Gimme That Hot Tub Religion!

There's nothing like visiting another culture to get a new perspective on your own. That's what Patty and I discovered a few years ago in Japan. There we visited Perfect Liberty Church, a Buddhist sect that was at the time the fastest growing church in the world. And no wonder. The church taught that peace and joy are found merely by exercising our individuality. Golf, sex, or bird-watching--anything was OK as long as you were expressing your inner self. As I read through the church's literature, I found myself nudging Patty and saying, "What nonsense. Imagine: They're saying you can do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy. And they call that a church!" Later, back in the States, Patty and I were flipping through the TV channels one night when a Christian program caught our eye. The set was gaudy, the furniture overstuffed, and the hosts were offering a saccharine vision of the abundant life. You can have perfect joy and prosperity, they crooned. God doesn't want anyone to suffer or be deprived. He just wants us to be happy. Soon Patty and I were nudging each other and saying, "What nonsense! Imagine: They're saying God will give you anything you want as long as it makes you happy . . . " And then suddenly it struck us: The message of this Christian TV program was no different from what we had witnessed in Japan. It was Christianized Buddhism. It seems that everywhere--from Tennessee to Tokyo--religion is being permeated by a consumerist mentality. Newsweek magazine recently heralded the resurgence of religion among baby boomers. But it sure wasn't the old-time religion. The goal in this revival, Newsweek said, is not salvation but support; not holiness but self-help. People don't convert; they pick and choose--as if religion were just another commodity on the market. They flit from church to church in search of what makes them feel good. In this consumerist environment, pastors feel pressure to act like businessmen, out to attract more customers. In the process, they often unconsciously repackage the church's message: A little rationalizing here, a little rounding off there--and soon the church is transformed from a worshipping community into a comforting haven from life's pressures.  J. I. Packer calls it "hot tub religion." Well, the church has got to pull the plug on the hot tub. When Jesus talked about the Church, He wasn't talking about buildings or programs. He was talking about a new community--called out to give the world a foretaste of the coming Kingdom. The Church's task is not to make people happy but to make them holy. Its gift to the world is not therapy but truth. As I argue in my new book, The Body, Christians need to recover the biblical view of the church. Otherwise, we will lose our distinctive calling to a feel-good consumerism. And we will have nothing better to offer the world than a Christianized form of Buddhism.


Chuck Colson


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