Christianity Lite: Tastes Great, Less Filling

July 19, 2009

Just began what has, thus far, been a pretty darned good book.  John MacArthur’s Hard to Believe.   I’ve always enjoyed  MacArthur, though some macarthurmay find him (and other conservative Baptists) “harsh”.  He admits so much and in fact,  says that this book will certainly do nothing to alter that perception.  It may even further it.  But, he’s never concerned himself with that in the least, and I respect the heck out of him for that.  His concern is the truth.  And, there are a whole, whole lot of folks/churches in this day and age, it seems, that can’t say as much.  At least in his view (and mine).

So many churches today see their congregations as consumers.  Why is that dangerous? I’ll let him tell you.  He does a much better job than I ever could.

The first role of successful merchandising is to give consumers what they want.  If they want bigger burgers, make their burgers bigger.  Designer bottled water in six fruit flavors? Done.  Minivans with ten cupholders?  Give ’em twenty.  You’ve got to keep the customer satisfied.  You’ve got to modify your product and your m want to build a market and get ahead of the competition.

Today, this same mindset has invaded Christianity.  The service is too long, you say? We’ll shorten it.  Too formal? Wear your sweatsuit! Too boring? Wait ’till you hear our band!   And, if the message is too confrontational, judgmental, exclusive, scary, unbelievable, hard to understand or too much of anything else, churches everywhere are eager to adjust their message to make you more comfortable.  This new version of Christianity makes you a partner on the team, a design consultant on church life and does away with old-fashioned authority, guilt trips, accountability and moral absolutes.

It’s Christianity for consumers:  Christianity Lite, the redirection, watering down and misinterpretation of the biblical gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable and popular.  It tastes great going down and settles light.  It seems to salve your feelings and scratch your itch.  It’s custom-tailored to your preferences.  But, that lightness will never fill you up with the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ, because it’s designed by man and not God.  It’s hollow and worthless.  In fact, it’s worse than worthless, because the people who hear only the “feel good” message of Christianity-Lite think they’re hearing the gospel – think they’re being rescued from eternal judgment – when in fact, they’re being tragically and dangerously misled.

Tough to hear.  And, before we go any further, I’ll not be a hypocrite and condemn bands, coffee and jeans in church.  I’ve done it myself many, many, many times and enjoy it to this day.  Those things, in and of themselves, don’t take away from the gospel, provided what you’re hearing is the truth.  Give me all those things, sure.  They’re enjoyable.  God doesn’t care what I’m wearing and boy, do I love my coffee.  But, don’t water down the message.  Give it to me straight and give me all of it.  I think it’s important to note that that’s what I believe MacArthur to be saying here.  Just don’t compromise the message and understand that the job of the church is not to make me feel good every Sunday.  It’s to give me the truth and lead me to salvation (which, of course, is ultimately up to me to ask for).  Mac Arthur continues, commenting on Robert Schuller’s Self Esteem: The New Reformation :

Maybe the most amazing statement in Self Esteem: The New Reformation is the following: “Once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner’, it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”  So, if you want to be saved, according to this new gospel, you cannot believe yourself to be an unworthy sinner? How twisted is that?  How contrary to the truth is that? But, it is just the sort of man-centered, self-esteem gospel that eventually became the seeker-friendly movement, which has hijacked so many churches.  It’s a kind of quasi-Christian narcissism, of self-love, that is characteristic of false teachers: according to 2 Timothy 3, which reminds us “Dangerous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves.”

Christianity, in the hands of some seeker-sensitive church leaders, has become a “get what you want” rather than a “give up everything” movement.  These leaders have prostituted the divine intention of the gospel.  They have replaced the glory of God with the satisfaction of man.  They have traded the concept of abandoning our lives to honor Christ for Christ honoring us.  As such, our submission to His will is replaced by His submission to ours.   Since people usually reject the real gospel … modern evangelicals have simply changed the message.

To wrap this up for now, what is the true gospel, according to MacArthur (with whom I agree)? No to put too fine a point on it, but it’s this:

… Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley, thy life in my death.     “Thy life in my death”?  That’s the true gospel.   Jesus said it unmistakably and inescapably, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whomever desires to save his own life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life for My sake, will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  It’s not about exalting me, it’s about slaying me.    It’s the death of self.  You win by losing; you live by dying.  And that is the heart of the gospel.  That is the essence of discipleship.    The passage mentions nothing about improving your self-esteem, being rich or successful, feeling good about yourself or having your “felt needs” met – which is what so many churches are preaching these days in order to sugarcoat the truth.

I have no idea how the fans of Christianity Lite reconcile their approach to religion with the teaching of Jesus, or how they become comfortable ignoring what He said.  But, the only acceptable approach – for me and you – is to take our Lord at His word in the single, solitary source of truth for every authentic Christian – the word of God revealed in the Bible.  Luke 9 cuts pretty much right to the core.

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to follow Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whosoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man, will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”

It’s pretty simple.  Anyone who wants to come after Jesus – anyone who wants to be a Christian – has to face three commands: 1) deny (refuse to associate with) himself  2) take up his cross daily, and 3) follow Him.  These words are hard to believe.  They’re not consumer-friendly or seeker-sensitive.  Christianity-Lite is nowhere to be found here.  But this is not an obscure passage.  These are the principles He taught over and over and over again.

Anyhow … this is all on pages 5 and 6.  It’s drawn me in.  We can get into more and more on this in the coming days, and I plan to.  I’m sure there are plenty of you out there with plenty to say about this new “reformation” and the seeker-sensitive and/or gospel-compromising, consumer-friendly churches that seem to be popping up on absolutely every corner.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts …




  1. What ever happened to the Gospel? The church seems to have gone in all the world and has lost its Commission. Will the Son of Man find Faith on the Earth when He returns? No He will find Gospel-Lite.(The Golden Calf)http://7drizzles7.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/gospel-lite-shake-before-you-drink/

  2. c’mon Jonsey,
    McArthur’s book should be called “Kids, these days.” I can almost here him grumble.

    This is a common refrain from a lot of hard-line denominationalists who grew up in a different church. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but this is a knee-jerk reaction to a different evangelization approach that frankly, is the most effective model for reaching non-church-goers that exists today. (look at the numbers, according to a recent Leadership Network study, denominational memberships are for the first time decreasing across the board, while as you point out, non-denoms are ‘popping up on every corner’)

    The fact is that the “emerging” “seeker-friendly” “post-modern” church however you title it, is a direct response to a public perception of judgementalism, hypocrisy, and irrelevance that plagues denominational churches today (and is evidenced in some of McArthur’s writing- which he proudly deems “harsh”.) Today’s culture doesn’t identify with guilt and condemnation. In any discussion where you are trying to reach someone, you must first come alongside them. St. Francis writes it “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If the church truly cares about the lost, it MUST engage them at the level they are, and in the culture in which they live. If you have a young person that shows an interest in learning math, you don’t start them on calculus; you start with arithmetic – because that’s what they need to know first. This is the biggest strength of the new church- and it’s exciting to see the church’s focus shift to those outside its congregation on a philosophy level- not just a few token “outreach” programs.

    Once the interest is fostered though, real growth must take place. My experience has been that pastors in the emerging church are some of the most challenging teachers in the church today, both in personal growth and in service to the world. In fact, it is precisely that challenge that is responsible for the growth of the church today for two reasons: 1) This challenge is outwardly-focused and service-oriented, not internal and academic, so more people (Christian and non-Christian) are being exposed to the WORKS of Christ, not simply a message on the page. 2) Deep in their souls, men and women are Spirit-lead and Spirit-fed by producing good works and reaching people for Christ, so more people stay engaged in a true life way. “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do” Jn 14:12- and through that interaction Christ is allowed into our hearts, not just our heads.

    Lastly, I want to address the “guilt-free” church which McArthur denounces. Guilt is not a holy emotion. It is paralyzing and condemning. It is the single biggest tool that Satan uses to keep non-believers and believers alike form reaching out to God and to others. Case 1: The garden of Eden. Adam and Eve hid out of shame and guilt over what they had done. This is the first instance where man did not seek God- and it was due to guilt. Case 2: If ever there was a justifiable case for guilt, it was Jesus with his betrayer. Yet even at the last supper when Judas took the morsel from Jesus, Jesus simply told him to do it quickly. No guilt trip- and he directly betrayed the Son of God.

    No sin, no matter how great, should be addressed with guilt- particularly when that guilt keeps us separated from the one person , one God, who can forgive it. Be very clear: Guilt has no place in the Body of Christ.

    • Dude … I totally agree with you on guilt. And, a better word to use there may have been conviction. Having come from a “seeker-sensitive” church past myself, I can say confidently that absolutely, positively there is a place for them (as though I’m an authority, right? JMO, that’s all). And, I don’t think that MacArthur would disagree that anyone/thing that brings someone to Christ or even an interest, is infinitely valuable.

      I’ll get further into this on the blog, but I also think that while there is a place for that, it’s also very dangerous. There are an awful, awful lot of people that are NOT delving into the truth, but are rather into a more PC, self-esteem type gospel – which is simply not the true message. You can’t pick and choose what of Christ’s message you believe and follow. And, if there are those who are part of such a flock – new believers, in particular, as they know no better – and they think they have all of the message they need … get comfortable, I suppose, and seek no further or aren’t challenged … THAT is dangerous. It’s the “frog in the kettle” scenario, more or less.

      Truth isn’t easy to hear and it isn’t popular. But, the message is the message. I’m TOTALLY with you on judgment and guilt. And, we as Christians ABSOLUTELY need to welcome people in with the understanding that we’re ALL sinners and that there is forgiveness to be had for all. We need it as much as they do. Heaven knows I’m not one to look down on anyone and yes, that CERTAINLY keeps people from the church and gospel. Humility is DEFINITELY something that is lacking in alot of church environs. And, frankly, yeah … it turns people off, as well it should.

      As one who grew up in the Church of Christ was brought back into the church in a seeker-sensitive environment … I’m not casting stones. Believe me. I’m just saying that the gospel is being watered down to make it more popular … or, I guess, palatable to the mainstream. To be “less offensive”. To avoid backlash or negative publicity. And, I do have a big, big problem with that.

      I think we’re on the same page on alot of things, really … I’ll pass the book off to you at small group next time or somethin’ … would be curious to hear more of your thoughts.

      disclaimer, btw – I don’t agree with MacArthur on all things, either and am by no means an apologist … just enjoying the book and finding myself agreeing with much of it thus far.

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