Thursday, June 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Marketing the Gospel

***Originally posted May, 2008. Relevant here as Skye Jethani's The Divine Commodity and Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like have moved towards the top of my reading list. Though I still haven't read the book in this blog, unfortunately.***

As you wage battle in the Culture War, how do you arm yourself? This is an interesting question in an age of mass publicity, open hostility to Christianity, and an ever-increasing slippage in the morality of our society.

I spend a lot of time posting about politics as if that is the only front in the Culture War. But that’s not the case. It just happens that we’re in the midst of the election cycle, and there’s an endless supply of news relative to a Christian Worldview. However, I think too many “Evangelical” Christians believe that the Culture War should be fought in the political arena—Constitutional Amendments barring same-sex marriage, candidates pandering to the religious to gain votes, and so on. But there’s another disturbing trend in Evangelical circles, and that is trying to make Christianity marketable.

There’s an interesting book review over on Slate on “Rapture Ready!” a book describing the awkward marriage between Christianity and pop-culture. Since that’s a topic of great interest to me, this book has moved towards the top of my reading list. The review is right to point out that much of what passes for Christian pop-culture are just watered down rip-offs of what’s already available to the mass consumer. But the growth of this industry is tied to our commercial materialistic culture. Much of what is offered in this genre is meant to market the Gospel. While that’s not necessarily bad, what message does it send when the Gospel is presented as an inferior product? And what happens when the worldly materialism that we so try to avoid is overcome by materialism driven by a niche industry? Remember, they need to make money too.

And then there’s the faith that some Christians put in their pop-culture rather than in God alone. This can be seen in the home-schooling movement, but also can be related to our role as consumers. A coworker recently stated that the guy who opened Chick-fil-A is “cool” because he’s a Christian. No other reason given. Maybe no other reason is necessary. But I recall classmates in college who would devoutly eat Domino’s Pizza over any other brand because some of the profits would go towards Pro Life causes. I also remember a friend growing up whose record collection was filled with Stryper, Amy Grant, and Michael W Smith. And sadly, these were the only evidences of their faith.

Don’t get me wrong, none of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but we need to be careful what we put our faith in. We should certainly protect ourselves from the sin so prevalent in our culture, but I don’t believe that means we should create our own culture separate from the rest of the world. After all, how can we be the salt of the earth, if we refuse to interact within the world? That’s a fine line, granted, but at the same time a line that’s drawn differently for each and every Christian. I look to what Paul wrote in Romans 14 as a great example of how we should live as Christians in a multi-cultural society. "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." (Rom 14:1) Paul, in fact, quoted contemporary works to relate to others in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor 15:33, and Tit 1:12.

I don’t know if I fit in the mold of who the Christian marketplace is gearing their product towards. I love Quentin Tarantino movies, but find myself uncomfortable with the language and glorified violence. I consider Animal House classic cinema, but I would only watch the version edited for cable. Others would avoid these movies all together and might even call me a heathen. I accept that and I’m not about to invite a group of brothers over to watch something if I’m not sure they won’t struggle because of it (I did that once, and don’t intend to ever repeat it).

On the flipside, I used to avoid Christian Rock because I couldn’t stand the inferior production, the cheesy lyrics, and the self-righteous pious image projected by that industry. I’d much rather listen to Metallica than Stryper. But then someone pointed out to me that people who watch pornography don’t watch it because of the production value, they watch it because of the content. And I began to listen with a more open mind. There’s still some artists and songs I can’t tolerate, but I often find myself listening to either the Christian pop/rock station on XM or Air1 and being encouraged by songs praising my Lord or singing words of encouragement in a difficult, sinful world. For me, it’s become about the content, not the production. It’s about edification, not marketability. Yet I don’t expect every Christian to share my tastes.

So am I a “Christian consumer”? I don’t have cable, but I’m not going to judge someone who does. I wrestle with placing my children in the public school system. I play poker, watch R-rated movies and listen to rock music. I don’t own anything that says “WWJD” or have a Jesus-fish on my car. I watch Veggie Tales with my kids, and am building up a pretty large playlist of Christian music on my portable XM player. I own about a half-dozen Bibles and read secular comic books. I don’t shop conscious of where profits might be going or go out of my way to give my patronage to Christian businesses. I have trouble relating to the Evangelical “culture” as described in the above book, yet I have deep and strong convictions about the Greatest Commandment and about repenting of the sin in my heart that shows itself not as much by my actions, but through my character.

And yet here I am, just another Christian posting in the blogosphere. Maybe I relate more than I thought? Maybe I am buying what they're selling.

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