The problem is not where the Gospel goes, but what form it takes. Jesus certainly did take his message to the centers of economic influence. When he got there, however, he didn’t open a booth.
Rob Vaughn is a professional wrestler and a Christian. He recently founded the Christian Wrestling Federation. Vaughn hopes to attract young people to his events and present the Gospel to them through wrestling. The CWF looks just like World Wrestling Entertainment, only without the profanity and sex. Don’t worry though—the violence is still there.
“Christianitee” is a line of Christian golfwear that offers 10 “tasteful” Christian-themed golf logos for embroidery on sportswear, totes and towels. The logos are promoted as a fun way to witness to your faith on the links. Popular slogans include, “Fore Him,” “Stay the Course,” “In God’s Grips,” “Jesus the Slice of Life,” “Get Hooked on Jesus,” “Jesus Replaces God’s Divots” and “Fairway to Heaven.” I wonder if they call double bogies demonic.
Combining lessons learned in the health food business and lessons from the Bible, Tom Ciola markets “Biblical nutrition” products for Christians. These products contain the “seven foods that God singled out as being important” in Deuteronomy. These include wheat, barley, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.
The ingredients are combined and packaged as “Bible Bar.” Ciola boasts that his product can provide “both nutritional and spiritual benefits.” But does it taste heavenly?
And this is my personal favorite. Southern Baptists in Pennsylvania are about to purchase Gobbler’s Knob. This 93-acre tract of woodland is best known as the habitat for Punxatawney Phil, the famous weather-predicting groundhog, or so the legend goes. The Baptist group plans to establish a church on part of the property and develop the rest into a church camp and resort area.
The group plans to continue the annual Groundhog Day observance. Even though Baptists consider the whole event a pagan celebration, they plan to use the observance as an opportunity to evangelize. Groundhog Day is mostly harmless they say—not unlike Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And we all know how much these guys have helped the faith.
If asked, all these promoters would tell us that taking the Gospel into the marketplace is a legitimate effort. They would remind us that Jesus spent a good bit of his time in the marketplace. And in this they would be correct.
But the problem is not where the Gospel goes, but what form it takes. Jesus certainly did take his message to the centers of economic influence. When he got there, however, he didn’t open a booth. In fact, in one dramatic instance, he turned the tables on religious profiteers.
Of course, in order for there to be a market for this approach, there must be people out there who are buying, or least buying into this stuff. Who are they?
Sadly, many evangelicals are particularly susceptible to this strange brand of faith marketing. The reason why, very simply, is that they no longer draw their character from the life of the church. Instead, they look to pop culture, sports and of course politics for their identity. Because they want so much to influence culture, even win over culture, they become like culture—maybe even indistinguishable from it.
This much seems obvious: Relying on Punxatawney Phil or some sweaty wrestling match to deliver the message demonstrates something terribly lacking among the faithful. If Jesus were here today, instead of asking his disciples who people think he is, he might be asking them if they have any idea who they are.
James Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).