The NBA Finals are upon us again. For the 8th straight year Lebron James leads a team from the Eastern Conference while the Goliath of the West, the Warriors, are looking to solidify themselves as maybe the greatest team ever to play.
Here at Things Above Us, we like to talk about the gospel, missions, evangelism, and sports. So I figured I would beat the rest of the Christian blogosphere and write a blog post about finding the gospel in the NBA finals before *they all* got around to it. I assume being the first to do it gets me some credibility, right?
Let’s Do This
The first step in finding the gospel in anything at all is to know what you are looking for. For me, I am looking for the following:
God’s wrath for sinners propitiated through the brutal and bloody death of His perfect, sinless, Son, Jesus, who humbled himself by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (though He is God), and subsequently was raised from the dead three days later in accordance with the scriptures. A promise that all those who repent and believe in Him will be forgiven of their sins and live with God eternally is a nice touch. And, in order to make sense of this “good news,” we need some explanation of God’s holiness, His law, and man’s inability to keep that law. Bonus points if Adam’s sin in the garden is mentioned.
Well, I have to admit, I haven’t actually watched the NBA Finals yet. But I can tell you, I don’t think the gospel is in there. Feel free to head back to this post after the Cavs Championship parade and tell me I was wrong: that the gospel was clearly presented, but I won’t hold my breath for that (or a Cavs NBA Championship parade).
Here’s the point. The gospel isn’t something that can be reduced to unselfishness, self-sacrifice, teamwork, or even dying for someone. Even if you were to bring a man back from the dead – that isn’t the gospel. No sports championship, no movie, no book, no story of redemption can be the gospel. The gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and for the satisfaction of God’s wrath, for His glory. Even your marriage, which is a picture of the Christ and His Church is not the gospel.There is never any reason to compare the gospel to anything earthly, because it is so out of this world that those analogies will simply fail. Just proclaim it. Click To Tweet
This is Getting Pretty Serious
Bear with me. I am not saying that our experiences are unimportant, or that we cannot launch from circumstances of life to spiritual lessons. What I am saying is that the gospel is not found in any movie or story, even if that story approximates it in some way. The gospel is greater than all that, and so precious it ought not be approximated by comparison. There is never 1 any reason to compare the gospel to anything earthly, because it is so out of this world that those analogies will simply fail. Just proclaim it.
I want to add some qualification, though. I am not opposed to some event or story reminding you of the gospel or making you think of spiritual truths. When you see a movie where a character sacrifices their life for another – that certainly is an example self-sacrifice, and may (rightly) bring to your mind the love of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:7-8). I have no problem with someone watching the NBA Finals and seeing how scriptural principles are obviously employed by even the unregenerate to achieve good or prosperous ends.
I am not ignorant of the fact that our fascination with superheroes comes from a normal human desire for justice (which is built into each of us) and goodness (which everyone understands innately). There is a reason even nonbelievers refer to virtues such as truth and justice and make them central to their stories. Because, as we are all made in God’s image, we have by nature some sense of what is right and wrong (Romans 2:15). To point out that a book, or movie, or a team’s accomplishment fulfills and confirms truths of scripture is good and proper.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Stop finding *the gospel* everywhere and anywhere. Some places are simply inappropriate places to look for spiritual lessons (like porn or erotic books or movies).
If you do see a wonderful movie which makes you think of your Lord’s sacrifice, don’t cheapen it by saying the gospel is in the movie, but if you want to share your experience, share how it led you to think upon Christ.
If you see something that is clean and you think can be used as a launching off point for explaining spiritual truths, excellent! Be sure that you are clear about a few things though.
First, be clear you are teaching a truth from Scripture and not just a platitude from a movie or a book. Secondly, don’t force your interpretation on the medium itself. You may be able to teach things from a movie or a book, but don’t pretend that was the author’s intention in writing that story.
But you are free to show how that author reveals that he or she is made in God’s image, and how he or she cannot help but borrow from the Christian worldview when they portray the thoughts of their imagination.
Movies, books, sports and other activities which are common to man can all be used to exercise our powers of discernment and to teach young people and new Christians how to judge the media they consume. Pretending said media has any more or less spiritual application than it has would be an error.
Take every thought captive to the mind of Christ. Don’t equivocate just to make something fit. The gospel is very specific, so don’t call things the gospel which are not. Unselfishness is a biblical idea and may be found a lot of places. Self-sacrifice is found throughout movies and books and is seem as a virtue. Point out these truths and teach those in your sphere of influence how to spot them. Finally, be sure to discern those worldviews which are opposed to Christian thinking.
Be aware of what you are consuming, and what it is teaching you and your family. And enjoy some freedom to see the fingerprint of God on the imaginations of even those who are not intentionally writing for His glory.
Note: At no point did I advocate that finding spiritual truths in various places is appropriate for behind the pulpit.
1 Also, I am not opposed to using analogies used by Scripture when explaining the gospel. I would just be very cautious about coming up with our own *uninspired* parables or analogies.