This isn’t to throw a blanket dismissal over the entire Christian music industry to those consumers impressed by the shiny gloss of marketing and sincere but sentimental testimonies. There are always a few wonderfully exemplary artists who remain faithful and true. However, the overall pall of the industry is tragically comical. Most of this probably isn’t news to anyone involved in the Christian subculture of entertainment. It’s legend that during GMA (Gospel Music Association) week the honky tonks and Gentlemen’s clubs are more crowded than usual, the tragicomical nature of the entire scene substantiated by business receipts. My agent is an awesome agent... sung to the tune of...
If the above is the case, then why was I troubled by the biopic about Rich Mullins?
And it’s not because I’m more of a Keith Green guy. The Mullins biopic reached the silver screen before the Green biopic, which is probably in development heaven by now. But Fios made it easy to watch Ragamuffin, the title of a Brennan Manning book and now the title of the Rich Mullins’ biopic, being that Manning, a celebrity author and speaker himself, was influential in Mullins’ life.
My only reference for Mullins was that one song he wrote and sang based upon the Apostle’s creed. It’s an okay song, in my opinion. He also penned Awesome God, which is such a popular worship song that it has its own Wikipedia page. Before launching his own career, he wrote some songs for Amy Grant and ended up touring with her, a fact that is no small accident in a Christian celebrity culture based upon platform. Mullins may have been conflicted about the monster of Christian entertainment that can eat people alive, but he willingly fed himself to it. If nothing else, it ate his shoes. (The actor playing Mullins was without shoes in the majority of scenes.)
Until the movie depicting his life, I thought Mullins was more in the Keith Green vein. I thought he was just another contemporary Christian artist who was also a fiery preacher. But that was not the case. The preaching of these two Christian artists reflected the men who had the most influence upon them. In Green’s case, it was Leonard Ravenhill. In Mullins’ case, Brennan Manning. Because Ravenhill and Manning preached different gospels, we find these two artists preaching different gospels.
For me, this is where the Mullins’ legacy becomes troubling. (If my viewpoint upsets you, please see Trevin Wax’s review of this biopic. He’s a blogger I trust and his perspective is very different than mine.)
According to the biopic, at the height of his fame in the Christian market, Mullins’ was a raging alcoholic. This is troubling on several fronts, but primarily because of his (or the movie character’s) emphasis on authenticity. During concerts, doing that piano tinkering thing while talking, he accused the church of being inauthentic, of hiding and of not being honest. (You know, like a CR enthusiast before its time. All kidding aside, Celebrate Recovery could have been a godsend for Mullins, as it has been for many people.)
Mullins lauded authenticity, yet he never said to his Christian audiences, “You’re broken. I’m broken. We’re all broken individuals. As a matter of fact, I’m an alcoholic. I don’t mean I’m recovering. I mean right now. I’m probably going to go out and get loaded after the concert.” Now, that would have been authentic. But, alas, sin makes us hide, even in the midst of touting authenticity. (See Genesis 3.)
The movie portrays a classic case of Christian hypocrisy. Except, somehow in this storyline, the hypocrite is the hero because he understands he’s broken. The rest are all pretending. It’s the mindset that all Christians are really living hypocritical lives, only some won’t admit it. (See step one in CR.) The only sin is not admitting you’re broken. In the end, it’s all okay because Jesus loves you.
Mullins appears to have come from that swathe (dare I say brand) of evangelicalism that focuses on half the gospel. Jesus died because he loves me. That’s pretty much the end of Manning’s gospel, which in turn became Mullins’ gospel. Because Jesus died for you, you can live in your brokenness. You can revel in your dysfunction and somehow consider yourself a more authentic Christian than those who are wrestling with what Mullins called “little pietistic illusions,” or something along those lines.
Little pietistic illusions. Hmmmmm.
1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:21
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
1 John 3:9-10
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
Those are just a few verses that stress the second half of the gospel. Not only did Christ die for our sins, but he rose to life so that we too might walk in newness of life. He takes us from brokenness and progressively makes us whole. He takes us from dysfunction and makes us functional. Christians who don’t believe in wholeness and functionality because of the risen Christ only believe half of the gospel.
A gospel where the hypocrite is the hero simply because he knows he’s broken is only half the gospel. I fear we do not understand the gospel as deeply as we think we do. If the gospel is the power of salvation, is it just the power to admit that we’re broken? Or is there power to overcome our brokenness?
This half-gospel is the gospel before the disciples encountered the resurrected Christ. It’s the gospel when the disciples were afraid and hiding in the upper room behind locked doors. All the half-gospel message does is tell people to come out of hiding and admit they’re afraid and broken deniers of Christ. “Be afraid with us. Be broken with us.”
I think it’s a bit deceptive to make people feel forgiven in an unrepentant state. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that she wasn’t condemned by him. But he also told her to go and sin no more. The fearful disciples in the upper room changed after Jesus sent his Spirit to them in Acts 2. Peter denied Christ before the resurrection, not after.
The denial of the gospel comes in a life that doesn’t reflect anything powerful about the resurrected Christ. It’s a form of the gospel that denies the power of the gospel. The gospel has power because Christ has risen from the dead. He’s alive. That’s the power of the gospel. How do you meet a dead man and remain the same?
What the tragic Christian celebrity culture in Nashville lacks is not human authenticity, but an authentic gospel that saves our humanity. Humanity is broken because of sin. That’s why we need the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God is restoring everything that has been lost, everything that has been broken, bit by bit, piece by piece, one honest thought at a time.
There is not only authenticity in Christ, there is victory in Jesus.
Sung to the tune of...