Thursday, January 03, 2008

Got Jesus? Good for you... now will you please stop trying to sell him?

Let me preface this by saying that I have no problem with evangelism. In fact, while I have little either politically or theological with the vast sea of humanity carelessly labeled "Evangelicals," I still identify myself as an evangelical Christian. I am someone who has had an experience of God as revealed through the person of Jesus, and seek to share that experience with others. That's the most basic description of an evangelical Christian I can think of. I don't go around trying to convert people to my religion, but neither am I afraid or ashamed to share my faith with anyone who is interested.

But... If I see one more attempt to pass my savior off as some capitalistic commodity, I just might start burning things.

On the way home from running errands this afternoon, I passed a church with a simple message on its sign for the new year:

Try Jesus This Year

It reminded me far too much of other such careless attempts at anonymous evangelism. Everywhere I turn I see bumper stickers like:

Got Jesus? or

Jesus is the Answer.

Amateur evangelists have sales pitches as polished as the most professional of telemarketers, with a one-size fits all message aimed at placing their product in as many homes as possible. The way such slick campaigns are commoditize religion, I wouldn't be surprised to see a sign or sticker beckoning me to

Test Drive Jesus Today,

or offering me

Salvation: Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Your Money Back.

The problem with modeling evangelism on the highly effective slick advertising campaigns of our culture - aside from the fact that such campaigns are by nature manipulative and misleading, if not outright dishonest - is that it offers what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace, packaging Jesus as some product to be tried, with minimal investment on your part.

The same Jesus who the Gospel of Mark records as saying

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

is now being offered in a convenient free trial (or trial-free?) form.

The same Jesus who Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as bidding us come and die is now a non-threatening, non-challenging, commodity. Some possession or potential possession, cheap and easy to acquire.

G.K. Chesterton said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, as I know a few atheists who would honestly beg to differ, having devoted themselves to the discipline of the Christian faith, only to be left cold and lonely. But his words should be kept in mind by those who sell Christ and Christianity as a product. The Christian faith - like any religion - is not a commodity. Jesus Christ can be neither bought nor possessed. And salvation - whatever one believes about grace - isn't just given away without any investment on the part of the one to be saved.

The Christian like involves discipline, devotion. It involves faith - by which I mean a great deal more than just believing and being able to articulate a few propositions concerning God. It involves one's entire being taking God as reveal through Jesus as what Paul Tillich called one's "ultimate concern." It means relinquishing all concerns with one's immediate self-interest, subordinating one's will to an experience, a revelation, of God.

This is probably not news to most of the readers of this blog. But it must be news to the masses here in the Bible who peddle Jesus like a product, advertising from the lawns of their church or the bumpers of their cars. And so to those masses, who no doubt stopped listening to me long ago, I beg you (this time literally) in the name of all that is holy:

Please stop trying to sell me Jesus!

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