Testa-Mint Theology at Duke University

Last week a story broke out about an incoming freshman at Duke University refusing to read a text, “Fun Home”, that had been assigned to him because he found it to be immoral. The book in question was a graphic novel with instances the student found to be pornographic and with LGBTQ themes. I found his defense at the Washington Post to be eloquent and well though out. I agree that those who are in Christ should flee from any immorality, including/especially pornography, and I would not choose to read “Fun Home” for my own personal entertainment.

In his reasoning for opting out of the assignment the student argued that there is an inherent difference between images and ideas, which I disagree with. The student in his argument kept saying that the graphic novel was immoral and I inferred that by reading the assignment, pornographic or not, he felt that he’d be spoiled. That somehow the immorality would get on him and it would force him into becoming immoral.

I applaud his decision and his standing his ground, I don’t know if I would have had the courage at his age to do that, but I disagree with the theology and reasoning that brought him to his decision. Let’s call it Testa-Mint theology.

Have you ever heard of Testa-mints? They’re Christian breath mints for when you’re suffering from a real bad case of halitosis or unbridled rage, and, anyways, Altoids will fork your tongue real quick. Also they come in assorted flavors! Next time you’re at the local Christian bookstore purchasing a Christian book with a Christian bookmark and, for good measure, a Christian CD these Christian mints should be available at the Christian register.

When I first moved to California I noticed a bunch – and by bunch what I mean is “on every single car in the church parking lot” – of bumper stickers that were just four letters: NOTW. So I asked my buddy Ken, “Hey man, what’s that about?”

“Not of this world.”

“Oh. That makes sense the ‘T’ looks like a cross.”

“Yep.”

Because Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion prayed that his followers would be “in the world, but not of it.” Or, something like that. Forgive my snark and hyperbole, but ever since Jesus prayed that his followers be not of this world we’ve been trying to one up him by not even being in the world.

That first generation of Christians thought that Jesus was coming back on Thursday and so had little concern about getting the hell out of dodge because they weren’t long for this world. So, they preached the Gospel with urgency and cared for the needy amongst them because the clock was ticking. But when Thursday passed and Jesus hadn’t returned what were they to do? Become monks, I guess.

Sorry, I just condensed two millennia of church history poorly to serve my own means, but, we do this (see: Testa-mints).

Christians have historically have had one of three responses to “The World”:

  1. Baptize it: Let’s put a cross on the armor of the Roman centurians and conquer the world; or, if we elect the right president he’ll return us to our Christian roots.
  2. Escape it: See no evil, hear no evil, right? Let’s go out to the desert, brew some beer, wear some robes.
  3. What Jesus actually told us to do.

The first impulse to not being of the world is for the more industrious of Christians, I call it: “Put A Bird On It!” Theology.

Growing up we listened to Christian radio and I can definitely recall an advertismet for the station that said: “If you like the Spice Girls, you’ll definitely like the Point of Grace.” The thought being that for Christian to be in the world but not of it all they have to is put a cross on the world. If there’s a cross or Jesus-fish on their business card that makes their work Christian.

But a cobbler is not a Christian cobbler if she nails a cross to the heel of every shoe she cobbles, a cobbler is a Christian cobbler if she cobbles excellent shoes. Full stop.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12.1

In attempting to baptise the empire, our “Put A Bird On It!” theology insulates us from the world. Leading to the second, and in my opinion, easiest response to The World – “Testa-Mint Theology.”

Testa-Mint Theology is when we label the wolrd as secular and separate ourselves from it. It’s what the student at Duke did. That Thing, be it graphic novel or song or movie or breath mint, is immoral so I will not imbibe because I’ll be tainted if I do. This mindset has two false assumptions. 1) I am moral and inherently good. Bad is exterior to me and working against me. Satan made me do it. Or, 2) I’m amoral, neutral and my conscience clear. Good and Bad are exterior to me. I’m defined only by my actions.

But at the core of Christian belief is the idea that “there is none righteous, no not one… All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one.” Or, “There is no one on earth who does good, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Jesus, when they called him good, said, “No one is good – except God alone.

I do applaud the student at Duke for fleeing from evil except I think he wrongly diagnosed where the evil was. The graphic novel, though it may be well… graphic, is not immoral. It is ink and paper, inanimate and unable to have a moral persuasion. Immorality is a strictly human disposition.

Though, as one who believes in the supernatural, I do believe amoral images (and ideas) can be used by the enemy to engage and enflame our broken sin natures and cause us to stumble and fall. That is why when Paul encourages Timothy to flee evil he says to flee his, Timothy’s, youthful passions.

So where does this leave the faithful Christian? Well… I suggest we do what Jesus told us to do on the eve of his crucifixion:

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. John 17.13-19

Our starting place is not in the world being sent out of it, rather, we are not of the world being sent into it. In fact, Jesus prays that the Father wouldn’t take us out of this world. This is the same Jesus who took his followers to Cesar Phillipi, a place of liscentious vice – all things go, what happens is CP stays in CP – and said that there he was building his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

We are not of this world but we are sent into it. It’s messy out there and I know we don’t want to get dirt on our hearts but too late, so let’s let the cross take care of cleaning up that mess and we can go where the Spirit leads us. And it might get hairy but go we must. Let’s stop putting birds on things and make good art, lets offer an Altoid to our neighbor – halitosis be damned!, and for God’s sake let’s storm the gates of Hell.

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Testa-Mint Theology at Duke University