Blinded to the Southern, White, Evangelical, Prosperity Gospel

I have heard it said that a fish does not understand the fact that he lives, moves, and has his being in water until the moment he is taken from water and finds that he is in an entirely different environment–an environment that is even hostile to his very nature. Likewise, humans take for granted that they live upon land and do not understand the significance of land until they find themselves in an unfamiliar environment such as water where their terrestrial foundation is removed from under their feet and their airy source of life is replaced by water.

All creatures have a propensity to become acclimated to that in which they live, and all creatures by that acclimation come to understand reality through that environment. And because of this, we all are to an extent blinded to those things in which have been reared and cannot rightly understand reality until we are removed from that environment, like a fish from water.

And religion is not immune to this reality. Richard Dawkins was not incorrect in his observation that people tend to devote themselves to the religion that dominates their particular locale. If a man grows up in Saudi Arabia, there is an excellent chance that he will adopt Islam. If another man grows up in India, it is likely that he will ascribe to something resembling Hinduism. And if a man grows up in the Southern United States, there is an excellent chance that he will call himself a Christian and say he believes in Jesus. That is simply the reality. Where Dawkins is wrong is not in his observation but in his conclusions, for such a reality does not demand that there be no true religion, and it discounts his own atheism, which is as much a product of his upbringing as religion is in the lives of others.

What such an observation should do is make us wary of our tendency to presume things. For it does not matter who we are or where we are, we all have certain presuppositions that frame and permeate all that we say, think, and believe. In the “Bible Belt” of the southern United States, this is no different. Most of us who have grown up in South have heard the name of Jesus since we were born and have been in a church every Sunday ever since. We believe that Jesus loves us, because “the Bible tells [us] so,” and that “Father Abraham had many sons … [and] I am one of them and so are you.” And we believe these things along side our die-hard American patriotism that feels that we ought to have prayer in public schools and that the “Pledge of Allegiance” should be said before our church services. We also believe whole-heartedly in the American Dream, and we work hard every day of our lives so that we might one day have a nice house surrounded by a white-picket fence, be married with 2.3 children, have two SUVs in the driveway, and retire by age sixty.

We aspire for all these things, and we never question their pursuit. We simply presume that they are good and God-honoring desires, because they have been drilled into us our whole lives. “God wants you to have a nice life.” “God wants you to succeed.” “God wants you to get married and have children.” “God wants you to send your children to a private school.” “God wants you to be a Republican and a fiscal conservative.” “God wants you to listen to His Radio and K-Love.” God wants you to eat Chick-fil-a.” All these things and thousands more shape Southern American Christianity, and no one questions these things, because if you are a white, middle-class Christian these things are part-and-parcel of the religion.

Therefore, when two “Christian” movies–Facing the Giants and Fireproof–come out of Georgia (shocking), the white, southern Christian population instantly falls in love with them. And not because of the great acting (which is actually horrific), or the excellent storyline (which is ridiculously predictable), but because it represents the God that they know and love–a benign genie that appears to godless men and through belief in him gives them the “reasonable” desires of their hearts–a decent, steady job, a football team that wins, a pregnant wife, and a marriage saved from divorce through Chick-fil-A. If the movie had presented a Joel Osteen god that gave health to sick people and riches to the poor, it would have been rejected as false and ridiculous, but since it displayed those things which we are taught to aspire to, we give no objection. We could care less that the movies do not demonstrate that God in Christ is the End of Christianity but instead demonstrates that we are the end of Christianity, because our Christianity does end in us. And it is this Christianity which we believe, because it is this Christianity which we have been taught.

And it is not simply Southern Christians who suffer from presuppositions, but all Christians do. It is for this reason that the apostle Paul exhorts the Roman church, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm.12:2). For all human beings are naturally disposed to conforming themselves to the world, and it is something that must be fought. How? “By the renewal of your mind.” What this means is that we as fish have to get out of the water. We have to have our understanding renewed, and our understanding must be transformed to how God understands things. How do we do this? By the Spirit through meditation upon his Word. Meditation upon the Scriptures and understanding them is the key to resisting conformity and to being transformed. For it is by the Scriptures that we see the world as it really is, and it is by them that we are able to destroy our own false presuppositions. That is why the apostle continues, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. By renewing our minds, we are able to step back and test those things which we believe, and by that testing we are able to determine the will of God. We do not seek the will of God through signs and wonders, but we seek it through knowing reality as God has revealed it and by testing our lives according to it. For this reason, God also instructed Joshua, “You shall meditate on [the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Jsh. 1:8).

My encouragement to you is not to be conformed to southern, white, suburban Christianity, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Test everything you believe, and do not presume. And after you have tested and determined your presumptions are wrong, change your life accordingly. May God grant you grace in the pursuit of his will.



Categories: Theology

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8 replies

  1. Ouch. But truth nonetheless. Good article.

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  2. SBC culture always seems to have the need to belittle something or someone in order to raise up their teaching. Just a thought and something that has been on my mind and heart lately.

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  3. I'll presume that was directed toward my writing, and I reply as such. First, I don't consider myself of SBC culture. Secondly, I believe what I write points to God and his Scriptures and not to myself. I suppose I could write anonymously, but, having done that before, it raises other objections. Thirdly, belittling that which is false so as to demonstrate what is true comes with the territory of a teacher / pastor. Christ did it, Paul did it, Moses did it, et al. The question that must be raised is does this point to God and his glory, or does it point to the doctrines of men and my glory. I did so with the former as my objective and I know that I cannot convince you of my heart in the matter. I simply know the culture that I am in, love the people in it, desire for them to come to God as he prescribes, and therefore cannot remain silent.

    Thank you for your willingness to share your heart. Grace and peace.

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  4. Matthew,

    I appreciate your article. I think you would agree with me that as we experience the kingdom of God within our hearts, we should want this to come to be expressed in some tangible forms in our lives. In other words, something of a Christian culture is a good thing when born from hearts given to the Lord.

    What we have in America (not exclusively here in the South, though the South was for some time the last true hold out of Christian civilization in our country) is something of a mere externalism/formalism which reflects the passing of heart of the matter some time ago. Sadly, we have in large measure, accepted this shell of the Christian religion (poorly thought out movie plots, even worse music, theactrics, etc.) as the real thing. We have lost the heart of God, and have tried to replace Him with a colorful, cool, and relevant cover for our "Preteen Trying to Figure Out the World" study bible.

    When I have the opportunity, I suggest to professing believers to reject what is generally accepted as modern Christianity and it's cheap substitute of baptized pop-culture and I encourage them to strive for genuine fleshed-out Christianity. The need of the hour is godly men willing to live or die serving Christ, spreading the Gospel, and establishing His dominion over all things. We need to pray that God would once again cause His face to shine upon us as His people so that a culture stemming from a heart surrendered to Him, rooted in the hope of Christ, might once more be born upon this land.

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  5. Boring article didn't say much of anything until the end. D Matthew, may I suggest you do some praying and fasting. You observations are obvious and with little sincerity. You do not provoke the reader to change. And at the end you give no suggestions. Where is your passion?

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  6. No offense, Mary, but is that a cookie-cutter response that you post as a comment on posts often? Your critique gives me little direction by which to improve my writing. And it is especially strange that you say that I offer no suggestions at the end, being that my last paragraph begins with, "I suggest…" I am more than open to criticism, but yours, quite frankly, is far from constructive or helpful.

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  7. When I have the opportunity, I suggest to professing believers to reject what is generally accepted as modern Christianity and it’s cheap substitute of baptized pop-culture and I encourage them to strive for genuine fleshed-out Christianity.

    That is an excellent description of what a lot of Christian practice is today, viz. "baptized pop-culture." It is a shame that we grope for the scraps of a degenerate culture.

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  8. This is a good and important article. Indeed, we should test what we see and hear against Scripture, as did the Bereans, especially in a culture which has so many lies hidden behind truth.

    I do disagree with your appraisal of the movies, however.

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