Thursday, August 9, 2012

Making Christianity Delicious

Recently, our pastor spent a few minutes talking about Colossians 4:6, specifically the lines, “Let your speech be always gracious, seasoned with salt.” He brought in a box of waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A, telling us that he had ordered them without salt, just to see what they would taste like.
They were terrible.
Salt is what makes fries (and many, many other things) delicious–which is, of course, Paul’s point. Apparently, Paul felt that there was a danger of Christianity being served without salt. And it’s just as applicable today, at a time when many Christians seem content to present Christianity without any sort of flavoring at all.
Presentation. Preparation. That’s what we’re bad at. We fail to make Christianity taste good.  And this is why you’ll rarely see a non-Christian listening to Christian music, or reading Christian fiction: for the most part, it’s just not very good. The same goes for most of our public discourse, our preaching and our evangelizing. Our words lack salt and flavor, anything that would make Christianity appealing to someone who doesn’t already accept it as truth.  We have forgotten to season our words with salt, to make them (as the pastor said) “tasty morsels.”
To expand the metaphor, we throw everything together on the plate; the Trinity, Christ, creation, sin, love, heaven and hell, just kind of piled on top of each other. Then, having precariously arranged it on a dish too small for it, ill-prepared, bits of doctrine slopping off the plate, we throw it at the world and yell, “It’s good for you, darn it! Eat!”. And we don’t understand why the world sends it back and orders something else, wiping bits of undercooked theology off its face.
Colorful metaphor aside, a lot of the time, we don’t even bother trying to make Christianity appealing, and some even revel in saying things they know will offend people (the hateful entity known as Westboro Baptist “Church” is an extreme example of this mindset). I myself had to struggle with this idea for a bit. After all, isn’t it very similar to  what I’veaccused Progressive Christianity of doing: “watering down” Christianity, making it other than it is, taking away altogether that which offends, leaving only that which easily delights?
But I realized that while this is indeed a danger of which we must be mindful, there is a key difference.
I’m reminded of the cooking shows my wife’s family loves to watch, especially the ones that focus on desserts (last metaphor, I promise). The contestants, expert chefs all, are given directives and restrictions, then set loose in the kitchen. But before they’ve made much progress on their chosen recipe, a buzzer rings and a new restriction is imposed: the recipe must now include an unexpected ingredient, something not immediately suited for inclusion in a dessert (in one episode, one of the ingredients was green tomatoes).
I, not being an expert dessert chef, am often flabbergasted at how anyone could possibly make some of the ingredients appealing. I’m trying to make a delicious cupcake: how the heck can I incorporate green tomatoes into that? If I’m going to make a cupcake that people want to eat, the tomato has to go.
And yet the chefs prevail. They incorporate the strange ingredients flawlessly (more or less). They make it look good and even, if the judge is to be believed, taste good as well.
So some people simply discard that which seems to be unappealing. Some discard the doctrine of hell, and others disown the God of the Old Testament, and many liberal Christians see the exclusivity of Christ as nothing more than a barrier to the tastiness of Christianity. They cannot see how to make it taste good, so out it goes. And I would argue that the result of such a recipe is something less than Christianity.
So we must turn to the master chefs of Christianity. We must turn to those who know and love the unique taste each ingredient of Christianity brings to the table, those who refuse to part with a single doctrine in serving Christianity to people. We must turn to people like G. K. Chesterton, who demonstrated that the properly Christian life must almost certainly be a properly happy life. We must turn to C. S. Lewis, whose books are loved by children and adults, Christian and non-Christian alike. And more recently, we would do well in imitating  many of the current Christian hip-hop artists as they convey Christianity unadulterated and unapologetically to all lovers of music.
Finally, I want to deal with the immediate objection that might be raised: “Why even bother trying to make it appealing, when Paul seems to say that’s impossible?” This objection comes from 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, where Paul says that the gospel is an odor of death to those who are perishing. This is true: Christianity holds no attraction to those who resist it. But as Paul’s words and actions in other places demonstrate, words matter. Presentation matters. It is our responsibility, in so far as we are able, to make Christianity a sweet aroma to those who smell it, a delicious dish to those who taste it.
Paul, Chesterton, Lewis, and many others realize that Christianity is beautiful as well as true. Any presentation of Christianity that is not beautiful and graceful is not the full truth of Christianity– and even though Christianity will always be an abomination to those who are unreceptive, we must still demonstrate its beauty to those who are seeking it.