I love pizza, even bad pizza. That’s neither a confession nor a badge of honor. That’s because pizza isn’t really junk food and it isn’t really health food. Many of the things that come on a pizza are good for you. I suspect that most things that come on a pizza are good for you in moderation. The problems with pizza–and I’m saying this as someone who is definitely not a nutritionist–are proportion and portion. Meat and cheese and fat are good for us in small amounts. Tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, mushrooms and olives are good for us, but we probably need to eat larger amounts of the vegetables than the meats and cheeses. I suspect that the meat/cheese to vegetable ratio on most of the pizzas I eat are reversed from where they should be to truly be healthy. I don’t know what to do with the crust at this point, but since bread has become such a bad thing in pop-diets, I’m guessing it falls into the “too much of a good thing” category. It’s a proportion issue. The other problem with pizza–and it’s more my problem than the pizza’s–is portion. I can and have put down a lot of pizza at one time. I start eating and I can’t stop.
I think some things in American popular Christianity are spiritual pizzas–some imbalances in the ratios and real problems if consumed to excess. I think that MercyMe’s song “Flawless” is a good example. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/9b/5c/11/9b5c1127287783ef30b8c016e60720bf.jpg
The theology of the song lyrics is typical of a particular approach to grace and salvation. It says that people are incapable of saving themselves through their own efforts no matter how hard we try. The singer refers to himself as a “wretch.” The theology quite self-consciously evokes John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and the song quotes both the lyrics and melodyJulia Johnston’s “Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord.” (BTW, in the old 1976 Baptist Hymnal I sang from growing up, these songs were right next to each other and often sung as a medley). God’s grace is understood as God’s willingness to forgive us though we do not deserve it. Grace is unearned favor. This is meat and cheese theological interpretation of the cross: because Jesus died on the cross for our sins God no longer counts our sins against us. We are flawless.
I believe this to be true. Indeed, when it comes time for me to leave this earth, I believe I will step out into eternity on this promise. Lately I’ve been using the benediction from the end of Jude where it declares that Christ is able to “keep you from falling and present you before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Yet, like the pizza analogy I believe we disproportionately emphasize the cross as the locus of our forgiveness and neglect the “vegetables.” The cross is also our model for how to live. Those who receive Christ must take up their cross and follow Christ. We are called to have the mind of Christ who was “obedient unto death, even death on the cross.” This interpretation of the cross is often missing or insufficiently expressed in popular Christian spirituality–Contemporary Christian music, literature and preaching. Like the vegetables on a pizza, it’s there, but there needs to be a lot more of it to be considered healthy.
I believe the video to this song–which I enjoyed–has a theological “flaw.” In the video, various people who have aspects of their lives that some might regard as flaws are shown–a child with autism, two children with down syndrome, a woman who has been unable to grow hair since she was a child, a woman born without a right arm. Along with these people some of the other characters are identified with things we might more readily consider sin–an out of balance worklife, failing to be a spiritual leader in the home, a past full of regrets. And the song’s lyrics are quite explictly about our status as sinners saved by grace. I have made the mistake of viewing personal sins/spiritual shortcomings and physical/biological characteristics in the same light. But, we should not do that. As Christians we cannot imply that illnesses or physical characteristics that create challenges are on par with sin. It’s too easy to go from that to suggesting that they result from sin. I get where MercyMe is going. In the eyes of God, the child with down syndrome is flawless and our own perspective needs to adjust to see others with the eyes of God. That’s a good message, but I think it’s a message for a different song and a different video.
Even though I think “Flawless” is spiritual pizza, I really like pizza–and I really like that pizza. So, maybe I’ll have a slice, eat in moderation, and be sure to have a healthier salad along with it.