Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices. Colossians 3.9 (NIV)
On the way back from Asia, I saw the touching movie starring Reese Witherspoon called The Good Lie. This movie retells the story about the Sudanese lost boys from the civil war who got their new start in the US. It’s a very touching movie. The name of the movie comes from the final scene where one of the characters uses a new identity to get someone who saved his life back at the refugee camp (don’t want to spoil the story too much) while going back and staying at the camp as a trained physician from the US. This is the good lie. I suppose it is for the greater good of the movie.
This week also rings in the news that the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven turns out to be a lie all along. At the center of the controversy is Alex Malarkey who suffered a traumatic injury from an accident and had claimed that he visited heaven in the process. The book became a bestseller but the publisher Tyndale House has decided to pull the books. Yet, we find booksellers being quite slow to pull the books off the shelves. One such example is Lifeway who continues to ignore the plea of Alex and his family. In fact, with Alex’s mom pleading as far as 2012, it takes three years for the evangelical publishing conscience to set in (Mark Driscoll’s plagiarized books, anyone?) and pull the book. After this publicity flop, I’m sure Lifeway will eventually pull the books off and claim ignorance. In fact, I bet Lifeway will drag its feet as far as it can in order to get more sales before finally pulling. The bottom line is the Lord. Why do I say this? It’s because evangelicals are so predictable. They would go all the way, even to the extent of telling lies and half-truths, for the gospel (and a few dollars more).
In this situation, we should learn something from Alex who bravely came forward to recant his testimony. I propose that the problem is not merely lying. A certain culture within evangelicalism produces lies like this. It’s the zealous lust for the sensational. We long for our next celebrity for the sake of evangelism rather than letting our integrity and healthy relationships be the unspoken testimony of our faith. As I have written previously, our lust (even worship) of celebrities and the sensational is killing us. If you don’t believe me, just read the comments on my blog on Jay Chou and all the people defending this culture. Once again, this culture fails us, the world, and people like Alex.
What I find most interesting is this. We have profited from lies for a long time. In Hong Kong, where I taught for close to three years, we had the fraudulent Noah’s Ark Ministry that is backed not only by local pastors but also by pastors in N America and Southeast Asia that built this money spinning machine on nothing but speculations over a few pieces of wood. When I spoke out against it, people were concerned that my outspokenness has indeed damaged the cause of the gospel. Those who enabled lies such as the Noah’s Ark Ministry supporters have still not come out to recant their misplaced support. Not even one! Especially guilty are the church leaders who pretend nothing has happened at all. Why? It is because business must go on! Religion is big business.
Therein lies our problem. Evangelical celebrity worship and sensationalism (i.e. the next big story) are big business. Lifeway can stand to lose a lot of money, but at least Alex recanted. His honesty shames many Christian leaders in fact. Alex’s spiritual growth serves to remind many Christian leaders that being in the business of evangelicalism can indeed stunt your spiritual maturity. When profit and reputations are involved, spiritual maturity goes into the rubbish bin.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he called lying something that belongs to the old man, the older lifestyle and identity. We aren’t talking about the complicated ethical case of Rahab and the spies here. We’re talking about a simple bankruptcy of integrity. If the lies belong to the old identity (identity before knowing Christ), isn’t the business, this sham of religion, also something that belongs to the old identity. Essentially, the evangelical faith has, at times, become a Christ-less and godless religion because business must go on.
Is modern evangelism at all cost a culture of lies? Is it even something from the dark side? I think we are at a critical juncture of our Christian history to demand an answer to these questions from our Christian businesses and church leaders. If the question is “yes”, what should we do about it? I think the answer is clear. In such a case, this is not a good life. It’s a bad lie in the clothing of the gospel which is no gospel at all. The only question left would be this. When will modern evangelicalism find its collectively lost conscience?
PS: I’ve been told that the Elim Bookstore in Asian among many other stores also carry this book. How they respond will demonstrate also the conscience of the Asian churches.