American Center of the Christian Universe

A “Lucky Dipper” is someone who opens his/her Bible at random in hopes of finding something that will help for the moment–whether pages of Isaiah, Philippians, or 1 Peter.  I once heard someone call it the “Plunk” method; plunk it down on the table and read what it opens to.  There’s a certain laziness to it but the thinking is that God in His mercy will give the reader a sentence or two of assurance, of comfort, or provide a personal plan where there is none currently.  I’ve done it, you probably have too.  But if this is a regular practice in private worship, could it suggest a self-centered faith that expects the Giver of an orderly Word in 66 distinct books, to stand at attention as a butler to serve a disordered or indolent mind preoccupied with self.  And that kind of faith is pandered to not just by American culture, but also American religion.

The Prosperity Gospel is a misbegotten and particularly American scheme.  What I mean is that there are few other places in the world where it’s distortions could have taken such root–or found such an avid following.  I suspect it’s only succeeded in poor places around the world when the listening audience credits the Health and Wealth pottage for making Americans rich.

We Americans have been accused of being ethnocentric–probably fairly: we think our race is the most important.  (Although American’s don’t really comprise a “race” since the two early ethnic strains of Europeans and those from first nations have been well-diluted by an amalgam of races from around the world.)  Look at any map published in America: the US is smack dab in the center of the world.  We’re frequently panned as spoiled people who by our sometimes clumsy–sometimes brutal–economic and geopolitical steps, show we couldn’t care less about the other people sharing the planet; it’s all about us.

Perhaps this group self-preoccupation helps explain a virulent self-centered American form of Christianity.  Jesus died for me (OK, what about the world: 2 Cor.5:19?).  In the wake of rising gas prices, disease, divorce, even a flat tire, we are appalled that God lets something bad happen to us (what about the millions of people–even billions who have also endured that–and more than once, maybe often?  And, when was the last time you or I went hungry?).  Let’s say in a 6 month period we took a child to the emergency room, found out we owed $3000 in taxes, had the boss ream us out at work, had the flu twice, had to have the transmission rebuilt, and had to ground our 14 year-old son for the first time.  In exasperation we demand of God, “When is it my turn (to have something good happen to me, to make sure this bad finally comes to an end)?”

The me-ism that seems rampant in the American Church is hardly biblical Christianity.  Take the Bible: it’s not primarily a book about us; it’s about God.  It’s not primarily a teddy bear to make me feel better; in fact, it’s first job was to make me feel bad about my sinful heart.  The Bible’s not even a manual of how to do this or that; it’s a portrayal of God’s glory.  When we minister in His name, it’s not to get a pat on the back.  Jesus said,  “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, We are unworthy servants;we have only done what was our duty.'” (Lk.17:10)

We are recipients of blessing upon blessing, but Him blessing us is not God’s chief aim.  We are forgiven, embraced, beloved, but He didn’t fashion us from clay chiefly to be happy with our lives, he made us to be happy in Him.  He made us for His glory: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.  (Is.43:7).  When we eat a satisfying meal, or enjoy a vacation, or make love to our spouse, or create something, it is to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor.10:31).  The Westminster Catechism got it right: the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  AMEN.