Okay. WARNING: I am about to get very preachy and harsh-sounding after what was a light-hearted and enjoyable time watching the delightful and pretty “Monsters University.” I think my theological grouchiness may come from the fact that I was reflecting on the Gospel message in preparing my sermon on Galatians 1:1-12 (and it didn’t help that Paul’s main point was on how alternative gospels should be accursed!). I was journaling, and I realized that this was important enough to blog publically about.
You see, I had watched Monsters U, and I had thought it was wonderful and that the message was good. You see, Mikey was able to let go of his ambitions (and yes, this is not a bad idea for some aspiring celebrities/teens to hear) and accept his “okay-ness”/mediocre-ness. And it was good that Sullivan (“Sully”) was able to get past the burden of his name (the great family name of “Sullivan” was such a big name to live up to . . . overshadowing his own individuality). I had thought this was a good message. But after comparing it to the Gospel message, I realized that it fell way short, such that the message of Monsters U was sub-par with the Bible’s Gospel at best, and narcissistic and idolatrous at worst, a reflection of the sinister Spirit of the Age. [And here is where I turn up the “grouch” factor (though to be fair, I still think Monsters U was a good, enjoyable movie to watch, even delightful, perhaps).]
Really, though, after being weighed next to the Gospel, I realized the message of the Spirit of this Age (typified in Monsters U and countless Hollywood movies) is that the SUPREME GOOD in this life is to ACCEPT YOURSELF AS YOU ARE. All your worries and psychological problems will go away if you accept yourself. Granted, it is true that many Chinese kids are burdened by tiger parents who make the kids feel bad and anxious of never being good enough and “shaming the famiry!” [Engrish for “family” for those not in the know], and this is not psychologically healthy. But there is more to life than merely accepting yourself. You see, this “uplifting message” is not all bad, but it cannot be divorced from the toxic context of an individualistic and narcisstic culture that absolutizes and glorifies the self as king and must be accepted as is.
Self-acceptance is not the Gospel; it is not the Messiah! I may be slightly unfair to Sullivan, but I am interpreting the message of “breaking free from his family name” in its wider context: this culture of narcissistic “tolerance” has no patience for externally-imposed identity (or externally-imposed anything, be it morals or high expectations). The self is god. You need to be who you wannabe, who you “truly” are. You need to be “authentic” to yourself, faithful to yourself. You are the most important, and “authenticity” is the prime virtue in the quest for self-discovery and self-expression.
So Mikey W and Sullivan are heroes because they have “found themselves” and “accepted who they were apart from external family ties, etc.” I actually feel slightly bad for being so hard/harsh on Mikey W and Sullivan. I can understand where they are coming from. But I have no patience for the narcissistic and intolerant gay agenda and feminist agenda. (Okay Dean, are we trying to offend as many people as we can? Well, I am in rant mode, could you tell? And I am well aware that I may potentially lose some of my paltry, non-existent readership, perhaps. Hear me out though. I do seriously try to be fair, even if I am not holding back any punches … I will also denounce the narcissism and idolatry that I see creeping into evangelical theology as well, so you can’t say I wasn’t impartial.)
Here we have a gay/homosexual/LGBT agenda that celebrates being authentic and courageous to accept homosexuality as “who they ‘truly‘ are” [granted, I am totally against bullying LGBT or anyone, and I am totally opposed to governments and cultures who torture or kill people for being gay . . .]. But not only do they celebrate this narcissism (and sinfulness, regardless of whether they were “born this way” or not), they intolerantly demand that everyone else accept their (orientation as) lifestyle.
Same too with the feminist agenda who insists that abortions and contraception be covered by medical insurance (wait, is pregnancy like some kind of disease?! What? Seriously?). It’s all about accepting myself and my own choices. And if I want to take a life so that I can ensure my own quality of life/career, then I am just being “authentic” and “true to myself,” and not selfish or murderous. Bullocks.
The Gospel, on the other hand, is so much better than these false gospels of self-acceptance [though I readily admit that the Gospel is indeed a very hard pill to swallow most of the time]. The Gospel is not that God accepts us for who we are, or that he unconditionally loves us just as we are. Rather, God loves us while we are unlovable, and his love changes us so that we become more and more lovingly like Christ.
The Gospel is about how in Christ and his atoning sacrifice, we are bought and redeemed to be a people of God. We have an externally-imposed identity and family name that, unlike Sullivan, is a source of comfort and pride. Our salvation is not grounded in anything inherent in us or in anything we do or work at. No, it’s grounded in something much better: Christ and his righteousness and death on a cross.
An externally-imposed identity is a good thing, because it tells us who we are. It tells us that God accepts us in Christ, and therefore, we ought to live up to our high calling as God’s children, as the very sons (and daughters) of the Most High. Or if we were like Sullivan, we would not accept our lack of effort or our sloppiness and laziness. Rather, because we know we have the undeserved honor of being a Sullivan, we would work hard to defend the family honor. We don’t try to live up to something we’re not. We are what God has said we are, and based on the security of our graciously bestowed identity as righteous children of God, we can confidently and prayerfully seek to please God and honor him in all we do (by the power of the Holy Spirit).
The last thing the people of God need to hear is that we should accept ourselves because God accepts us and loves us unconditionally. This is junk/trash theology! No, better, it is idolatry and narcissism. God loves you because you’re worth it, and therefore you need to return the favor with God. Junk! Baloney! God loves you unconditionally, because he is so loving and tolerant and because you are so special. Junk! Trash! Heresy! Anathema!
God loved you so that you could glorify him. He loved us so that we can change from being the unlovable (and unacceptable) sinful, narcissistic, idolatrous selves we once were to being beacons of light in this dark world that show the world how glorious and worthy our God is. And in Christ we are redeemed as his righteous children. We do not boast in our inherent (and non-existent) loveliness that we thought we had before his love. God didn’t send his Son to die for us because we were worth it, because we were so special. He did because he loved us (I don’t deny this), and ultimately for his glory.
The Gospel isn’t that he unconditionally loves us (If he did, would you be okay with him unconditionally Hitler and chairman Mao and Stalin and sending them to heaven?), but that his love (also not entirely conditional) can transform us so that we can become a holy and blameless bride of Christ.
God loves us so that we can obey his commands and be sanctified.
Never ever ever ever let someone tell you that God’s love is unconditional, and that you should be good just to thank him for loving you for who you were. You should praise God for his loving you despite who you were, and your status/identity in Christ as the people of God is what gives you the strength to repent of the junk/trash that was you and to gladly live up to your high calling.
Relatively Cool-headed Conclusion/Reflection/Summary
In the end, if you thought I was being unfair to Monsters U, maybe you’re right. But that was got me going on finally writing on the narcissism of thinking that God loves us unconditionally and that he somehow owes us our salvation. I could have simply wrote a blog about how God’s unconditional love is a heresy/lie/theological poison, but it would seem like it came out of nowhere, out of the blue, and that might be even more shocking. At the end of the day, the Gospel message is so much better than just unconditional love and being accepted by God. You see, life isn’t about being accepted for who we are. It’s about how in Christ we are given a status/identity/name that we now must (and can) live up to. Free grace isn’t cheap. Faith without works is dead. God loves us despite who we are and counts us righteous. Therefore, let us be truly righteous. We are God’s children, through no fault (or credit) of our own. Therefore, let’s gladly work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Let’s move past the idolatry and immature narcissism of “Hey God loves me and accepts me unconditionally” baloney toward the real Gospel.
Let me end with the very Word of God from Gal 1:9-12 (ESV) and Gal 1:3-5 (ESV) (a summary of the Gospel):
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
P.S. Given my more confrontational and polemical tone, I apologize that I have not edited this post as much as I should. But I am finishing this at around 2am. So please, forgive me for not spending more time on this piece. If you think I have overstepped my bounds, please be kind and let me know in the comments.
P.P.S. Want more narcissism bashing? Check out my other post on the Gospel of L’Oréal. Maybe you’re not worth it?