Coming from — Dorothy vs. The Great Oz
Only after the Great and Powerful Oz is face-to-face with the individual is he pressed to admit: “No, my dear. . . . I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”
God’s power isn’t like human power. At all. Ours is grounded in showmanship, fear, bravado, tradition, and competition — agon. God’s power just is. Look below at how the Dreamworks creators communicated that difference between God’s miracle and the Egyptian charmers’ production. Rough-and-tumble, just-came-from-the-dessert Moses vs. the slick and snarky magicians.
There’s a reason the charmers had to dim the lights and fog up the room. Sunshine and transparency would ruin their illusion. Their humbug thrived on obfuscation. They had to control the environment and distance themselves from their “audience.” The crowds ooh-and-aah for them, but we know the end of the story.
There’s something that happens to contemporary Fundamentalists when they get together in large groups. They think they must imitate the pagan’s show. They try to build what amounts to ziggurats for Christ. Just as Moody leveraged the Press, they find legitimacy from the Press for their elaborate evangelistic productions. In the end, however, Fundamentalism isn’t very good at wizardry. It’s actually merciful that stitching a human ideology to Scripture ends up with so many knots and holes and crooked seams. It’s good that the ziggurat crumbles.
You just can’t sell the Gospel with humbug. The two conflict.
After all the smoke has cleared, it’s just not our show, and it’s not our battle. God doesn’t need the illusion. He doesn’t work in agon. The battle is God’s, and He’s already won. We just enjoy the victory.
A few posts ago, I included an interview with Benjamin Barber — a political theorist who just released Consumed. In this his latest book, he contends that American capitalism infantilizes the American consumer into buying more and more. He reminds us that it’s only just recently that risk has been socialized: corporations can’t stumble anymore for their financial goofs. And, like a good productive critic, Barber urges us to restore our civic community and make capitalism give us what we need (rather than make us need what it wants to give us).
His critique of capitalism easily fits the problems in American conservative Evangelicalism. Try it on for size. . . .
Fundamentalism infantilizes the believer. We’re treated as pre-redeemed or heathen or unregenerate. That keeps us coming back to church and keeps us participating whole-hog in para-church organizations. And it keeps us consuming more material religion so that we feel temporarily sated. Risk for our religious leaders is socialized — sins (for the prominent) are swept under the rug — while the solitary human things are exaggerated into destructive sins. We think we have a church body, but what we have are groups of silenced, hurting individuals threatened into denial, all to preserve the precious image of the movement. Transparency is forbidden since the public might get a peek at our human foibles.
We don’t have a religion designed to help believers grow in Christ; we have believers scurrying to protect a commodified religion. Barber argues that the Market is supposed to serve the consumer, but it’s been juggled so that the consumer serves the Market. And I’m afraid that it’s the same in Fundamentalism. The Fundamentalist believer is cornered to serve the movement. Barber’s right: for the Market, the Civic Sphere, and the Church. We are consumed. I wish he were wrong.
Capitalism is too easily knitted together with conservative Evangelicalism. We shouldn’t see the Church in a political theorist’s correction for capitalism. In his seminal work on Fundamentalism, George Marsden said that modernity created Fundamentalism. And it seems that in the 21st-century, we may well conclude that capitalism created contemporary Fundamentalism.
But think about it. Go look at the books on your shelves or listen to the evangelistic slogans you’ve absorbed over the past year. Some Fundamentalist “self-help” books sound no different than the ones on Oprah’s Book Club. It’s all Prosperity Gospel. The push-pull “let go and let God” is just like “Stop eating! EAT THIS!!” of a diet fad. Bible verses have actually become weight loss slogans! Church signs make God’s House look like a check-cashing joint.
Capitalism and conservative Evangelicalism share the same sawdust, hawk the same wares, silence the same naysayers, adamently defend the same reputation, polish the same insincere veneer, and tell the same tragic story.
And we don’t need to do that. We don’t need to sell God. We don’t need to pawn the Faith.
Believers don’t have to try so hard to be beautiful. We don’t need to “work it.” God living within us makes us beautiful. We don’t have to struggle to be separate. God has already set us apart, sanctified us, made us peculiar. Just like a wife doesn’t need to have an Extreme Makeover for her husband to love her or a child doesn’t need to ride his new two-wheeler perfectly to guarantee his parent’s approval.
God loves us. His love makes us beautiful.
I had always been a little mystified by why God picked circumcision for His people. What a strange sign to communicate to the pagans that these people were set apart! . . . Did they all walk around half-naked?
Then a friend explained it to me: no, it wasn’t an external sign to the pagans; it was an internal sign to the Hebrew!
The “sign” of our sanctification is to us — it’s private, internal, quiet . . . small! We know we’re His. We don’t have to flaunt it or defend it. It would be immodest to do so! We don’t have to fight for or against it. That’s just unnecessary. Romans 8:5-11 contrasts the obsessive flexing-your-own-moral-muscles humbug with the Christian life like this:
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!
The war’s over. God won. And now, while we join God in cleaning up the muck left from the battle, while we struggle and gradually progress from our sinful nature toward Christlikeness, we’re not in a continual fight with God (His Son reconciled us). We’re not at odds with our world (just a little out of step). We don’t need to cut off our fellow believers (we’re all part of the Body after all!). And we’re not in turmoil with ourselves either since God redeemed all of us and is progressively sanctifying us until we’re in Glory. We don’t need to struggle to look saved. It’s not a competition.
No, we’re not salesmen or show windows or wizards or charmers or humbugs. We’re not soldiers. We’re actually more than conquerors.
[tags]Fundamentalism, Bob Jones University, Benjamin Barber, Prince of Egypt, Keswick theology, Chaferianism, Humbugs, The Wizard of Oz[/tags]