The church I attended as a teen had a gold-colored carpet, cream-colored walls, and a dark-stained wood trim. In the front was a baptistry, inset and framed by walls on either side. All along the front of the sanctuary, even over the baptistry, were decorative dark wood strips, attached to the wall and descending from the ceiling, approximately a foot apart and eighteen inches long.
At one time, I knew just how many of those decorative strips there were. I had counted every one of them. Our pastor in those days was an older man in his final pastorate, and he was not what you would call a dynamic speaker. To keep myself from falling asleep, I would count the strips. Some sermons required as many as three recounts.
The possibility that our pastor’s sermons were especially boring didn’t occur to me until years later. I assumed all pastors were boring. I knew Christianity had developed out of the most important and exciting events in the history of the world but, paradoxically, I believed the Church was uninteresting by its very nature.
Verses like Revelation 3:12 didn’t help: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” The image of a pillar – silent, impassive, and stuck forever in an endless worship service – seemed at once to be apt and unappetizing. But then I hadn’t converted because I thought Christianity would be fun and adventurous. I converted because I thought it was true.
So it came as something of a surprise to find that following Jesus is a massively big adventure. Long prayers and dry sermons are not only not integral to Christian faith, they are antithetical to it. I had absorbed the idea that Christianity was boring from people who were bored. And how could they not be bored? In their minds, the main reason – and for some of them, the only reason – to become a Christian was to go to heaven when one died. Enduring long prayers and dry sermons was the price one paid to reserve decent housing in eternity.
I labored long under the misconception that Christianity was only about getting into heaven. I now think of that as amusement park theology. The anticipated ride – heaven – will be worth the wait, yet the wait will be long and boring. During the long wait, one should not be rude (that’s morals); one should talk to others in the line (encouragement); and outside the line (evangelism); but whatever else one does, one must not step out of line (apostasy).
In one version, stepping out of line means one can never return, while another version insists it is always possible to get back into line. A variant on the first of these claims that stepping out of line proves one was never really in line to begin with. Thousands of pages of detailed arguments have been written in support of these views. They possess value, but only if they are recontextualized in a biblical, not an amusement park, theology. It’s time to get out of line.
Amusement park theology did not originate with Jesus. His chosen image of the Christian life, which he presented repeatedly, was not of people standing around doing nothing while they wait for their shuttle to heaven, but of people following him in this world. The Christian life, as Jesus presented it, is a “follow me” life. It is active, not static; adventurous, not boring.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 6/9/2018