What Are Christians Known For?

Saturday I watched a TV show I’ve never seen before called “Eli Stone.” The title character is evidently a lawyer, and somehow (sorry, I wasn’t watching closely at the beginning) he got pulled into a case involving a young woman in need of a heart transplant. The doctors had discovered a donor, another young woman who had been killed in an auto accident. Her parents, supposedly devout Christians, signed the papers, but then learned that the would-be heart recipient was an atheist and withdrew their consent.

Enter Eli Stone into the fray. He met with the parents to discuss the issue, and the wife explained the decision she and her husband had reached. The atheist was going to hell. Their daughter believed in Jesus Christ as her Savior and was going to heaven. They could not permit her heart to go to hell along with the atheist.

Say WHAT?

I have to admit, I was horrified. Is this really what the world believes about Christians? Think about all the things that we see to be true in this scenario: 1) the Christians had no concern for the lost young woman, in particular, providing her with a heart so she might one day have the veil lifted from her spiritually-blind eyes; 2) the Christians were selfish, wanting something for their daughter’s organ for the afterlife, while ignoring the needy in front of them; 3) the Christians were more concerned for their beliefs (albeit incorrectly represented) than for people.

But here’s the kicker. While the Christians were depicted as ignorant and selfish, the dying atheist was shown to be loving and sacrificial. You see, the twist in the story was that a close friend of the dead girl produced emails showing that she had denounced her faith and was actually an atheist. When the would-be heart transplant recipient learned of this, she told Eli Stone not to disclose this to the girl’s parents. They’d lost their daughter, she said, and they shouldn’t also lose their image of who she was. Even though refusing to tell would mean she herself would die.

So Eli Stone goes against the wishes of his client. When he again approaches the parents, he convinces them to change because he said, the atheist, by acting in a self-sacrificing way, was in reality as Christian as Christian could be.

YIKES! I thought. Does the world actually see Christians the way the writers of this episode of “Eli Stone” do? Are these writers purposefully distorting Christian beliefs or do they honestly think Christianity is what they portrayed?

If the latter, then where is the disconnect? How is it that we Christians are not getting the gospel out to the world?

Belief in an after life was clear. Some mumbo-jumbo about Jesus Christ as a personal Savior. And self-sacrificial love that apparently anyone can co-opt. Throw in self-interest and a disregard for the needs of others, and you have what these writers were saying about Christians.

Nothing about being sinners rescued by a True Heart Transplant. What a perfect metaphor that story could have been. Except the writers don’t know what Christians are all about.

So, shouldn’t we be telling the good news in ways the world can understand?

It’s why I write fiction.

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Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 10:14 am  Comments (15)  
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15 Comments

  1. I had heard general good things about this show, but you’re right, it is appalling. Are we doing that bad of a job representing Jesus, or is it an example of Hollywood being that out of touch? Probably a mix of both, but this story smacks of having an agenda as well.

    *sigh*

    I guess we need to take up screenwriting too…

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  2. Jason, you’re probably right—Hollywood thinks they know people, but they are so caught up in their own culture, they aren’t seeing a lot of what is in front of their faces.

    But maybe we need a tagline that says who we are, something that will smash the present image others hold.

    And seriously, maybe we need to be unashamed about the gospel—tell the story of Jesus rather than railing against the immorality of our immoral culture. Can we really see society change for the better apart from people turning to Christ? I think not. So why don’t we expend ourselves on that which points to Christ?

    As to agenda … well, yes. I’ve said long and often that the world understands stories need themes, and they have no problem putting their beliefs into their themes. It is the Christian writing community’s overreaction to the “preachiness” criticism of Christian fiction that has swung the pendulum toward excising theme from Christian fiction.

    Thankfully there are a growing number of Christian screewriters. May their tribe increase! 😀

    Becky

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  3. “a True Heart Transplant”

    Nice!

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  4. As faith-based writers, I guess we have our work cut out for us, don’t we? Thanks for the great post.

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  5. There are two problems here. One is that you could probably find people going around calling themselves Christian very loudly who would take the positions depicted. One of the reason that most credible Christians in Australia will not own the name.

    The other is the agenda of the literati. These tend to be people who have either had no experience of Christian life, or have rejected a church background. But they are also drawn to extremes. So they go looking for people taking up irrational positions which lead to conflict. This gets attention on the airwaves.

    I’ve seen very few depictions of Christian people in fiction that resemble those I know. There was a young policeman on the British TV series The Bill. But after only a few episodes they blew him up with a car bomb. I don’t think TV writers really know what to do with Christians and I think they probably never meet any ordinary ones.

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  6. “…maybe we need to be unashamed about the gospel—tell the story of Jesus rather than railing against the immorality of our immoral culture.” I think you’re on to something there.

    The other huge issue here is bad theology. Even if the screenwriters knew someone who believes as the “Christians” they wrote about, the ideas aren’t Christian at all. Body parts going to hell? Where do people come up with this stuff? [sigh]

    ~Luke

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  7. […] are clueless when it comes to what Christians are about (see yesterday’s post, “What Are Christians Known For?”), I realize that I am also ignorant or forgetful about who I […]

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  8. Luke, I agree with you. Ken might be right that there is some strange cult or couple espousing what the characters in the show were, but any modicum of research would show that that belief is not reflective of Christendom.

    Either the writers deliberately lied to further their own beliefs or they were lax in their job. One way or the other, I think it’s horrifying that the people involved in the show didn’t think this was a blatant misrepresentation of Christianity and viewers would immediately know they’d goofed.

    Dona, PaperSmyth, thanks for your feedback. And, yes, I do believe we have our work cut out for us if we want to represent Christ to the world. In many respects, that means we should be as transparent as possible, so those looking on aren’t distracted by our “stuff.”

    Becky

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  9. Ken, one of my mini pet peeves is that Christians want to duck the tag that identifies us as followers of Christ. I understand it comes with baggage, but look what’s happened, at least here in the US. We modified the term with things like born-again or Bible-believing. But those add-ons are then co-opted by people who don’t hold to the gospel. It becomes a vicious circle, one not unfamiliar in Paul’s day.

    I’m reading in Galatians, and I see Paul admonishing the churches for deserting the truth for a “different gospel.” In other words, false teaching was present then, so we shouldn’t be surprised it’s present now.

    I don’t know as the answer is to change our name. Maybe we should focus instead on being who God wants us to be.

    Becky

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  10. […] much to do with us as it does with the ones talking about us, as some of the commenters to the post “What Are Christians Known For?” […]

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  11. A modicum of research would show that by weight of numbers Christian=Roman Catholic. Many in the media take that position. For examle, Sydney media will talk about the “archbishop of Sydney” when they mean the Catholic archbishop of Sydney.

    “Christians want to duck the tag that identifies us as followers of Christ.”

    No. They are aware that the tag does not identify them that way. People attach all sorts of other meanings to it so that it becomes such a variable term that no one really knows what it means.

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  12. So complicated…

    Rebecca, I have a related thought for you. It occurred to me recently that one of the biggest problems facing Christianity right now is the tendency to push or force Christian views and practices on unbelievers. Consider the political arena, abortion, pornography, etc.

    On the one hand, many of these things that Christians fight and speak out against are wrong and evil. However, doesn’t a careful reading of scripture show that some views and practices are for the believer alone. Why do we do this? It does seem natural amidst proselytizing and such, but I think it is incorrect and leads to unbelievers feeling pressured into something they aren’t ready for. Thus, they don’t become Christians. Additionally, I think it may be an American thing. I have no way to verify this being one of course.

    Anyway, consider Jesus’ words about divorce. Divorce is acceptable as a last means only because continuing to live together in disharmony is so much worse. Hence, Moses’ rules and procedures for Divorce. Yet, God hates divorce.

    I think this observation may be a way to integrate certain viewpoints and clarify some situations.

    Or am I just off my rocker?

    (BTW, I am not arguing against proselytizing, just that some things are for Christians only. If we were doing this correctly then it would be easier for the world to see our lives as different than those around us. This should lead to more converts, shouldn’t it? I think it’s a sound biblical model. Anyway, again, rocker…)

    Your thoughts?

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  13. Ken, you said People attach all sorts of other meanings to it so that it becomes such a variable term that no one really knows what it means. This speaks to the heart of my post. If we Christians were doing our job in rightly declaring the Good News, I don’t think this misappropriation of the name would be so successful.

    Daniel, when you said push or force Christian views and practices on unbelievers I think you might be talking about the same thing I was in my response to Jason: maybe we need to be unashamed about the gospel—tell the story of Jesus rather than railing against the immorality of our immoral culture. Can we really see society change for the better apart from people turning to Christ? I think not. So why don’t we expend ourselves on that which points to Christ?

    The problem with Christians trying to eradicate immorality apart from changed hearts is two-fold. For the Christians it comes cross as selfish—we want happier lives and less temptation. For non-Christians it comes across as self-effort—do these good things and you go to heaven, but if you don’t, off to hell with you.

    Notice the “self” in both those. What we should be all about is pointing people to Christ who mediates between a righteous God and not-perfect people. I shouldn’t speak against homosexuality because I don’t like being around “those people” or because I blame them for AIDS or whatever.

    It is not their homosexuality that separates them from the love of God. It is their rejection of His Son, the only means any of us has to change that separation into communion, that dooms them to eternal separation. God, in His grace, changes hearts and lives, and He’ll deal with the immorality.

    But unfortunately, we have been in an era more concerned with building a better society than building the Kingdom of God. Is that more true of American Christians than those in other parts of the world? I suspect so because we’ve been spoiled with a culture that not only allowed us the freedom to practice our beliefs but also supported those beliefs with public policy for many, many years.

    So the fight has centered on trying to insist on that support once again. Hmmm … I think we are missing the heart of the mission statement Jesus gave us. 😕

    Becky

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  14. You tied my question together with this post in some interesting ways. I think you must be right. I just wish that I could see this as clearly as you seem to. (In fact, I’m concerned that I didn’t and still struggle to see it.) I think you’re absolutely right that it’s a waste of effort to focus on the sin and not focus on the savior. That’s so simple.

    Got any suggestions for seeing things the way you do?

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  15. […] of Note. Speaking of which, there is an article by Rebecca LuElla Miller that I think is, well, a a post of note, so give it a […]

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