May 4, 2009

Gimmicks or Gospel?

Tickets to see a Christian comedian. An invitation to a pizza blast. A Jesus slinky. All opportunities I got in the mail in recent days. In the next few days I will probably get two or three conference invitations, a flyer advertising a seminar on how to incorporate art into our worship service, and not a few glossy handbills with headshots of cool-looking guys with goatees who want to speak to our youth group! Maybe some of these folks will be in it for the money that is to be made off evangelical event-planning. But many of them will be sincere people who want to help our church ‘take the next step’, reach more people, become more effective, and so on.
I’m tempted to buy in. After all, I like pizza. And I want the church to grow. And I have been recently growing a little facial hair of my own! But I can’t help but wonder what the earliest Christians would have thought of all our lights, cameras, and action. They spread like wildfire all over the known world – within a single generation – with none of the marketing strategies and religious techniques that we employ.

It’s not that there were no clever people back then. It’s not that the secular world didn’t have gimmicks in the first century, the same as they do today. It’s just that, somehow, the early Christians decided that Christianity was much simpler than all that. Not because the faith is unsophisticated or backwoods; but because the gospel of Jesus (lived and preached in a biblical manner) is so powerful. Do you see? It’s not that the early Christians would have called a youth pizza blast sinful. It’s just that they didn’t need such things.

They didn’t need gimmicks to keep people’s attention. The idea that there is a heaven, a hell, a “Judge of all the earth”, and a “propitiation for our sins” was enough to keep the culture’s eyes wide open (and sometimes their hands on their swords). The gospel didn’t need any help. Nor does it today.

Imagine a football game. Some teams, who know that they are far out-talented (say Akron taking on Ohio State), resort to trick plays – fake punts, onside kicks, flee-flickers, and so on. And sometimes Akron’s gimmick plays may work. But watch Ohio State in the same game. They don’t fake punts and field goals when they play Akron. They don’t have to throw halfback passes. Why? Because the talent on the field is so far superior to that of Akron that all they have to do is line up with a simple game plan, execute it, and watch the scoreboard light up in their favor.

Now I ask you … which is the gospel? Akron or OSU? Is the gospel so overmatched by modern culture (by TV, internet, and modern attention spans) that it has to resort to gimmicks in order to be effective? Or is the gospel is so powerful that Christians can just go to work or school or the public park, living it and sharing a simple faith, and expect to see results?

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