Tag Archives: Christianity Today

Lowering the Upper Case in Evangelical

It would seem almost to be a minor detail. All of a sudden the word Evangelical has become lower cased. Evangelical is now diversified into evangelicals. Once it was a reference to the Billy Graham Evangelical. The NeoEvangelicals, to be exact. Fundamentalists who interacted with society and loved the poor. Now it’s become evangelicals, meaning anyone with enough media pull, a big enough church, or a book on the New York Times bestseller list. Thus evangelicals are those who Christianity Today says they are. Or the National Association of Evangelicals. Or the National Religious Broadcasters. Sigh. This still doesn’t answer the question. The question of who claims to speak for evangelicals doesn’t answer the question of who they are.

Let’s face facts. Evangelicals have long been using opinion polls, government and private statistics to form their identity. Why do we do this? For umph, for pull, and yes for power. But let’s ask what polls cannot do. They cannot with any real determination define us as humans. If the central tenet of evangelicalism is belief in a Personal God who loves and relates to each part of humanity without bias, then why are evangelicals so concerned with power as a group and maintaining the distinct market grouping known as evangelical? Why do we take advantage of every wind of change in order to broker power? If, as Chuck Colson says, there is a changing of the guard going on, I pray the next guard sees through the power game and begins a divestment from it and a focus on people and creation.

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marketing, CT, and nice Jesus

I applaud Mark Galli’s warnings about marketing in the church, that Jesus didn’t say “you shall be my marketers to the ends of the earth”, but I wonder whether as with so many important messages, evangelicals are good at moralizing without real intention to change. Galli speaks honestly in the first few sentences:

“Marketing is a wonderful thing. I like to hear pitches about products I might use. I like the fact that my publishers pitch my books to a larger public. Thank God for marketing!”

But lets look at where the rubber meets the road. Will Christianity Today be toning down its own marketing tactics anytime soon? It represents one of the largest Christian marketing businesses in America. Is the message here keep business and church separate? CT walks the fine line between growing subscribers by saying things people want to hear, and speaking the truth and offending readers. Of course because the staff mean to stay in business and keep the paychecks coming they’re going to vote to do what they deem necessary to stay in business. I don’t want to get anymore specific than this.

I just want to point out that, while Galli’s remarks are poignant and mirror a lot of the buzz in Mainline churches now, evangelicals still love their educated upper middle class lifestyles. So don’t worry, the market schlock will continue to keep coming. You’ll still get your “felt need” gospel fix.

And while I’m on this rant I can’t help but share a few words from David Jeremiah’s latest book, Signs of Life: Back to the Basics of Authentic Christianity.

“Lots of people in the world don’t like religion in general or Christianity (or Christians) in particular, but it’s hard to find anyone who has any­thing bad to say about Jesus. What could they say? Jesus was kind humble, wise, strong, sacrificial, gentle, and willing to associate with everyone. There is no record anywhere of Him doing anything un­toward or unkind. Even when He spoke or acted forcefully, people agreed that His actions were needed and justified (Matthew 23: 1-39: John 2:13-16).

The only people in the Bible who didn’t like Jesus were those who were jealous of His popularity with the common people. These people sensed something good in Jesus. He was the kind of person anyone would have loved to hang out with, to use our modern language; He was the kind of person anyone would want as a friend. Women were touched by His kindness, men were amazed at His strength, and children found comfort and love in His arms. While there were lots of day-to-day reasons to be attracted to Jesus, something He did for His disciples on the night before His crucifixion has come to define who He was: a humble servant.” (pg. 162-163)

Awww, that’s so sweet. Men were amazed at His strength, I guess because he did feats of strength to amaze them. I quote this passage because I want to point out a felt-need message that is heard day in and day out in Christian America. One that I’ve too often heard as part of the larger message which I thought acceptable. Jesus was and is a nice savior. The only reason anyone would have to reject him is that they just don’t know how nice he can be.

Trouble is, this is not the Jesus of the Bible! It’s Jesus in a self-actualized image, not unlike the Jesus for Schliermacher’s cultured religion despisers. Evangelicals are one up on European liberals in that they claim not to be religious at all! Some even claim to hate religion. Whatever. The jesus nobody could reject doesn’t get himself crucified. He gets himself elected to the White House.

I would invite you to take Mark Galli’s article seriously by turning off Christian radio when it sends messages like this, treating Christian merchandise as you would secular, and all around desacralizing this kind of nice crap by exposing it wherever you find it. Go back to the Jesus of the Bible who cursed the fig tree for no apparent reason, who almost got tossed off a cliff by residents of his home town, and was begged to leave by the town of the demoniac man when he single handedly destroyed their pig farming livelihood.

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