Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Emotion, Fear and the Gospel.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Emotion, Fear and the Gospel.

We are several days into September and the crisp air combined with falling leaves reminds me that fall, and my favorite month October, are just around the corner. With October comes my favorite holiday, except for Christmas, and the opportunity to double my intake of horror movies, critique the local haunted houses, hold my own Halloween party and get to USF, Florida for HHN. October has also developed another tradition that has been building in popularity each year among churches and youth groups called "Judgment House."

Judgment House is a "haunted house" of sorts hosted by a local church where typically, youth groups walk through several different vignettes watching a story unfold before them. The story always leads to a climax of a decision, and the reality of hell is shown with "Satan" pointing his finger at the teenagers in the youth group and warning them that this is their future resting place if they don't do something. Cue the strobe lights, loud music and the walking dead to add to the effect. I have been to three different Judgment Houses at three different churches, and all of them were very high quality, well organized and well acted. And they scared me to death.

Unfortunately, not in the way I liked to be scared during October. A plague that has been a driving force in student ministries for some time now is the use of well-placed emotional tactics to elicit spiritual responses from teenagers, especially in the 13-15 range. Back to the Judgment House experience. Immediately after walking through "hell" and having Satan yell at the teenagers, they are taken in a room and given a 30 second rundown of the Gospel, with the phrase, "this is how you stay out of hell," being thrown in there every now and then for good measure. The response rate is phenomenal. Teenagers will hit the floor on their knees faster than in any other youth rally, conference or camp. So why am I scared of this? Why am I not celebrating that so many decisions are being made for Christ? Because a decision made for Christ that is made from a well crafted, emotional string pulling machine are decisions that are destined to lead to nothing. No change of life. No production of fruit. And a person who will go right on living how they always have, but at least they have "escaped the wrath of hell."

My first year going to M-Fuge, the best mission emphasis camp out there, was a tremendous success, except for the last night of preaching. Right before the invitation, they showed a clip from "Pearl Harbor" of all these people dyeing and everyone running around crying and so on. They tried their best to parallel that to the confusion of a life without Christ, and then immediately gave the invitation. Guess what? It was the largest response of the night. Because the Holy Spirit was really moving that night? Nope. Because Hollywood knows what they are doing.

Now, here is the problem. Where do we draw the line? In a rather deep theological masterpiece (and I'm serious about that), the 1984 hit film "Footloose" starring Kevin Bacon had some interesting things to say about religion and church. Of course, everyone just wanted to watch the dancing, but the interaction between the Rev. Shaw Moore (Brilliantly portrayed by John Lithow) and the church is fascinating. At one point in the film, his daughter, Ariel, "figures it out." She approaches her dad about the Sunday morning sermon "just being a show." He admits to the use of antics and voice inflections and says that it is the only way he really knows to reach people.

We all love moving Sunday morning services, where the music is perfect and the sermon is interesting. How much of what we do on Sunday morning is just for show? How much of what we do is to try and pull the emotional strings of those who in attendance?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there is, in fact, emotion in the Gospel. I am not suggesting that we cut out anything that touches peoples hearts. To preach the Gospel message alone is to preach a powerhouse of emotions. Love, sin, betrayal, commitment, wrongly accused, wrongly sentenced, wrongly killed, resurrection. Pretty emotional stuff to be sure. And that is the whole point. There doesn't need to be anything added artificially to produce emotion when preaching the Gospel. There is plenty already there.

This is just one of many reasons that the church and it's leaders should prayerfully review and examine their worship services of their content. We want to have integrity. We want to properly represent Christ and His message. Should we do that with energy and character? Yes. Should we do the best we can to present a professional worship service? Yes. But we should not add to the power of the Gospel and it's purpose with trite, tear drawing mechanisms that will quickly produce the desired effect, only to set up a terrible fall.

I believe Christ was touching on this idea when he delivered the parable of the sower. In Mark 4:5, He is discussing what happens with the "seed" fell on rocky places. Christ said that the fruit sprang up quickly, but in no time they withered away because there was no root. That is not the kind of decisions we are wanting for God's Kingdom. How much better to have 10 decisions that are well rooted in the Word than 100 decisions that wither away quickly in emotion.

Allow me to conclude by saying that I am sure there have been some legitimate decisions for Christ at Judgment House or any other event of that nature. I do not question the intent of the churches hosting those kinds of events, I know they are wanting teenagers to turn to Christ. But we should take a second look. The Gospel speaks for itself. Let's just present that.


Blogger Barry said...

I think Judgement Houses are a bad idea, and have always been a bad idea. Scaring kids straight off of drugs or crime by showing them the inside of a jail is one thing. Scaring them of the fires of hell in a "Haunted House" borders on sadism and child endangerment. I think it's disgusting and it dismays me that the church I grew up in participates in one every Halloween.

You can't coerce a heart change, nor can you threaten one or scare one. Attempting any of those methods does a disservice to the youth we are charged to protect and shepherd and seems like a cop-out from those who apparently don't want to spend the time and effort in actually educating them.

September 11, 2006 9:37 AM  
Anonymous the edge of the water said...

I found your blog through blogexplosion, good stuff.

My church does our own version of judgment house called hell house. I think there are some good things that come from it but I also know what you are speaking about with the fake things. Sort it out and take the good with the bad.

September 11, 2006 12:56 PM  
Anonymous rexwilder said...

"Go sit in judgment on yourselves." I always thought that line by Rev. Moore (along with the way it is delivered by J. Lithgow) was a great statement about the frustrations a good man can have with his goals/intentions/preaching/whatever being misunderstood or taken too far.

September 11, 2006 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Paul, in South Park said...

The beauty of the Gospel is that Christ chooses us, we don't choose Him.

Through experiencing the Word, the Lord wraps us in His warm embrace.

September 11, 2006 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Tim Kuehn said...

If you compared the sermons of pastors today with the sermons and writing in Scripture, how do you think they'd measure up?

September 11, 2006 7:36 PM  

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