The recent speech by Chris Pratt at the MTV Movie & TV Awards has been a big hit. There’s a reason – it’s great content spoken publicly by a man who seems to have been transformed by Jesus. It no doubt has, and will continue to, encourage people even as it makes them laugh. It will challenge some, though it may be that those willing to listen are those who are already making an effort to live a life shaped in the pattern of “good” he offers.
I definitely don’t want to come across as a “hater”. I think Chris Pratt seems like a great guy, and I’ve definitely laughed at his incredible talent as he’s carried more than one movie on his shoulders alone. But I do want to push pause for a moment – as the “likes” and “shares” are gathering, to help us recognize what is happening. On a popular culture stage, Pratt shares what seems to many to be a Christian message to millions. He does so boldly, and is applauded for his words. In a world filled with so much evil, hate, and brokenness, where many Christians feel like “outsiders”, it seems here is a champion we can get behind and support.
Unfortunately – his message here is not specifically Christian. Anymore than America is Christian. Anymore than Grandma Martha (not mine specifically, but in the general sense) who goes to church every Christmas and Easter is Christian.
In fact, his message is so close to sounding Christian – just like America & Grandma Martha – it may be incredibly dangerous in its’ ability to make everyone feel like they’re doing alright. Let’s set aside his words about pooping in public for a moment (great hilarious advice), and examine the words that touch on our topic:
- “Breathe. If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.” – Wise words here, that can be interpreted in many ways. The patterns of Sabbath offered in scripture remind us of our need to unplug from performance-based living. Likewise, life cannot be all about “me”. My life must also flow outward toward serving & loving others. There’s a huge movement these days toward “Mindfulness”, and “Meditation”. As followers of Jesus have allowed the goals/pace/practices of the world to become our own, we’ve lost our unique sense of being “Sabbath-shaped”, and pointing to a Jesus who has set us free from such things as our source of peace (Matthew 11:28). This has left the world to discover new – but often empty, wells of self-awareness and self-derived peace.
- “You have a soul. Be careful with it.” This is great advice, but stops short of answering “How?” Psalm 23:3 reminds us, “He (the Lord) refreshes my soul/life.” Scripture also warns us that being really clingy & controlling with our soul/life – may be against what Jesus wants. Matthew 16:25 “For whoever wants to save their (soul/life) will lose it, but whoever loses their (soul/life) for me will find it.” Instead, Matthew 22:37 urges us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, our (soul/life), and our mind.
- “Reach out to someone in pain. Be of service, it feels good and it’s good for your soul.” It’s true – neuroscientists have proven that acts of serving others increases levels of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. As for our “soul”? Again – yes, it’s all over scripture that we should serve others. But this is not given as a prescription for the health of our soul, which kinda makes it a self-centered activity. It’s given as an illustration of what Love looks like. The purpose is always to join the already-active Love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, that the world might become more aware of His Love (Ephesians 5:2).
- “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that.” This one sounds so specific, and yet leaves God unnamed and vaguely wanting the “best” for each of us individually. Who is this God that is real? What does such love desire/accomplish? What happens when such a God “wants the best” for every athlete competing for a prize…or “wants the best” for every undocumented immigrant and President Trump simultaneously? So what does the God of Abraham and Isaac as revealed in Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit actually “want” for each of us? Read his prayer for us in John 17.
- “Learn to pray. It’s easy and so good for your soul.” Again an appeal to do something because “it’s good for your soul”. What is prayer? Is it the same as mindfulness and meditation? We know prayer doesn’t have to be on our knees bedside, or in a hidden room – although these are both great traditional experiences. Scripture says “Pray Continually”, which seems to infer prayer can be something that weaves into every moment of our lives. Foundational to the word “prayer” in the New Testament, would be communicating our desires/will in God’s presence. When Jesus taught his disciples “how to pray” (Matthew 6), he closed with “your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” In this prayer & life of Jesus, we’re reminded that to pray is not because it’s “good for our soul” in a generic way, but specifically because it shapes us by the Loving will of God for purposes much larger than human desires/will would ever be aware of.
Finally, his #9 rule. There is so much here, and I’ve already written a bunch. But seriously, all of that was icing on the cake. Here is the central issue that is worth a pause for clarity. I’ve got to post the entire thing:
“And finally, number nine: Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are—you’re not! You are imperfect. You always will be. But, there is a powerful force that designed you that way. And if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with someone else’s blood. Do not forget it. Do not take it for granted.”
So much of this goes against the message of Jesus, even though I don’t think that was the intention. Let’s take it slowly:
- “Nobody is perfect…you’re not! You are imperfect. You always will be.” There’s truth in here, but it’s lacking the Truth (capital “T” for Jesus) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invited his hearers “Be perfect, therefore, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) The good news of the gospel isn’t our imperfection, but the fact that Jesus invites us to be perfect. This doesn’t mean perfect in performance, or that we’ll never make mistakes. Perfect in Matthew 5:8 involves the “telos” or end/goal/completion. We are able to be “perfected” as we find ourselves being made complete in the love of Jesus described by the entire message of Matthew 5.
- “There is a powerful force that designed you that way.” Again, truth without Truth. There is a God, revealed in Jesus, that designed us (Psalm 139:13-18). But we were not designed to be imperfect. As mentioned previously, we are invited by Jesus into a new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17) that offers healing from the condition caused by being born into a world broken by self-centered sin (Romans 3:23, 5:19).
- “Grace is a gift. And like the freedom we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with someone else’s blood.” This is the closest Pratt gets to actually proclaiming Jesus. Unfortunately, the culmination of his message that weaves in American patriotism, potentially turns Jesus into a hero on the battlefield that would offer a pattern for unhealthy war-themed hero worship. There was no cosmic war for independence as a Kingdom of Jesus, and the “freedom we enjoy in this country” (and worship at times) is rubbish compared to the Freedom offered in God’s Love which is revealed in the crucified Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. To learn more about that freedom, that love, and that grace – grab a Bible and head to a church nearby where people are figuring out what it means on a daily basis.
This is only beginning what should be much longer conversations and prayers on each of these areas. As I’ve said earlier, Chris seems a great guy who loves Jesus. But when millions of MTV viewers applaud his words, we should ask ourselves – are these words that actually contain Jesus – who was despised & rejected? Or are they applauding the words, because such words inadvertently lower the bar to reveal a false God created in our own image who is okay with everything the way it is – and just wants us to be nicer & accept his acceptance?
I know God can use the speech, and has. Just like he uses the messed up words I offer and live…thankfully. But I was reminded recently that a living theology is “faith seeking understanding”. Also that God’s “theology” (“theo” meaning God, and “logos” meaning word) was literally – JESUS. So for our faith to seek understanding, means examining any theological statement (especially those applauded) in the Truth of Jesus Christ…in whose name we pray.
Also…I realize others heard exactly the opposite of me. So….sorry?