In this post, we will consider examples of what extreme moral legalism is not. This will serve as a corrector/balancer to our distaste for rules. Andy Crouch recently wrote, “Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives . . . Beware of world changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.” This quote comes from a book titled, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, and it is a reminder that culture making is complicated by our war with sin.
The Christian life is following Jesus. And there are some clear boundaries. There are components of culture that are in direct and explicit opposition to God. These are dangers in which we must guard our hearts against. There are also neutral (and possibly good) components of culture, which, because we struggle with sin, can distract us from the way, become idols in our hearts, and open the door to making other idols. In other words, we can be incredibly efficient idol-makers. Therefore, we must guard our hearts and look to Jesus.
Let me give you a clear example of what moral legalism is not. This one isn’t clearly connected to popular culture, but it will serve our purposes. In 1986, a talented basketball player named Len Bias was selected second overall in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. By all accounts, Bias was a special athlete. An All-American his senior year in college for the University of Maryland, some sports writers consider Bias “to be one of the greatest players ever not to play at the professional level” (Wikipedia). In fact, just yesterday on Mike and Mike I heard Stuart Scott say that LeBron James is the best athlete in the NBA since Len Bias. However, as you read above, Bias never played a game in the NBA. Sadly, on June 19, 1986, Bias died from a cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose, just two days after he was drafted.
I suppose we could say the same about other stars whose lives were cut short by drug use: Elvis, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, River Phoenix. Further, though we know that not every drug addict dies of an overdose, we see how devastating drug addiction can be. Why bring up drug addiction in a series of posts on the Christian life and popular culture? Because you just don’t toy around with cocaine. You know this. This is what moral legalism is not! There are many clear boundaries over which we must not cross. It is not legalism to say that there are certain components of popular culture that we must reject, that we must avoid, and that we must not do or be entertained with.
In part 3, I wrote, “Scripture calls on us to guard our hearts, and this is a serious task!” Guarding your heart means rejecting some things outright. You need to guard your heart (from obvious dangers). You need to guard your heart from components of popular culture that are in direct opposition to God, such as pornography. That isn’t that difficult to understand. In practice, it can be hard. However, you know your heart and what tempts you to come off the narrow way.
That’s not all. In Andy Crouch’s warning above, he makes the point that culture-makers have to learn “the true meaning of sin.” The problem is: sin is not always obvious. In our weaknesses, we have a tendency to distort the truth. The remedy to our weakness, in part, is to remember that we are not superhuman! We need to be careful not to think too highly of our ability to resist temptations that we leave our hearts open to disease from worldly cancers.
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
In the next post we will address an objection to these cautions.