Christ-Centered or Christ-Haunted?

by Andy Wood on February 23, 2009

in Consumers, LV Alter-egos

This just in – apparently the Bible Belt is still buckled.  That according to a recent Gallup survey, as reported by World Net Daily.  Americans are still largely religious, but some states have more than others.  The Gallup telephone poll of 355,334 adults asked the question, “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”  Nationwide, 65% said yes.

But in the Deep South, my ancestral home, the numbers are much higher.  Mississippians and Alabamians lead the list, with 85% and 82%, respectively, answering yes to Mr. Gallup.  You can find your state by the color-coded categories below.  The darker the green, the higher the response.  Some states have a very religious culture, while others are decidedly secular.


Wow.  There you have it.  And all this time I thought we were in a state of massive decline and increasing irrelevance.   With nearly two-thirds of Americans turning the pages while we say “Amen,” I guess we can invest in those church bonds after all.

Sorry.  Don’t mean to rain on the celebration, but I don’t think I’m buyin’.  Not in the secular belts.  Not in the Bible Belt, either.

Maybe we have different definitions of “religion.”

Maybe we have different interpretations of “important.”

Maybe, Mr. Clinton, we have different definitions of what “is” is.

Has the “Cultural Christ” Replaced the Real One?

Providence UMC, Near the Family Farm in Alabama

Providence UMC, Near the Family Farm in Alabama

Flannery O’Connor, Southern writer and devout Roman Catholic, once said,

“By and large, people in the South still conceive of humanity in theological terms. While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

That pierces my four-wheel-drive-six-pack-and-the-Good-Lord gut.  I grew up in a culture, and still live in one in my adopted West Texas home that, like O’Connor’s, saw a Christian-saturated region often devoid of real Christians.  Like one guy said of Flannery’s home state, “You couldn’t find much of Christ in her Georgia, but it sure looked like He had been there once.”

Pastor Bob St. John adds:

I have realized that though the Lord has the same name in our churches, He is not necessarily the same person. It is the ‘cultural Christ’ that has replaced the real Christ in our communities.  People may talk of ‘going to church,’ ‘baptisms,’ ‘fillings,’ ‘preaching,’ ‘revivals’ and ‘asking Jesus into their heart,’ but it is more often than not a sham, a fake, a plastic substitute for the real thing.”

I am, well, haunted by that image.  I know the lingo, I get the culture.  And I can fake it with the best of them.  But I’ve tasted and seen that the real deal is good.  I don’t want to be Christ-haunted.  I want to be Christ-centered.  Christ-filled.  Christ-shaped.

Signs of a Christ-haunted Life

church-signPeople who are Christ-haunted are interested without being integrated.  Dogged by the sense that there must be more, they’re like the people Chuck Swindoll once called “the rabble.”  They are fascinated by spiritual things.  They like to hang out with spiritual people.  But they themselves aren’t spiritual.  To them Jesus is an object of fascination, like a character on a stage.  But they never quite get into the play.

Christ-haunted people are afflicted by Jesus, but not deeply affected by Him.  They are disturbed by Jesus, but never delivered.  Plagued by a sadness that comes from knowing the world is a hard place, they never quite find the relief of discovering a joy of the Lord that is our strength.  They are mystified by words of Christ like, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”  They celebrate “getting their toes stomped on” by the preacher as a good thing, hopefully to be repeated next week, if it’s convenient for them to be there.

Cultural Christianity is surrounded by fleeting “images” (ghosts) and “appearances” (apparitions) of Christ, but would hardly recognize Him if He walked in the room.  Jesus is an icon in this visually adorned religion that has a form of godliness, but no power.  The key word here is “form.”  It’s all about the appearance.

In the Christ-haunted world, Jesus comes for intrusive visits, but always seems to leave.  He’s the ghost in “Holy Ghost.”  He’s revival meetings, camp testimonies, or other friendly-but-necessary intrusions into our psyche or schedule.  Such visits are sometimes scripted, and sometimes not.  The possibility of such an interruption is always assumed, but the residents do everything they can to keep life as comfortable and normal as possible.

In a Christ-haunted environment, there’s a whole lotta watching going on.  Like the silent long-dead observer, Jesus comes to watch over us.  Sometimes it’s a friendly Casper-style.  Other times it’s a veiled threat – something along the lines of that Bellamy Brothers song, “Jesus is Coming, and Boy is He Pissed.”  But always between us, there is this veil.  We’re here and alive; He’s there and here, but dead.  Except on Easter.

For the Christ-haunted, Jesus and all He represents is reduced to a habit.  A set of rituals or rules, routinely practiced.  Just as we haunt the Dairy Queen or Aunt Hattie’s restaurant for lunch, or the high school stadium our fall Friday night ritual, we make Jesus-related things the subject of our routines as well.  We find great comfort in these things.  The songs, the smells, the smiles, the familiar sights and feels.  These add great meaning to us.  They help define who we are, and we usually respond poorly when somebody disrupts them.  Even Jesus.

An old Homer ‘n’ Jethro parody of “I Fall to Pieces” (I know, I know… I’m haunted by a few things myself) says:

We fall to pieces,
Each time we see girls walk by.
We still chase women,
But can’t remember why.

They were women-haunted.  Jesus-haunted people do the same with Jesus.

You don’t have to live in the South to be Christ-haunted.  If you’re born ‘n’ raised there, we just give you a proper head start.  But the ghost of Jesus-past can show up anywhere.

Any heart where there’s a disconnect between religion and relationship.

Any life with the 18-inch gap between the head and the heart.

Anywhere that somebody says that “religion is an important part of my daily life” and the results of that look like – well, this.

Compare that to this:

Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!  (Philippians 3:8-11, NLT)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Daddy February 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm

The people at Providence have cut the big oak tree that shows in the picture as well as a number of trees that could possibly fall onto the building in a storm. It really does look bare without it.

Good post.

Andy Wood February 23, 2009 at 10:26 pm

That’s sad. That was a beautiful tree. Is NOTHING sacred any more?

Mattie February 23, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Andy, as someone who lives in the Bible-belt’s eastern end, I can totally see the Christ-haunted each day. It’s sad. Full churches of people doing religion right by dying churches of the same vein. The only difference is often music and big screen projectors. Shoot…I teach at a Christian school! Talk about cultural Christianity! The reality of Jesus, living and active in his church, seems like a fable from long ago in many places. Haunted, indeed. We seem to go through the motions for some kind of “fire insurance”, or to get some kind of magic favor on us. Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity” is a great take on the phenomenon. Sad is what it is.

Makes you understand why Jesus wondered if He’d find faith on the earth when he returns.

will hapeman February 23, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Do the dark green states have lower murder rates? Divorce rates? foreclosure, bankruptcy? Anything to show for the better? If your state was accused of being Christian would there be enough evidence to convict it?

will hapemans last blog post..Nathan, David’s Judo Instructor

Andy Wood February 24, 2009 at 12:00 am

Matt – I look at all those things and recognize on some days, I’m the solution, and on other days, I’m the problem. I just pray that somehow the people in our influence won’t be inoculated by us against the real deal of knowing Christ.

Andy Wood February 24, 2009 at 12:03 am

Will – My point exactly. I thought about mounting up statistics to back this up – like, in Texas two out of five marriages end in divorce for unbelievers, while THREE in five Christians divorce. In addition to the issues you listed, I could add things like mental illness, church splits, theft/scandal, charitable giving rates. No doubt about it – we can talk it. Not so sure about the walking part.

Mattie February 24, 2009 at 6:42 am

Andy, I am continually convicted and reminded of just how short I fall of the mark daily. I pray that I’ll be Christ filled vs. Christ haunted.

Carrie February 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm

great post, dad!

Carries last blog post..Elephants Never Forget

Lucien Rathmann March 3, 2012 at 12:26 am

Simply wanna comment on few general things, The website style and design is perfect, the articles is real wonderful :D.

John M. Crowe May 22, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Given the decline of church attendance since Flannery O’Conner’s day, Christ haunted may a have become an occasional Christ dream with fewer fans and even fewer followers.

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