The Gospel According to Trolls, Part I: Christianity as the New Pharisaism

Trolls movie teaches gospel progressive christianity

I think the movie Trolls does an excellent job of communicating one really key aspect to the Gospel (aka, the "good news" that Jesus was grounded in and taught about).

Let me explain...

I grew up in a religious environment that was, in many ways, the "Christian" version of 1st century Palestinian Pharisaic Judaism.

What does that mean?

Well, I think Jesus was motivated--in his mission to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven--to push back against the Pharisee's vision for Jewish renewal. It's far more complex and nuanced than can be summarized in one sentence, but if I were to try anyway, here's how I might describe the Pharisees way of thinking:

"If we can get enough (and hopefully, all!) of our fellow Israelites to live according to the purity codes of the priestly class, then Yahweh would finally put an end to our exile, free us from Roman occupation, and lead us once again!"

This is why in the Gospels you read of so many clashes between the Pharisees and Jesus, specifically over following the Law (or, in some cases like Matthew 15, not even the Law, but the tradition handed down by the elders as a supplements to the Law). The Pharisees were trying to impose a priestly view of the world on to the people, and Jesus had some real problems with that view. It was a view that clearly divided all manner of people and things in to clean and unclean. In order to be in the presence of God, one had to be clean (or "holy," meaning "set apart"). To be defiled or contaminated (see Matthew 15) ruined your set-apartness, rendering you un-holy, which ultimately threatened your standing with God.

Too many people unholy/defiled/separated from God?
That was exile. What helped get the Israelites in hot water.
So their vision was to get people back in alignment with God, via meticulous observance of the Law/Tradition.

Consider the Pharisaical Holiness Logic:

Doing the right things (i.e., following the Law/Tradition) = Clean
Clean = Holy
Holy = able to be in God's presence
God's Presence = End of exile and experiencing the Life of the Ages

This sort of Logic was something Jesus didn't agree with. That a person could be unclean or defiled in a way that separated them from God. And yet, Christianity over time eventually established its own Holiness Logic eerily similar to the Pharisees. We just took out the "clean" language... well, kind of, I guess we still managed to squeeze it in various metaphors. But by and large, we didn't explicitly talk about being ritually clean or unclean. We absolutely did, though, speak in terms of holiness being a product of doing the right things (or, more often than not, avoiding doing certain things: playing cards, listening to secular music, drinking or smoking, cussing, etc).

Observe the Christian Holiness Logic:

Doing the right things (i.e., not "sinning") = Holy
Holy = Able to be in God's presence
God's Presence = Heaven (after we die); blessings or a good life (before we die)

That sort of holiness logic plays out in two ways.

On a meta level, Jesus has often been seen as the Lamb that takes away the Sins of the World, who's sacrifice on the cross makes us clean/holy in the eyes of God. ("What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"). Each Christian tradition/denomination, then, has their own process or mechanism for how people can be "washed by the blood," made clean and able to be in God's presence. Whether it's baptism, or taking the Eucharist, or confessing sins or saying a prayer asking Jesus in to your heart, there have become all sorts of ways that we've developed to apply the meta-level of becoming holy, allowing us to be in God's presence (which we mostly talked about in terms of after-you-die, but occasionally we'd talk about this-life, too).

On a more micro level, the Christian tradition has also talked about the ways in which doing things (or not doing things) can then impact a person's holiness--their standing with God and/or the ability to be in God's presence. This type of holiness (often referred to as "sanctification", with the above meta-level being talked about as "justification') now says to the person, "sure, yes, you've jumped through the appropriate hoop so that you can be in God's presence on a meta-level (especially after you die), but now there are choices every day you must make to ensure that you stay in God's presence. If you commit sins, you become unclean again, and have to confess/repent/be forgiven."

Does any of this sound familiar?
Did you have similar messaging in your home? School? Church?

One of the main things Jesus seemed against (the Pharisees view of holiness, and that people can be separated from God) has tragically been repackaged in his name. So that many "Christians" now also believe that a person can be separated from God and must do a particular thing (or series of things) to make it right.

Okay, that’s probably enough for this first post.

Come back for Part II, because we need to talk more about this whole “Holiness Logic” thing.

Because I think it’s really messed up.

And seriously, thank God for Trolls.
(We’ll get there. I promise. In the meantime, enjoy this…)

p.s. if you HAVEN’T yet seen Trolls, please remedy that. It’s fantastic!