Yesterday's flurry of posts regarding the Time Magazine feature article, "Does God Want You Rich?" has me once again thinking about an issue that's troubled me for a while. It's the use of the term "Gospel." In particular, it's the use of the term "Gospel" among African Americans
My thoughts aren't complete... but there is something incredibly peculiar about this word in the African American experience. What I mean is... the word is used most often to designate a genre of cultural production as much or more often than it's used to refer to "the Good News," propositional, historical, and efficacious truth about Jesus Christ.
So... there is "gospel" music. Listened to any lately? Conspicuously absent in the vast majority of it is any actual meditation on the Good News. There is lots of celebration, remembrance, testimony, and exhortation... but very little "sacred head now wounded." Don't get me wrong... I crank gospel music semi-regularly. But I'm troubled by the moniker when attributed to the content of these songs. There is no Gospel in them.
Okay... then there are "gospel" plays. There is a whole "chitlin' circuit" of such productions, usually bouncing from local civic center to civic center, and sometimes featuring a former entertainment celebrity (singer) rumored to have turned Christian as a big attraction. The stories are generally the same... lazy, good-for-nuthin man causes grief to desperately hopeful and struggling "Christian" grandmother, mother or wife (more frequently girlfriend). Events move on... someone has a "breakthrough" and begins to "act right" to the pleasure of everyone. Lots of crude humor passed off as "keepin' it real," "you know that's how it really is" commentary. In all the commotion... cheap laughs, sappy emotionalism, and occasional moralism... no Good News.
Then there are "gospel" movies. Tyler Perry's wildly successful Madea plays turned big screen hits (Madea's Family Reunion) are packing folks in. Perry has gone from homelessness to a $5 million dollar mansion on the strength of his creations. Go 'head on, fella. Joining him in the effort are films like The Gospel, featuring "gospel" recording artist Donnie McClurkin. Donnie has had an interesting life as well... but in my mind he is rather notorious for wildly-popular Good News-denying lyrics like "a saint is just a sinner who fell down... but got up." What?! Is it any wonder that these so-called "gospel" films have virtually zero Gospel content? Plenty of moralism to go around... but no Good News.
And tonight... I spent about 30 minutes watching a video called The Gospel Comedy All-Stars. It's an obvious attempt to replicate the success of Def Comedy Jam for Christians... to deliver "clean" comedy to the saints. Saints should laugh. I laughed through a few really good parts. But I also had to overlook a number of plainly crude parts that were regular "comedy" without the expletives. My 8 year-old daughter ought to be able to watch and enjoy a genre called "gospel comedy." I found myself having to explain and refute too much. Turned it off. But not before it was painfully clear there would be no Good News-related content. Not even a quick "gospel presentation" at the end of the video. Just as well. There's no greater demonstation of the peculiar use of the term than the phrase "Gospel comedy." That's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one! There is no comedy in the Cross! Joy... yes. Laughing matter comedy... not an ounce! And then to include an idolatrous term like "All Stars" to boot... well it's obvious that the Lord of Glory isn't being considered with this use of the word "gospel."
The peculiar quality of all of this, for me, is only exceeded by its deep sadness. My people in the flesh are perishing by the millions for lack of knowledge. And I'm stressing African Americans here, because as my wife pointed out, we would call it "Christian" movies, plays or music if it were marketed to our brothers of lighter hue... again the peculiar association of the term's misuse with African Americans. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans venture into these movies and plays and buy millions of musc cds, and for their efforts they receive no accurate or meaningful information about the Son of God who shed His blood for the redemption of sinners! That's tragic. And I shudder to think of how many folks will on that day say, "Lord, Lord, we made movies and plays and music in your name, for your glory," only to hear the Son of Righteousness respond, "I never knew you. Depart from me."
Affirmations and Denials
I affirm that the Lord of creation endowed man with a capacity to produce culture and art, and that this gift is a good gift to be cultivated and used for His glory, to help man to worship God in the beauty of holiness.
I deny that the music, plays, film and other art forms commodified as a "gospel" genre has any legitimate association with or bears any resemblance to the biblical term, historicity, and content of the Good News of the electing Father sending His only Son to redeem through His blood and to unite with Himself a chosen people sealed and preserved by the Holy Spirit of God as His portion for His glory and pleasure and their everlasting joy!
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