If I didn’t know better, I would suppose that Crossway Books, the patron of the Gospel Coalition, is a subsidiary of McDonald’s. Here is the connection. McDonald’s has for a limited time made available Fish McBites and this offering just happens to coincide with the transition from Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday, and will be available through March. As one news story has it, “Brian Irwin, director of marketing for McDonald’s USA, told the Associated Press that research revealed parents want the seafood option. In keeping with its 2011 campaign to give customers a healthier choice, Irwin said the Fish McBites give parents another selection to choose from.” The reporter added that, “The poppable fish-bites will float on participating McDonald’s menus though March to coincide with the season of Lent.”
So where is the Gospel Coalition? Well, today the blog posted two items recommending Lent to is gospel allies. One says this:
Lent strikes many Protestants as the exclusive domain of Roman Catholics, but this season can serve any Christian as a unique time of preparation and repentance as we anticipate the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the Christian calendar, Lent (from Latin, meaning “fortieth”) is the 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday. (Sundays aren’t counted, but generally set aside as days of renewal and celebration—”mini-Easters” of sorts.) Whatever you might think about popular practices, “Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives,” Kendal Haug and Will Walker observe.
The editors of the blog at TGC also dug up a recommendation of Lent from Chuck Colson. He identifies five virtues: 1) searching the depths of our sin; 2) considering the sincerity of our fellowship; 3) reflecting on our mortality; 4) more opportunities for charity; and 5) preparation to celebrate Easter. Colson concludes:
And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life’s basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don’t forget—Easter is coming!
Strikingly absent from these recommendations are any of the older Protestant warnings about church calendars and liberty of conscience or about the devotional assumptions that lay behind the practice of Lent for Roman Catholics. Here is one explanation of Lent’s meaning for Roman Catholic readers:
Though we were created lovingly by God to enjoy the goods of the earth, these goods can consume us, and even become the object of sinful pride, as our first parents in the garden demonstrated. By temporarily renouncing these goods through fasting, we willingly suffer their absence in our flesh as a way to attack sin.
Fasting hurts us, but, like the pain brought about from physical exercise, it is supposed to hurt us. And like exercise, the more pain we endure for God, the more we gain in spiritual rewards.
The desert, then, is the place for Lent not only because it represents the pain and consequences of sin, but also because it is a place of abstinence from the fruits of the earth. When we spiritually withdraw to the desert, its emptiness reminds us that the goods of the earth ultimately cannot satisfy us.
As much as I appreciate Rome’s attention to sin and its consequences — something that doesn’t come through when leaders speak of Christ’s self-sacrificial love as a model for social justice and the dignity of the human person — Lent has significance for Roman Catholics that it cannot have for Protestants. After all, Protestants don’t have a history of self-inflicted pain to merit spiritual rewards. If as the gospel allies would have it that Lent is to remind us of Christ, then we should also be reminded that nothing we do to attack sin can compare with what Christ accomplished in his own suffering and death. If Protestants deny themselves, it is part of sanctification, the mortification of the self, that comes daily and year round through the means of grace and the armor of God (Eph. 6). We don’t spend forty days a year denying self.
TGC’s mix-and-match piety, a dose of urban transformationalism from column A, a slice of Roman Catholic devotion from column B, and a dish of sweet (charismatic) and sour (Calvinist) conferences from column C is a undisciplined program by which to promote and defend the gospel. It is further evidence of why Protestantism needs confessional churches, not the parachurch agencies that pillage those those communions.