Why Christianity lite is less filling

The need for more serious, substantive faith and worship in our churches.

Jack R. Van Ens, D.Min., is an Evangelical Presbyterian Minister serving with MAJESTY Ministry in Vail, Colorado.

Her eyes told me that she wanted to hear more than Yuletide jingles on Christmas Eve. As she accepted a festive poster announcing a free worship service at the Vilar Theater on Christmas Eve, featuring heirloom carols, her eyes danced.

"I'll be working a 12-hour day at the shop on December 24. I was worried that I'd be too tired to hear a caroling service. Now I can flop down in the grand, yet intimate, Vilar Theater for the Performing Arts, nestled in the Vail Valley."

MAJESTY, the ministry I participate in, moves at a deeper level than religious entertainment. Using improvisational talent, MAJESTY helps people get in touch with God. This is precisely what the shopkeeper I spoke with yearned to encounter on Christmas Eve.

The character of "Christianity Lite"

Popular religion's cultural counterpart in America may be seen to be Lite beer. Both appear refreshing in a frothy sort of way and less filling for both the beer and the religion connoisseur. Christianity Lite really is less filling. It's entertainment with a worship twist. Signs of Christianity Lite are hawked in many religious communities. Christian aerobics are pumped up as a neat way to lose weight for Jesus, taking precedence over being caressed by the still, small voice of the Divine.

Prayers of confession are ditched because they are too morose for people who want spiritual pep talks. Liturgies of contrition are banned because they supposedly lead worshipers down the slippery slope of negative thinking. Sanctuaries are turned into auditoriums where stage shows feature praise band pits but no place for the cross. Jesus becomes the star of infomercials for crowds wanting to be serenaded with bouncy tunes and maudlin stories about how Christ makes life as bright as cosmetically whitened teeth. What's hyped is performance rather than praise to God, lost in wonder, honor, and awe.

Christianity Lite worship is fun to experience. But it seldom gets worshipers to reflect deeply, think largely, and struggle intensely with the Christ Child who came to us. There are few worshipers in a Christianity Lite crowd like mother Mary who, upon giving birth to Jesus, "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, RSV).

Shallow entertainment or sublime encounter

When we ponder, we sit down with our selves. Our gaze shifts from what's shallow to what's sublime. Pondering doesn't mesh with cursory glances, giddiness, and sentimental stories. Those who ponder are often uncomfortable with themselves. Our weaknesses are exposed. What we have hid from others is magnified in our souls.

No wonder people jam into auditoriums for their spiritual fixes where music is loud, preachers sound like thin reeds, and we are verbally petted like lap dogs. We settle for entertainment because the Christ who corrects us is hard to take.

Michael Crichton's book, Timeline, portrays a character who finds our entertainment-crazed society less than filling. Crichton writes of our fascination with what's cute and cuddly, easy to absorb, and mind numbing. We are drugged with pleasing, pleasurable sensations that pass for solid religion.

"Today, everybody expects to be entertained, and they expect to be entertained all the time. Business meetings must be snappy, with bullet lists and animated graphics, so executives aren't bored. Malls and stores must be engaging, so they amuse as well as sell us. Politicians must have pleasing video personalities and tell us only what we want to hear. Schools must be careful not to bore young minds that expect the speed and complexity of television. Students must be amused—everyone must be amused, or they will switch: switch brands, switch channels, switch parties, switch loyalties . . .

"In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused."1

Getting spiritual traction

A man who heard MAJESTY wrote us about how hard it is to encounter God, even in sanctuaries that advertise themselves as "His House of Praise." He intimated that the praise is usually boisterous, the music banal, and the preacher too slick for any listener to get spiritual traction. This worshiper mentioned that whenever music stabs awake the heart and gets us to ponder the imponderables of life, Christ is near.

He referred to J. R. R. Tolkien's classic tale between good and evil, The Lord of the Rings. Moreover, he zeroed in on Silmarillion, an earlier Tolkien work, depicting what happened dur ing the First Age of the Earth. He pointed out that in the beginning, before anything existed, "the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void and it was not void."2 Music that arrests our attention and quiets the storm-tossed soul fills the void in ways that Christianity Lite serenades miss. They only tickle our fancy but rarely teach what's choice, holy, and above reproach.

In the depths of our souls we all desire music that does more than serve Christianity Lite entertainment. We want to be lifted well and truly into the presence of God.

1 Michael Crichton, Timeline (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 400, 401.

2 Cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), 1-3.

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Jack R. Van Ens, D.Min., is an Evangelical Presbyterian Minister serving with MAJESTY Ministry in Vail, Colorado.

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