our use of non-essentials in our Christian witnesses. It reminds me of the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always, and, if necessary, use words.”

    We talk too much. Jesus acted and His actions spoke volumes. The Apostle John wrote:

    “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did [note: not spoke]. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

    Better to be known for our acts of love than our words. Thanks!

  2. Peter Leenheer says:

    John thanks for this post. I definitely have practiced “gratuitous” christianity. It wasn’t until I realized that actions speak louder than words, that people are saved when the Holy Spirit touches their heart not when I push the gospel. It is a very fine line.

    In our children’s ministry we had monthly altar calls. Then one month we had an altar call, and I was prompted to have another the following week. My colleauges said you heard the prompt you do it. So I told the weekly story and then asked if anyone felt they had Jesus put a claim on their heart for the first time. Six little girls at the front were dancing up and down. I asked was this the first time. They said no but we love Jesus. Great I replied, but I am looking for first timers. Then I noticed one boy waving his hand. In the other service another boy accepted Christ. The first boy immediately came to me and said he wanted to serve in children’s ministry. We accepted. The other boy, in the following weeks had a total reversal to his behavior from obnoxiously painful to wonderfully obedient.

    It is after this incident that it seemed to me that
    1. I am just the messenger and must consult God about altar calls.
    2. The parable of the farmer seeding the land has him throwing seed in fertile as well as unfertile land. The disciples were perplexed because when you seed your land manually you don’t waste seed on rock or semi-fertile soil.
    3. The Holy Spirit saves, I don’t.
    4. I can push the gospel with the best of intentions.
    5. It is better to live like Jesus and let that be the witness.

    Children are saved once, like you only have one birthday. We give them the impression that they need to be saved over and over again. I now consult God on all altar calls, the results are amazing..

    • jwfisch says:

      Every time a kid responds to the conviction of sin in their life it’s a good thing. If they interpret that as a need to become a Christian again, that can be handled by teaching, but the desire is right. Besides, there is a way in which we are all saved every day from the present tense sin we are committing and often not even knowing it. Salvation has past, present and future ramifications.

  3. I think one reason why we indulge in “gratuitous” Christianity is because there are so many counterfeits in this world, we feel it’s necessary to give “credit where it’s due”. What I call the ABC philosophies — Anything But Christ — seem to co-opt any good thing from helping the poor to healing the sick, repairing marriages and beating alcoholism, and I think many of us feel it’s necessary to draw attention to God and Jesus Christ as being the one true solution or motivator.

    I get squeamish when people look at our Mission on Vancouver’s Skid Row and say, “that’s such a wonderful work you do!” I need to set the record straight: “not I, but Christ in me”. I’m not going to take credit for being obedient. (I’m reminded of the people who ridiculed Tim Tebow for crediting Jesus with helping him win football games: evidently, they would rather Tim took all the credit for himself and strutted around like any other pro sports star, as if it were all about him.)

    Even so, I have to be careful. I like to point out that Drew Snider, the man, would rather sit at home with the crossword and the cat, than go to Skid Row and minister to the poor — especially when it’s cold or rainy; but it’s the Holy Spirit that pushes me out the door and strengthens me. But if I’m in the presence of a non-believer who serves in a similar way, I have to be careful not to imply that his or her service is in anyway lessened or motivated by something bad, like pride or guilt. I believe Paul was referring to that when he wrote about “giving none offense”.

    So yes, living out our faith is important and “Christian” entertainment needs to show that, more than hit viewers over the head with the Bible; but we need to strike a balance so that Christ isn’t reduced in the eyes of the world to just another belief system for “good” people.

    (Two recent movies that strike that balance quite nicely are “New In Town” with Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr., and “Here Comes the Boom” with Kevin James and Henry Winkler.)

  4. I enjoyed the podcast and todays thoughts and comments. I’ve never really thought much about the topic. The last “Christian” movie I think I watched was Time to Run

    I thought it was great.

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