Disclaimer: This write-up is based on my impressions on seeing the movie ‘7 Days in Utopia’. I have not read the book. I would concur with anyone who of the opinion that the movie does not do justice to the book.
A good friend of mine got me a ticket to the premier of the movie ‘7 Days in Utopia’. After watching the trailer, I wrote to another friend, “7 Days in Utopia, looks to be a sort of secular romanticist hogwash. I want to see it because such movies often are a good gauge to where the society is headed. It would help understand the points of connection that can be used to present the Gospel to the secular culture”.
At the movie, to my surprise, I discovered that the movie was ostensibly Christian. Walking out of the theatre, I thought to myself, “Well, I think the movie has given me a good gauge to where ‘popular Christianity’ is headed. Perhaps, this even gives me the points of connection to presenting the Gospel to the Christian(ly) culture” – an ironic reversal to my earlier ill-informed position.
The movie is about an aspiring young golfer (Lucas Black) who on the back of repeated failures, buckles under the pressure and almost gives upon golf. Totally distraught, the despondent man crashes his car into the farmland of an old man (Robert Duvall) in the village of ‘Utopia’. Robert takes Lucas through a 7 day ‘therapy’ at Utopia that involves a host of clichéd moral teaching and activities ranging from painting to flying to fly-fishing. In the end, Lucas gets back his BEST game ever. He also has a conversion into Christianity.
Robert’s rationale leading to Lucas’ conversion went something like this….
1. You are having problems with golf because you have made golf as the ultimate purpose of your life. The game has taken you over.
2. You have to realize how you have allowed golf to define who you are. It is killing you.
3. You have to realize that God created you for a better purpose.
4. Once you do that, you’ll be free of the burden of having to prove yourself through golf.
5. Then you’ll be a free man and BTW, you’ll play better golf too.
The therapy’s goal was to help him overcome his problem of idolizing golf. The ‘idea’ of God is used in the therapy to help the golfer understand that golf is not the end-all. God has no other use in the narrative. Christ is never talked about anywhere. I was left confused about what was really Christian about this Christian(ly) movie.
I was reminded of Pastor Tim Keller’s presentation on his brilliant book ‘Counterfeit Gods’ at Cambridge. The book deals with the destructiveness of pursuing ‘idols’, particularly the materialistic kind. A sharp student posted an interesting question – “If you say that I need to pursue God so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the ‘idols’ of materialism that can potentially destroy me, why can I not just posit an imaginary God in my mind?” After all, making an idol of materialistic goals is a problem of the mind – mind creates the idols. Why can’t the solution, just be in the mind too?
The proponents of the New Age religion (yoga, TM etc…) have the answer to this question. They posit a ‘mystical’ God meditating upon whom/it will therapeutically heal the pain and the pressures of materialistic pursuits. New Ageism exalts the human being while making God as a ‘puppet therapist’ who can be invoked from within the mind of the Human Being. This ‘therapist God’ will bring peace and freedom to human mind troubled by relentless pursuit of materialistic idols. No wonder New Ageism originating from the East is now popular in materialistic cultures of the West.
Sadly, the New Ageistic ‘therapeutic’ methodology is followed some ‘Christian’ retreats I have been to. Quite a number of urban Evangelical Churches in their Worship Services, Sermons and Bible Studies follow this principle too. Man’s needs are made the center of the proceedings. God is supposedly invoked through therapeutic worship and some prayer techniques, thereby helping everyone feel healed to live in a state of peaceful complacency.
If Christ were someone with whom one can spend 7 days and get the mojo back whether it be golf or catching fish, Christianity can be easily marketed to the secular culture. If Christ had only been a ‘therapeutic’ healer of sorts, He would never have been crucified. Christ was no therapist, neither is Christianity therapeutic. Any therapeutic benefits in Christianity are incidental, at best secondary. Christ’s quintessential claim was to be the King whom everyone owed allegiance to.
Christ did not come to give us the ‘Best Life Now’ or create a ‘Champion in You’. Christ came to invite us into a story where we’ll make less and less of ourselves and more and more of Him. The Gospel is NOT about us. The Gospel is about Christ and what He DID to draw us into His Story. The reason why the road to perdition is BROAD and the road to eternal life is NARROW is because this message of this ‘change of allegiance’ goes against what most people fundamentally want to do – make more and more of themselves.
Preachers, evangelists and Christian motivation speakers are not confident of making the ‘tough sell’ into the NARROW road. Wanting to be relevant, affirm and validate the pew-warmers, some of them dilute their message to a point where it is rather difficult to see how the ‘popular Christianity’ presented is different from the New Age religions which advocate similar ideas of superiority of Spiritual realities over the material ones, the need for community consciousness, sacrificial living… etc – resulting in therapeutic healing.
In trying to reach out to the secular culture and find the points of connection, ‘popular Christianity’ has gone too far; losing it own points of connections with the Gospel. The Gospel message – the supremacy of what Christ DID for us and how that changes our allegiance away from self towards Christ, is something that needs to be presented to Christians all over again. Else, Christianity would be reduced to another one of the interesting fads that ‘works for some’ and not for most others.