Monday, October 13, 2014

Why We Need to Grow Beyond Mac and Cheese Christianity

There's an engaging video just making the rounds on the internet today. The New York Time Magazine invited six second grade children to one of the city's most posh French restaurants where they were treated to a $220-a-plate, seven course sampler meal prepared by world famous chef Daniel Boulud. During dessert, Chef Boulud asks, "What was your favorite course?" Of course the children replied "This one!" Boulud's tries to prod the children further with a suggestion of "And the pasta! The pasta was delicious!" It was met with a chorus of "meh…" So, Boulud quickly recovers and says "OK, next time we'll try mac and cheese!" which of course brought on universal approval.

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the kids' prefer simple mac and cheese to the more sophisticated and complex tastes of exquisite French food. I've seen the same thing with my own kids, who used to tell me that McDonald's is the best food on the planet. Now they prefer calamari to cheeseburgers.

Children have untrained palettes. Therefore, simple foods appeal to them more. However, if one is to put a little bit of adventure and a little bit of effort into learning new tastes and new experiences, you find something quickly happens. The simple foods can still be OK; I mean who doesn't like a pizza now and then? But the pleasure of dining on a delicately prepared meal becomes so much higher. When we learn about good food really is, the good becomes so much better and the bad becomes worse by comparison.

I've found this kind of development to be true in many areas of life, such as music for example. Most people may never develop their ear more than a "childish" desire to listen to top 40 hits. But classical and jazz aficionados can tell you that once you understand the nuances and skill developed by the musicians in these genres, it makes pop feel more like something that came out of a blue box marked Kraft.

The Complex Palette of Christianity

I offer the examples above because there's another area where the contemporary Christian church has remained in a childish state. Simply put, most Christians today prefer the Happy Meal of simplistic Christianity to the more complex understanding of God and Christianity that come with the hard work of reading more sophisticated theology or apologetics works. People are uncomfortable when someone tells them they can love God more is they study a bit. Study is distasteful to them; it's not like the comfort foods of "God is Love" and "Jesus died for you." These things are very true and we shouldn't ignore them but they are the starting line, not the finish.

The very first church had the same problem. The writer to the Hebrews rebukes the Christians there, writing:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14, ESV).
He then goes on to list what he considers milk:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits (Heb. 6:1-3, ESV).
So, repentance from dead works, faith towards God, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment are labeled "elementary" and should be mastered by the mature believer, yet I dare say that those make up a majority of sermons and popular inspirational literature in the church today. People have gotten so used to pastors always "putting the cookies on the bottom shelf" where they're easily reached, that they don't expect any gristle on their plate. But a diet of just cookies is not only immature and wouldn't satisfy someone with a more sophisticated palette, it's unhealthy and dangerous.

As Christians we need to do more than just consume the easy doctrines of Christianity or those that make us feel better. In order to wholly love God, we need to love him with our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Strength implies effort and it will take some effort, and a bit of adventure to buy a book that's a little bit above you and read it, trying to grab onto new concepts about God and our relationship to him. I recommend starting with J.P. Moreland's Love Your God with All Your Mind. Then, look to the back of that book for more suggestions. Also, get involved in an apologetics study or enroll in a theology class where you will interact with new concepts. Don't start too high, but put forth an effort to grow in this area of your walk with Christ. One you see the delicate nuances that make Christianity not merely plausible but amazingly coherent, it will open up whole new ways of experiencing God's love. You will have a much richer understanding of Christ and all he is.

Christian, it's time to develop a sophisticated relationship with God. Make the move from mac and cheese to maturity and you will be on your way to developing a four-star faith.

Image of haute cuisine courtesy Arnaud 25 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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