The 'R' Word

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, May 21, 2012

The 'R' Word

Nutella is a chocolatey hazelnut spread that you can buy at the grocery store next to things like peanut butter or jelly. It would be difficult to confuse it with anything but what it is – a high-calorie, but great-tasting, spread.

Yet Ferrero, the company that manufactures Nutella, settled a $3 million lawsuit filed last February by a San Diego mom who believed Nutella was a great dietary choice for her four-year-old daughter. Claiming the company’s advertising was misleading, she sued.

It’s hard to know where to begin.

Nutella didn’t make her buy this, much less eat it.

Any adult, and certainly a mother caring for a four-year-old, should read the label before feeding anything to a child.

Yes, false advertising should be criminalized, but sometimes I think so should a lack of common sense.

But Nutella is not alone. McDonald’s was sued by someone who was shocked (shocked!) that chicken McNuggets and frosty shakes were fattening. While thrown out, a man in Brazil did win $17,500 because he gained 65 pounds over 12 years by eating Big Macs.

(What, exactly, did he think was going to happen?)

This is all part of a wider victim mentality that puts the blame for anything and everything in our life on to someone or something else.

Fat? Blame McDonalds, not the fact I went through the drive-thru 30 times last year, much less that I didn’t read any nutrition labels (or failed to exercise).

Debt? Blame the ease of credit cards and no-interest financing, not my lack of financial planning or buying sprees.

Children out of control? It’s obviously the school system, along with the media. The neighbors on our street aren’t that great, either. It’s certainly not my parenting!

Let’s face it. The ultimate obscenity, the most profane word in the English vocabulary, the one personal epithet that cannot be hurled, is the “R” word.


This cultural default mode bleeds over into moral and spiritual matters as well. Despite the fact that the Bible reminds us that to say we have no sin is to live in self-deception (1 John 1:8), we refuse to claim responsibility for the state of our character, much less our souls.

This is why the Christian divorce rate is not markedly different than those who are not professing Christians.

This is why young Christian singles have sex before marriage at about the same rate as those who are also single but not Christian (80 percent).

This is why as many as one out of every four Christians have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married.

This is why Christians rank as high, if not higher, than any other group in regard to viewing pornography. Why should we be living any differently than anyone else in the world when we are not answerable for our lives?

It’s been a three-stage fall.

First, we understood that we were sinners.

Then we convinced ourselves that we were only mistakers.

Now we are obsessed with the idea of being little more than victims.

The spiritual dilemma is that until we return to an understanding of being sinners, fully accountable to a holy God, we will never be able to drink from the well of forgiveness. Namely because we will never imagine needing to. But only when our thirst is slaked by grace can we move forward into a life that has been truly redeemed and restored. Because grace, unless cheapened beyond recognition and value, demands one thing:

Taking responsibility.

James Emery White



“Nutella is Not Broccoli,” Rebecca Stropoli, The Exchange, Friday, April 27, 2012. Read online.

Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

“Why young Christians aren’t waiting anymore,” John Blake, CNN, September 27, 2011. Read online.

“(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It,” Tyler Charles, Relevant, September/October 2011. Read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The 'R' Word