Pop quiz! How many of each kind of animal boarded Noah’s Ark? If you answered “two,” you are mistaken. Genesis 7:2 tells us that of the clean animals, Noah collected seven of each. It was the unclean animals that Noah secured by the twos. Question number two: how many wise men were present at Jesus’ birth? The answer: probably none (at least, not the wise men who came bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus). Matthew chapter two tells us that the wise men came “when Jesus was born,” but they hadn’t found Him yet, and that’s when Herod instructed them to inform him when they had located the King of the Jews. And you’ll also notice that the number of wise men is never revealed. We assume three because three types of gifts are listed.
Now here’s a more substantial question, and it’s theologically deeper than the more straightforward items above, but it highlights the issue I’m trying to get at a little more clearly. According to the Bible, where do good people go after they die? The answer, which is consistent through the Old and New Testaments, is that there are no good people (Rom 3:10, 23, Psa 14:3, Jer 17:9 to name only a few supporting scriptures). It’s not meant to be a trick question, but it comes across as one. That was the whole reason for Jesus’ death, wasn’t it? To be the atoning sacrifice (Heb 9:26, among others) that reconciled a world hopelessly mired in sin to a righteous God.
So what’s the point here? I imagine that most Christians who would be reading an article on religion probably breezed through the little pop quiz above. Few were probably suckered into the mild snares set out in the first couple of paragraphs. However there is, unfortunately, ample evidence to suggest that many people who identify themselves as Christians in today’s society would have fallen short. If you were to ask your friends who maybe don’t participate in real Bible study, how well do they do? To set the stage for the larger discussion, let’s look at some data.
Although a number of surveys over the past several decades indicate that 40% of Americans claim to go to church regularly, several studies question whether this is altogether true, and some suggest the answer may actually be half of this. And yet, 76% of the population in the US claims to be Christian. If this is the case, then where are the vast majority of professing Christians learning about their faith? Odds are, it’s not the Bible (at least, not entirely).
We’re in a country today that is bombarded by something I’ve come to think of as “Hollywood Theology.” Fundamental Christian beliefs are being molded by Hollywood, which for this discussion includes movies, television, and other mass entertainment media. Christianity, in ways much more complex than this article will take on, finds itself being molded to match a “feel good”, conviction-less belief system. For the most part (although there are some notable exceptions), the Christianity presented through the lens of mass media erodes true Christian faith and replaces it with a faux belief system that calls itself Christianity. And because this belief system seems to feel good, we find it readily adopted by many who aren’t actively wearing the armor of God.
Don’t get me wrong. God can work through anything to reach us. One can easily imagine a scenario where someone is introduced to a facet of truth through a song or book or even a movie, and then follows up with conversion and study to properly ground this newborn faith. But the problem that we’re faced with is when we substitute the shallow humanism depicted in many of the shows and movies today for truth. Not only does it open Christians up to criticisms and inconsistencies that don’t exist in our faith, it actually forces us, if we’ve built our understanding on the same fallacies, to defend what simply isn’t true. This threatens evangelism and a true presentation of Christianity to the world.
I would suggest that given the confused state of the world today, that practicing Christians take the time to reflect on what it is we believe, and why we believe it. I once heard on a Christian radio station the following comment: “Not studying the Bible isn’t a problem in the Church. It’s the problem.” Use some Bible study time to actually test your fundamental beliefs. Here are some topics to consider: Heaven (is it clouds and harp playing)? Hell (is it ruled by a Devil in red leotards with a pitch fork)? And the very nature of the afterlife, what do we believe? We see spiritualism as popular as ever in movies, books, and television today. What do we as a church believe about spirits and ghosts, and what happens when believers (and non-believers, for that matter) pass on? Do they go straight to Heaven or Hell? Do some linger and bang around in hallways and make walls bleed?
Now, let’s revisit the “good people” question from the beginning of this piece. Popular culture has created a theology that can only be described as a works oriented theology. Be good, dig deep, discover the indomitable human spirit, and your reward is assured. And this theology is being presented as Christianity, if not in name, then by insinuation. Perhaps humility and meekness that are the fruits of surrender to God, verses being notable traits that one might strive for, are difficult to convey. Foundational Christian belief holds that nothing truly good is possible without God (John 15:5), but without proper grounding in the Scriptures, the ability to tell the difference between the Hollywood manufactured message and true Christianity becomes difficult. Take the time to reconnect with the reasons we have for our hope, and be prepared to give an answer to those who would ask (1Pe 3:15). Especially for those who may be confused by what is presented by Hollywood about what Christians believe.