Leaders of the church in any era have the responsibility of identifying the idols of our time and confronting them with the gospel. David Platt has done this with the idol of the American Dream and it’s materialism, for instance. We have a variety of idols in our time, from rampant sensuality, to prolonged adolescence (especially in young men) to the new atheism, and the historically ubiquitous idol of worshiping self. But there is another idol that has slowly crept into our lives and into the very culture of our churches. We joke about it, and can see it around us. But I am not convinced we see it as the threat to genuine Christianity that it has become.
I refer to the Christian subculture, or the Christian “bubble.” The Christian subculture is not what we see in the Acts, where gospel communities with their own Christ-centered focus grew like dandelions after a spring shower as the gospel spread across the Roman Empire. No, I am referring to a subculture that creates distinctively “Christian” trappings, but has lost the soul of the gospel.
Walk into a Christian bookstore and look at the T shirt racks. Google “dumb church signs” or “dumb Christian tee shirts” and see what you find. Take a moment and think about all the “Christian” stuff you can see: Christian music, Christian yellow pages, Christian art, Christian fiction. Most of what you find in the Christian bubble ironically is a rip off from something in the world but done more badly than the original. Got bad breath? Buy some TestaMINTS (they should taste like cheese). Want to get a great toy for your child? Buy a Jesus action figure.
No, please don’t. Don’t do that to your child, and don’t do that to my Jesus. You can spot something in the Christian subculture because it looks like something you would find elsewhere, costs more, and doesn’t work as well.
I believe the rise of the Christian subculture is more than annoying. It has made Jesus trivial to many, and made the gospel remarkably unattractive to unbelievers. I have been in conversations with friends in recent months who do not know Christ, and have seen how the Christian subculture has been more effective in turning people off to Jesus than it has been in demonstrating originality.
The other day I finally got around to reading Dan Kimball’s book with the intriguing title They Like Jesus But Not the Church. While in some ways I would have dealt differently with certain topics he covered later in the book, I found the early section to be spot on in his description both of the problem of the Christian bubble and the need for the church to become missional. At one point he identified a progression, or more accurately a declension, many believers go through to wind up in the bubble. I like what he writes and give him credit for sparking my thought on this. But what I have observed involves even more than what he noted. So, with a nod to Kimball, take a look at what happens to so many of us who do love Jesus but who also grew up in the Christian subculture.
1. We need Christ.
We all start here, dead in sin, desperately in need of Christ.