(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)
In C.S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters, Wormwood is a junior demon who is being instructed by his senior, Uncle Screwtape, as to how he can steer a believer off course so as to ultimately render him ineffective as a servant for the “Enemy” (which in this case, of course, is God). Through the clever creation of letters from Screwtape, Lewis is able to show how Satan trips believers up with various shady interpretations of truth and distractions of the mind and body that confuse the “patient” (a typical believer like you and me).
One of his favorite tactics is to get the patient away from the simple gospel of “mere Christianity” to what he calls “Christianity plus.” The simple gospel of Jesus Christ is much too simple. Wormwood needs to complicate things and get the patient focused on anything other than his/her relationship with the Lord.
One of the greatest assets of the Jesus Movement was that it put the focus on Jesus. It was all about Jesus. Jesus plus nothing. Denominations fell away; institutions didn’t matter; tradition wasn’t observed unless it was a sacrament in the Bible like baptism or the Lord’s Supper. And the only issue was whether people had a chance to respond to Christ’s offer of salvation through the gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Simple. It was just Jesus.
But much has happened since those days and much has been added to the gospel — so much so that Jesus and His gospel have all but disappeared from view. Wormwood and his buddies have been very busy.
Most of what has been piled onto the gospel has been the result of a Christian subculture — a subculture dominated by “Christian” products and services so that if you surround yourself with enough Christian stuff, you can pretty much guarantee yourself to be a Christian with frequent flyer miles in heaven. In fact, with so much Christian culture ending up as Christian enterprise, it’s no longer necessary to have Jesus at all. It’s Christianity without Christ.
But it goes beyond just the subculture; it includes issues that have supplanted the gospel, like abortion, gay marriage, sex education in schools, who can’t use the public restroom, all culminating in the major effort to return America back to its “Christian” roots. These things have become so central to the Christian cause that they are what the unbelieving world thinks a Christian is. Being a Christian today is more political than it is spiritual.
Ray Stedman, a respected pastor and Bible teacher who guided his church through the Jesus Movement and beyond, once said that all spiritual awakenings tend to take on similar patterns. They start with a man and quickly become a movement, but as the movement stiffens, and people begin to take the role of the Holy Spirit, the movement becomes a machine (the Christian industry), until it finally turns into a monument to what happened. Given the recent Jesus Music and Jesus Movement movies and the Jesus People Movement Oral History sponsored by the Billy Graham Center, I would say we are firmly entrenched in the monument stage.
So what’s next? It starts all over again. When? No one knows for sure, but we here at the Catch believe the Millennials may have something to do with it. That’s why we want to be the voice of Christ to the next generations. What will the next movement look like? No one knows that either, except we do know this: it will be non-political, it will start outside the Christian subculture and outside the institutional church, and it will be all about Jesus. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say anything that uses “Christian” as a brand, is not part of a new movement. (And for this reason, many Christians will miss it.)
So what does this mean for us today? Focus on Jesus. Beware of anyone who tacks something on to the gospel. Beware of any activity for which the gospel is not central. In other words, beware of Christianity in the absence of Christ. And watch what’s happening outside the subculture and outside the institutional church. The next movement is not going to come with a label.