Hallowe’en is fast approaching so our family watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the story: Linus spends Hallowe’en in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin (GP). The GP is a Santa Claus-ish figure that appears only in the most “sincere” pumpkin patches. He rewards children who believe in him with presents. Everyone chides Linus for believing. Linus retorts, “If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you! Oh no! I said ‘if.’ I meant ‘when!’–when the Great Pumpkin comes!” Linus chastises himself as such a lapse of faith could mean the GP will pass him by. Linus misses trick-or-treating and a Hallowe’en party proving himself. Despite his die-hard sincerity the GP never comes. Linus falls asleep and spends the night shivering, his teeth chattering like dancing skeletons.
Linus’s GP devotion reminded me of some versions of Christianity. Like the GP, God is a rumored phantom. He may show up, He may not. Whether or not He shows up all depends on your behavior. If you measure up and do everything you’ve heard you’re supposed to, He’ll bring you a prize. But don’t let a doubt cross your mind or an ‘if’ darken your lips. God will leave you out in the cold.
Linus Christianity infects the church in countless ways. How many times have we heard revival will only come if we do this or that? Or that revival won’t come because of what we’re doing or not doing? (Gal. 3:1-5). How many books promise a spiritual breakthrough if we do what the author prescribes? How often do we say or imply that God will love us more if our behavior improves?
Real faith isn’t about white-knuckling it to win a prize. It isn’t about convincing yourself to trust a flighty, temperamental being. It’s not about plunging off a behavioral tightrope because of one misstep. Real faith is grounded in a God who gave His best gift–His only Son–when we were still failures (Rom. 5:8). We don’t believe so that God will give. We believe because He gave. Since this was His idea from the beginning of time, we might say God showed up before we were waiting in this proverbial pumpkin patch called earth (Acts 2:23; Rev. 13:8).
Don’t buy into Linus Christianity, regardless of how hard its proponents pound their pulpits. It is cartoon theology, and Linus’s friends were right to laugh at it.