July 12, 2012

A Christless Gospel and Golf

With our daughter out of the country (and having a much better time without us than we are without her, I'm sure), we've been spending more time with our third child, the one who has yet to abandon us. But I'm not bitter...

Anyway, one evening this week we opted to stream in a family-type movie from Netflix. I'd added this one to our queue a few weeks ago:

Netflix provided this description:
Talent can only get you so far. For golfer Luke Chisholm, that turns out to be Utopia, Texas -- where he's left stranded after blowing his pro debut. Luckily for Luke, a cagey old rancher enters his life there to change it -- and him -- forever.
I'd checked for inappropriate content on IMDB and ChristianAnswers.net, it seemed fine. Besides, it featured Robert Duvall and was set in Texas.

We popped our popcorn and settled in for the time-worn tale: young man with issues sets out to escape conflict and finds encouragement from an unexpected source. {Spoilers ahead.}

As the lead character's story unfolds, we learn that Luke is an up-and-coming golfer, coached from childhood by his father. As he matures into manhood and serious golf competition, his father continues to push him toward his own image of success, rather than allowing Luke to become his own man.

This results in Luke finding himself in Utopia, Texas, under the wing of a former professional golfer, Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall). Johnny promises Luke he'll help him find his game and maybe change his life if he'll stay in Utopia for seven days. Johnny's methods include fly-fishing, painting, and playing washers. We learn that Johnny lost his marriage and his golf career because of his drinking. Now, apparently, he's found religion and built a golf course, and all is well.

The apex of Luke's golf/life lesson comes when Johnny writes three letters on a golf ball: SFT. He tells Luke, "Don't think. See. Feel. Trust."

I don't know anything about golf, except that provides great sanctification in my husband's life when he chooses to play. But I do know that this is poor counsel for life, especially Christian living.

"Don't think." As believers, we are urged to think... about the right things and in the right way.
  • "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9)
  • "Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature." (1 Corinthians 14:20)
  • "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:13)
  • “'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Corinthians 2:16)
 "See." But what do I do when I cannot see? When I'm blinded by my grief, my sin, my circumstances?
  • "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)
  • "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:8-9)
"Feel." Based on Johnny's counsel thus far, I have to assume that I'm to feel based on what I see, but not truth I think about. Oh dear.
  • "The wise fear the LORD and shun evil, but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure." (Proverbs 14:16)
  • "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
"Trust." Trust my feelings? After going through the other three steps?
  • "The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him." (Psalm 28:7)
  • "Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act." (Psalm 37:5)
  • "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If only this had been just a golf movie. But it wasn't. It's a movie with intentional spiritual implications and an incomplete gospel.

In another critical scene, Luke meets Johnny at the cemetery and is instructed to write down and bury the lies that have kept him from a life of significance. Because in the end (according to the author), our significance is the ultimate measure of our lives. And God offers us significance -- significance and adventure. Kind of like the Peace Corps, but without actually going anywhere.

It seems to me that this is yet another inoculation against true Christian faith, presenting instead a vague, fuzzy, feel-good self-help gospel that fails to mention the bad news (we are sinners) or to clearly communicate the good news (Jesus saves). Rather than repenting from our sin, we simply bury the lies we've been told or have told ourselves and move toward significance (whatever that is). And apparently, the inclusion of a church and a Bible in the movie sanctify this pop psychology.

I don't read a lot of movie reviews, but an online link led me to one by Hollywood Reporter that included this sad but probably spot-on comment:
"This homemade, whole milk, finger-lickin'-good, G-rated piece of American cheese isn't the sort of thing most urban viewers are accustomed to consuming but, if Visio Entertainment knows how to reach down-home Christian audiences, Utopia will find open arms across a wide swath of the Bible Belt and through the South."
Let's hope not, for we have the mind of Christ. Let's use it.

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