In many Western countries, the name most associated with the word “Christian” (other than Jesus) is not Billy Graham or the pope; rather, it is Ned Flanders.
If you’ve seen The Simpsons, you’ve likely seen their perfect, born-again, Evangelical, Christian neighbour, Ned Flanders. The Flanders’ perfect household is very much contrasted to that of the realistically dysfunctional Simpsons household. Before I became a Christian, Ned Flanders is how I viewed Christianity. I more identified with Bart Simpson than Ned Flanders.
Before you read the rest of this article, I want to make it clear that I am not boycotting The Simpsons. Although I haven’t watched an episode in quite awhile, I still think it is a funny cartoon & I am aware of the fact that is a fictional show.
It is my view that Ned Flanders Christianity is a bad worldview for both Christians & non-Christians.
Bad Worldview For Christians
The Flanders household wasn’t getting drunk, getting high, getting in trouble, watching R rated movies, listening to sinful music, not cussing, and not having sex outside of marriage. They prayed, read The Bible, went to church every Sunday, told their neighbours about God, and are always happy. They’re perfect.
The problem with Ned Flanders for Christians is that we begin to think that good moral living is what pleases God. We see his morally good lifestyle & realise that we’re not living like that. When we’re upset, we don’t always say “hi-diddly-ho!” The solution? Become more moral so God will be happy!
We somehow buy into the idea that God is pleased with a morally good life. If we are good then God will love us. That’s “religion” and not “Gospel.”
The Gospel says that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make Him love you less. We are not justified by works, but by faith. You don’t save yourself with morally good actions.
If someone does manage to live the perfect Ned Flanders Christian lifestyle, they will soon become judgemental and prideful because they’re living a more moral life than the other people they know (which is still possible for non-Christians to assert about Christians as well). This is also wrong because God opposes the proud (James 4:6) & says to not to judge or you will also be judged (Matthew 7:1).
You can live the Ned Flanders Christian lifestyle, but you could still be far off from God. Christianity is not a list of do-and-don’ts; rather, it is a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, Jesus. Yes we seek to live holy lives, but not so that we may make ourselves right with God; rather, God came to Earth to make us right with Him.
Bad Worldview For Non-Christians
The problem comes when non-Christians see the Ned Flanders Christianity and think that all Christians are out to live morally perfect lives. Then the non-Christian meets a real Christian and finds that they’re not like Ned Flanders but more like Homer Simpson!
A recent study has found that “The majority of British people believe religion is not more likely to make you a moral person. More than 55% of those surveyed said that atheists are just as likely to be moral people than religious people.”
Matt Chandler says, “If your view of Christianity is that Christians are people who live by this strict moral code, then you’re going to think all Christians are hypocrites, because you’re going to come across them and find out if you get close enough to them that they all fall short of that moral ideal, either blatantly or in secret. . . that stirs some animosity in your heart towards Christianity, because you begin to view it as judgmental and harsh. And you’ll feel judged, even if you’re not being judged.”
If a non-Christian looks at the Christian life as merely a strict moral code & thinks that they have to become Ned Flanders to be a Christian, it will of course turn many away.
It’s not really God & the Gospel they’re rejecting, it’s moralistic religious hypocrisy that they object to (and rightfully so). Church is not for morally perfect people, it is always open to the dysfunctional person who feels like they’ve got nothing to offer God besides a messy life.
Ned Flanders Christianity is bad for Christians because we’re not trying to please God by living a seemingly perfect moral life; God is more concerned with your heart towards Him. Seeking to be “religious” in this sense leaves a lot of room for pride and judgementalism as well as despair when we don’t live like Flanders.
Ned Flanders Christianity is bad for non-Christians because they may feel judged by hypocritical Christians. It could also lead to a sense of pride that they’re more moral than the “religious” people they know. This will leave them rejecting Christianity, not because of Christ, but because of so-called “Christians.” This would be a tragedy because it is a huge misunderstanding about the Gospel.
– Tyson Bradley