On Sunday I watched 'Make Me a Christian' on Channel 4. I fully expected it to be dreadful, and the opening few minutes were not promising. The narrator introduced us to Britain's broken society, highlighting the fact that the Christian values on which Britain was built have been largely forgotten. Thus far, accurate analysis: decline in values leads to decline in society. But then the premise of the series was introduced: an experiment to see whether re-introducing Christian values could re-vitalise British society. At this point, I was sure the series would be terrible, because 'Christian values' cannot be disassociated from a Christian worldview, Christian religion, Christian relationships - in short, from a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. How were the programme's producers planning to introduce Christian values without these things?
I have to say, though, that things got better from there. The four Christian 'mentors' did seem to be genuine Christians. The Vicar was a little liberal for my taste; the Priest was a little Roman Catholic for me; and the two evangelicals were a bit fundamentalist - but I am hard to please. On the whole, their message seemed good: the guy leading the team acknowledged that what was needed was 'real Christianity', and a relationship with Jesus. Encouraging. It was clearly stated that the message of Christianity was primarily that Jesus came to save us from sin. Great.
The mentors then spent the programme highlighting people's sins, without at any point directing them to Christ. They set up rules and regimes to deal with those sins, without ever explaining the gospel.
In fairness, I have no idea how well this programme was edited - perhaps there was much more useful stuff being said which ended up being cut. But on the whole, my impression was that the Christianity on offer was a lifestyle, and frankly not a wholly attractive lifestyle. The impression was that Christianity was a long set of 'thou shalt nots'. Shame. Hopefully they'll get onto Jesus next week.
But even if they do, there is a more fundamental problem. Christianity was not designed to fix social problems, family problems or personal problems, although it may help to do all of those things. It was designed to fix our relationship with God. The programme operated within a human-centred framework, where God could be wheeled in to help us out, rather than a God-centred framework, where our lives and very existence revolve around the God who made us. Consequently, the idea of sin presented revolved around particular human acts rather than the general rebellion against God that sits in every human heart.
If only they had started with Christ. If only they had defined sin more carefully.
Still, interested to see where the experiment goes in future weeks...