Conventional Thinking: Gatsby and the Gospel
”The Great Gatsby,” a movie based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, earned more than $50 million in its opening weekend. What a fitting wad of cash Americans spent on this movie, which is based on the 1920s fictional tale of “Jay Gatsby.”
Movie reviewers say that while much of the film’s dialogue is based on the original novel, the underlying message of the book is different. While Fitzgerald’s aim was to decry decadence in America, the new modern movie seems to revel in the parties and affluence.
It comes as no surprise that our society would misinterpret such a message and further entrench materialistic attitudes in the minds of movie goers. If only such attitudes were limited strictly to the box office on Saturday evenings, we might still be OK as a country. Unfortunately, many pulpits throughout the country are preaching a similar message on Sunday mornings.
It is no longer just the televangelists who preach the gospel of prosperity. Traces of materialism can be found in the most mundane churches. Fortunately, Oklahoma Baptists have been largely spared from this move. Other denominations and faith groups, however, have been less fortunate.
People desire Heaven too soon, as author John Piper has stated, and the true Gospel gives way to a health and wealth motivational message. What evidence of this is there? A recent George Barna survey found that 72 percent of Americans believe that people are blessed by God “so that they can enjoy life as much as possible.” Another element showed that Americans believe that God “helps those who help themselves.”
Let’s also follow the money trail. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). While giving to charities is up, giving to churches is down. Moreover, among the most popular Christian booksellers are titles like Your Best Life Now.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ strongest “woes” in the Sermon on the Mount were reserved for the rich. While most people do not self-identify as being wealthy, a non-biased survey of history and worldwide landscape shows that the ordinary American is wealthy by any standard of measure.
It should come as no surprise that Christians would be tempted to seek temporal well-being. Who among us would not want good schools for our children and a trip to Disneyland? Yet the uncritical embrace of the “American Dream,” I am afraid has opened up believers to a love of money. And we all know what the Bible says about the love of money.
We Christians are very good at recognizing the shamefulness of sexual sin and dishonesty and cowardice. It can be harder to detect, however, the sin of greed.
What, then, is the cure for our modern materialism? As with most problems, our Christian forefathers would tell us we must return to our first-love, Jesus and follow His humble example (Eph. 5:1). We must be generous to others and spartan on ourselves. We must pray God would keep the love of money far from us (Eccl. 5:10). And we must remember to store up treasures in heaven, not Earth (Matt. 6:20).
In doing so, we may not have the momentary thrills of a Gatsby-style party or lavish living. Yet, we know that eventually the party music stops, and each of us must face the hour of judgment as we step into eternity and stand before Christ.
Until that time, may God help us to be faithful with each dollar He entrusts us. After all, the integrity of our Gospel witness depends on it.