This is the time of year when Christians stress the importance of putting Christ back in Christmas. To be sure, the forces of commercialism, secularism, and the desire not to offend anyone have all but expelled Christ from His birthday, turning Christmas into just another generic holiday. But those same forces are also expelling Christ from the faith He established, turning Christianity into just another generic religion.
I have been reviewing Christian videos, reading Christian books, and looking at Christian education material. These typically teach good morals, advocate sound politics, and grow out of a biblical worldview. But I have been struck with how so much of this Christian material says nothing about Jesus Christ.
I have even heard ministers preach about self-esteem, politics, and principles for successful living rather than proclaiming Christ. I have heard a Christmas sermon on "How to Avoid Stress at Christmas Time" that never got around to mentioning the Christ child.
I think most of these writers do have faith in Christ, and not all discussions have to be about Jesus. But much of this Christian material could be written by a Muslim or an atheistic self-help guru. And much of it begs for a Jesus connection. Some of it speaks of God as if He were far above in the sky, looking down, as if He did not come down from heaven to share our human condition in Jesus Christ. Some of it speaks of morality as if we were not sinners and as if we could be good if we just tried harder. But how can we be morally good apart from Christ's forgiveness and the changed inner life that comes from faith in Him?
The omission of Christ from Christian material struck me when reading Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (see p. 18). Here is a recently converted author who not long ago was writing dark, occultish vampire novels. I doubt that she shares my politics and I am sure we have lots of theological disagreements. But this book-unlike many overtly Christian books I had been reading-is focused on Jesus Christ. Mrs. Rice has been seized by the conviction that God became a human being-even a 7-year-old child-and that He died for our sins. She is marveling at this truth and imagining what the child Jesus might have been like. Reading that novel made me meditate on the Incarnation, and it recentered my own thoughts back on Jesus.
Why would Christians leave Jesus out of the picture? The main reason, I suspect, is that Jesus does divide. Bringing Jesus into the conversation might be offensive to non-Christians. It is odd that someone so loving should provoke such negative reactions, but the Bible says that this will be the case. Christ is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8). But sometimes Christians are unnecessarily shy about mentioning Him, where no offense in fact would be taken. And sometimes Christians think they can reach a broader audience-selling their products to Jews, Muslims, and humanists-if they just leave Jesus out of it.
Some evangelicals stop referring to Jesus because they think they do not need Him anymore. Jesus was involved in their conversion, long ago, but now they have to concentrate on living the Christian life. They have forgotten that the gospel is for every day of the Christian's life. And that no one can live the Christian life without Christ, who says, "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Many nonbelievers assume Christianity is about morality or politics and have never even heard of the Incarnation. No wonder our evangelism and efforts to live the Christian life are floundering. But, ironically, the pop culture is now raising the issue of Christ in artifacts of Hollywood and the bestseller lists. The very stones are crying out (Luke 19:40).