Over at Mike Cope’s blog the other day, Mike got after the Christians – well meaning, no doubt – who post dumb stuff on billboards, attribute it to Jesus or God, and think they’re helping to usher in the kingdom of God with their incomparable cleverness. Stuff like, “I miss hearing you say, ‘Merry Christmas’ -Jesus.” In this case, as often happens at his blog, the comment thread quickly divided into two camps: those who agree with Mike’s protest, and those who defend the billboards on the basis that we’ve got to be bold and fearless with our faith (talk about a non sequitur!), and if even one person is caused to think about making a decision for Christ as a result of seeing the billboard, then it was worth the effort, etc.
Mike then gave another example of the same kind of phenomenon:
Here’s another example of whiny Christian expression:
This week Brit Hume suggested on Fox News that Tiger Woods needs to become a Christian because Buddhism doesn’t offer forgiveness. After criticism came that proselytizing isn’t really the job of a news anchor, he hid under the we-Christians-are-so-persecuted subterfuge with this: Whenever you mention the name of Jesus all hell breaks loose.
Right on cue, all hell broke loose – right there, in the comments. Same two camps, same old piont of contention. qb then wrote, exasperatedly:
…we have a deep problem with our street cred precisely because of incidents like this, and because of the patronizingly indignant posture we take when we think we’ve been misunderstood because of those incidents. Shouting pious platitudes (”Jesus saves!” “Read the Scriptures and you’ll see!”) at the culture doesn’t change the culture; it hardens the culture.
qb is not ashamed of the gospel; he’s ashamed of the enculturated church, which has adopted the twin strategies so characteristic of our culture: (a) an ear-grating shrillness adopted from our culture’s political “discourse” (such as it is), and (b) a consumerist posture toward our mission, which blunts the hard edge of self-sacrifice that is the essence of agape. By adopting those strategies, we give our game away: we do not believe what we say we believe about the way the Spirit works in the world to further God’s eternal purposes. We parade our piety before the pagans (e. g., “See You at the Pole”) as if to say: “Y’all don’t believe we will stand our ground in your secular culture, but here’s some in-your-face, front-page, above-the-fold proof that we will, and by the way, why don’t you join us at church next Sunday?”
That’s not clear enough, though. Whoever reads qb’s comment will probably misunderstand him. So, as luck would have it, this morning’s venture into N. T. Wright’s RSG provided fodder for developing the idea further.
See, we’re terribly insecure. The American Christian is insecure. About our faith and our destiny.
We look around at a dying world, and despite the occasional, fleeting glimpse of glory, we see the statistics and the trends, we see our nation spiraling inexorably into the abyss, and we conclude – tacitly, lest we be numbered with the infidels – that the church doesn’t really have the goods after all. Of course, we dare not admit it openly, but we suspect it’s true. The church ain’t gettin’ ‘er done…or worse, God is asleep in the back of the boat, blissfully unaware of us shouting at him, “we perish! we perish!”
We’re probably pretty accurate to that piont. Our problem is that our diagnosis is wrong.
We think the problem is that we’re losing our influence; we haven’t been bold enough; we haven’t been fearless enough in our preaching; we don’t get out there enough and stand for what we believe in. “If we don’t stand for something – anti-abortionism, anti-promiscuity, whatever – we’ll fall for anything,” we say. “It’s past time to stand up and be counted.” “We need to be speaking in a way the culture finds relevant.”
If the diagnosis is wrong, then only a freak accident or a divine miracle will make our therapy the right one. But in the normal case, any therapeutic strategy that follows logically from a poor diagnosis will be the wrong one, too. Here’s what we do, borrowing idea after idea from the surrounding culture:
1. We borrow from Sam Walton. We build massive, “one-stop-shop” facilities that are visible for miles around, preferably out in the suburbs where the community’s growth is occurring. “Maybe if we get out there in the developing areas before they do,” we think, “perhaps they’ll run into us.”
2. We borrow from Wall Street. We recruit handsome, articulate, young, “dynamic” champions, and we vest them with unchallenged executive authority to “cast vision,” assemble big “ministry” staffs, and “serve” as the church’s public face and voice, with the expectation that numerical growth will be the inevitable result – and that it will confirm the hand of God on our church. We give this man a big expense account in the form of “walking-around money” – the church’s debit card – which he can then use at the local Pei Wei to pick up the tab for that big group of beautiful, influential people over there in the corner. How generous he is (with the parishioners’ hard-earned tithes)!
(All things considered, perhaps the church’s money would be better used buying Emperor Dimmesdale some actual clothes.)
3. We borrow from Wall Street again. We set aside big chunks of our revenue stream and invest them in glossy brochures, glitzy web sites, and ubiquitous postcards and billboards and marketing materials of all kinds – with the CEO’s name featured prominently somewhere on them – and we classify all of it in our budgets as a “ministry” of our “outreach” to the community.
4. We borrow from Hollywood, Nashville, Silicon Valley, and Starbucks. We set aside another big chunk of our revenue and invest it in an hour or two of high-octane “worship,” complete with the most sophisticated lighting and sound systems, colors, spots, camera angles, motion, effects of all kinds, and we justify it all on the basis of its relevance to the culture. “Gotta reach out to them in a language they understand,” we say. Libraries? That is SOOO yesterday. Bookstores! Latte and biscotti! HDTVs on every wall!
5. We borrow from Gallup and the MBA programs. We stratify our communities according to the latest demographic techniques, and we find that we’ve got to catch the professionals’ families early in their careers, so we tailor our church’s programs to make sure we catch their eyes. (And their credit cards.)
6. We borrow from Oprah and Dr. Phil. Enough about those quaint ideas like Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, kenosis, and the way of the Cross! What we need is to preach the gospel of fulfilling our potential, living victoriously, achieving our goals. (Sin? Yeah, we’re guilty of it, but a two-week sermon series will remind us that Jesus has taken care of all that inconvenient stuff. Now, back to what really matters…personal growth and blessing!)
7. We borrow from Capitol Hill. Programs and policies: the more of this good stuff we can automate or systematize, the better off we’ll be, the more folks will come to depend on us, and the more resources we can devote to #1 and #4.
8. We borrow from K Street. After all, it’s all about influence. (That’s why we went with #2!) So we do a Prayer Breakfast at the Civic Center with a nationally renowned speaker, and we schmooze over egg casserole and dark roast with a thousand or so of our closest friends, pressing the flesh with the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce. And we call our naive adolescents together for a newspaper photo op, kneeling around the high-school flagpole in “intercession” for the community.
Yeah, we’re insecure. What does any of that have to do with Jesus, Calvary, and the indwelling Spirit?