Column: New video game popularizes, reveals skewed view of modern Christianity

By Jake Meador

Sometimes when I open my eyes in the morning, I think my life would be so much easier if I could just honestly call myself an agnostic and be done with this whole Christianity thing. Maybe some of you feel the same way.

Maybe others of you think Jesus seems all right, but not the church. I know where you are coming from, it seems like everyone has his or her own personal horror story of a Christian being judgmental, arrogant or just plain obnoxious.

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I do not think they are trying to be like that; their concern is genuine enough, but they do not seem to care about whole human beings — only the religious beliefs of those human beings.

Sadly, pop evangelicalism teaches people to think this way. The most recent reinforcement of this unfortunate idea comes from a new video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” a game Focus on the Family reviewer Bob Hoose hailed as, “The kind of game that mom and dad can actually play with junior – and use to raise some interesting questions along the way.”

The game is based on the best-selling “Left Behind” book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The series is based upon a belief held among Christian fundamentalists that someday, in an event called the Rapture, Jesus is going to come and snatch all Christians off the earth, leaving only non-Christians behind who will then have to experience seven years of divine judgment before Jesus comes back again to pour out his final judgment on the earth.

The game is set in New York following the Rapture. You are a Christian who converted following the Rapture, and your one goal now is to convert as many people as possible before you or they are killed in one of the impending divine judgments.

Further, the game allows you to actually kill non-Christians who will not convert, with everything from handguns to tanks. (You lose “spirit points,” but no worries, you can regain those by praying.)

Unfortunately, “Eternal Forces” simply regurgitates the same message fundamentalists have been preaching for years. Fundamentalists serve as the perfect example of a group that is completely captive to a culture while completely unaware of it.

The fundamentalist movement began in the 1920s in the wake of many theological arguments during the early years of the 20th century.

Many of the theologically liberal ideas won out in the academy, and fundamentalists responded to their defeat by completely withdrawing from everything around them and forming their own holy huddles that were set apart from “the world.”

Fundamentalists developed what Dick Keyes calls “musk ox Christianity,” a name that comes from the habits of a musk ox.

When one of their own is injured, the rest of the herd forms a circle around the injured ox and watches for any enemies. If any approach, they attack, chase the attacker a short distance and then retreat back to their circle.

This abandonment of the general culture had two effects: it caused fundamentalists to develop a very cynical attitude about the world, and it caused them to become captive to the culture they lived in before dropping out of general culture.

To this day, they are trapped in a hard modernity that wants to place everything in the universe in one of two categories: it is either black or white, and there are no shades of gray.

These two effects came together to create what we have today. Fundamentalists, with their cynicism about today’s world, have nothing left to them but hope for a future place where things will be the way the fundamentalists want them to be.

Take this unhealthy obsession with the afterlife, factor in modernistic tendencies to over-simplify by reducing everything to two categories, and, voila, you have contemporary evangelicalism.

Here is the problem: everything about fundamentalist Christianity flies in the face of biblical Christianity. The Bible calls human beings everywhere to be the people God uses to redeem the world.

According to the Bible, God has, in the words of Dallas Willard, a “divine conspiracy” to defeat all the evil in the world with good; to defeat violence with peace, hatred with love and oppression with freedom.

Jesus constantly speaks of the kingdom of God in the Gospels; it is a place where things are as God wants them to be, and rather than simply doing it all on his own, God invites us into a redemptive relationship with him in which he will redeem us from our own sin and use us to help in the redemption of the world.

To isolate oneself from the world and reduce the Christian faith to nothing but a “get out of hell free” card is to completely miss the point of the Bible.

Yes, we need Jesus to save us from our destructive choices, but we also must partner with Jesus in saving the world from the effects of our sins.

It is not an either/or situation – either individual salvation or social redemption. It is both/and.

The message of Billy Graham and the message of Martin Luther King Jr. are different sides of the same coin.

On one is individual salvation and day-to-day dependence upon Jesus to somehow dwell within us and cure us of our pride, greed and hatred; but on the other is social justice, activism and the redemption of the world as a whole.

If either side is viewed alone, it loses all its power. If Christians really want to be like Jesus, they must learn to embrace both aspects of biblical Christianity.