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How Offensive Should We Be?

In recent months, both Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times have reported the Christian faith is taking a beating. I grew up as a pastor’s kid in the South, so I’ve seen every gimmick churches use to reach the public. As a Christian community we’ve tried entertainment, political power, criticism and boycotts, and yet we find that today, the perception of Christianity is at an all time low. The problem is we live in a media-driven culture, and most pastors and ministry leaders have no idea how to share their message in that sea of competition.

In my book, “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” I explain that “Branding” is essentially a compelling story that surrounds a product or company, and corporate giants like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks have built powerful brands that tell persuasive stories about their products. But the truth is, it was Christianity that invented the principles we now call branding. But today, Christians are rapidly losing our ability to share their story in a compelling way. As a result, the church continues to slide into cultural irrelevance.

Lately I’m reading Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957). She was one of the famous “Inklings” – the group of writers at Oxford that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In her book, Letters to the Diminished Church, she writes:

“First, I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming with no offense to it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented as to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger.”

In our present day efforts not to offend, I wonder if that’s taken some of the distinctiveness out of our faith. Granted, most of the people Jesus offended were the religious folks. When Jesus was confronted by sinners or the suffering, he was far more tender and gracious. He saved his most fiery volleys for the hypocritical types within the church.

Also, understand that when I talk about offending, I don’t mean for stupid reasons. Wildly colored hair, focusing on money, Jesus junk product offers, cheesy, out of date approaches and styles – no one has the right to be stupid in their presentation of the Christian faith. I’ll fight against bad hair and gold furniture on Christian TV until the day I die.

What I’m talking about here is presenting the reality of the Christian faith. One of the great memories I have of Billy Graham’s messages is his constantly preaching, “The Bible says…” as if to say, “These aren’t my rules, they come from a higher source than me.”

But today, we hear pastors try everything in their arsenal to defend a point of doctrine without even actually using the scriptures. We think the audience will “relate” to it better, when it may actually be positioning the Christian faith as just another “lifestyle choice,” and not the raging fire that transformed the Western world.

I wonder in our well intentioned desire to embrace the culture, if we’re losing the very heart of the greatest story ever told? Are we trying so hard to be hip and contemporary, we’ve lost sight of the fact that the Christian faith is compelling, not because it’s nice, cool, or positive, but simply because it’s true.

I think if we really believed that, it would dramatically change the way we present the Christian message.

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  1. Wowh, quite a post, Phil.  Ms. Sayers really sums it all up in a nut shell quite nicely with a sting.  Everything from II Tim 3:3 & 3:12 to II Tim. 4:1 to II Ptr. 3:3, indicates in rather strong language that we Christians will not be well-liked especially in the last days.  Paul and Peter are basically telling us if we are doing anything that amounts to much for God, expect persecution…this computes to "not popular" with a low perception by the world. 

    As you have indicated, Peter and Paul instruct to just "preach the Word" but don't get weird.  "Weird" is a word up for discussion…people have different ideas of what weird is.  Maybe pink hair and gold furniture turns you off but maybe balding with a shortened mullet and sculpted facial hair is strange to others.(?) 🙂

    I don't know what church circles you frequent but they must not fall into the places I attend regularly…if you don't have a Bible open in your lap, you're out of place.  Your last two paragraphs bring us back to what we, as the church, should be really doing.  And I have to agree with you that there are those churches who in trying to reach the culture, preach and teach a very watered down Gospel that the world doesn't often even recognize as Gospel. 

    Perhaps you are right.  On the one side we have a semblance of the Christian church that so compromises their message that any Gospel is lost because we don't want to offend anyone.  On the other side, I see a very strong church that is truely preaching the Word/scripture and souls are really getting saved.  And they are making an impact on their city and community.  One such church is Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  You can go to and see the results of their "labors."  They are preaching a compelling message of the "greatest story every told."  There are many, many other churches doing likewise…we need more. 



  2. Great post, I am tired of hearing people on TV talk about everything but how to get to Heaven-Thru Jesus! I finally saw a good program on TBN tonight…the creation show, that was really cool! Great job TBN in broadcasting some truth!

  3. “I wonder in our well intentioned desire to embrace the culture, if we’re losing the very heart of the greatest story ever told?” – You said a lot right here, Phil. – When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was The One. John knew he was (after all he baptized him), but he was at a seriously low point in prison and desperately needed some confirmation. Jesus’ response to his disciples is, “Tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” ((The Amplified says [And blessed (happy, fortunate and to be envied) is he who takes no offense at Me and finds no cause for stumbling in or through Me and is not hindered from seeing the Truth.] Matthew 11:1-6)) Jesus presented a very distinct message followed by very distinct actions – and then told those who believed in Him to spread the same message and do the same things all over the world. Our presentation should be well put together and we should be able to relate to others. But let us not place our faith in our polished relations. Our current society lives and breathes by this motivation. Jesus makes it clear that we need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through us in order to be His witnesses to others. As I look around at modern day, American Christianity – in this global media culture focused on image – I see environments where more attention is placed on technique, technology and delivery than on the power of Christ. As good as technology is for bringing information and drawing the global community together in shared experiences,(and as much as I love television, movies, internet, video games and other tech advances) ultimately, it is the power and presence of Christ living within us as Believers that truly causes us to be both distinct from the culture and yet attractive to individuals within various aspects of society.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  4. I attended VCC many times myself when I was a student at ORU in the early 80's.  They met in the Mabee Center back then.

  5. "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power…"
    I Thess 1:5


    I think one of the biggest problems we have as a Christian community is our lack of power. God's power will get the world's attention without us having to say much at all! 

    When all the world hears is talk…whether they relate to what we are saying or not, it means very little without a demonstration of God's power in our churches, programs, and our individual lives.  We must walk in that power in order to love the world, overcome our personal demons, and live in a way that will influence others. If and when we do that, people will notice us and the doors will be open to share our faith in a compelling way. 

  6. I just finished Blue Like Jazz, and I found Donald's experience at Reed College fascinating. He met all of the aggressive and strung-out students on their level, with no agenda other than to love them. He didn't set out to purposefully "save" them, he just wanted to show the love that Christ exhibited while he was on this earth. If more Christians started doing that instead of arguing doctrine and telling people what they should and should not do, you might see a shift in cultural perceptions of Christians. Just a thought.

  7. Sue and Weaver, I am glad to hear those of like precious faith.  As you both have said, we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to be an effective witness.  Acts 10:38 says that "Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power…went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed…"  Jesus, also tells us that "greater works will we do."  Some do not believe in the anointed power that produces the gifts of the Spirit, ie., healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and interpretation…"the signs that follow those who believe."  Acts 1:8 also speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon us to be witnesses.  Smith Wigglesworth was one such man in the 20th Century.  He raised 23 people from the dead (documented).  He touched every continent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ with signs following.   Venues could not hold the crowds with standing room only and thousands turned away.  He lived a consecrated, holy life and would not read anything but the Bible, not even a newspaper.  He "lived and breathed" the Word of God.  He authored many books….actually most are his sermon compilations.  Everincreasing Faith is still in print and can be purchased on  I have worn out several copies and given away many.  Would that we all would be so committed to the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit and less to methods and "How can we make this more appealing and palatable to men." 

  8. Dear Brothers & Sisters,

    Here are two posts dealing with Christian truths so hard, they offend.. Nevertheless, these two stories have great truths speaking to the collosal problems of modern Christianity, which is the worship of escape vs. the enabling of indwelt Jesus in us, and honoring those who are so indwelt:

    .  The Parable of the Mark of 666


    Once there was a gospel recording artist who weighed 350 pounds.  In fact, he had such a spirit of gluttony that his body had been marked by God’s angels with a six, which is the number of fallen man.  Well, one day he read in the Book of Revelation about the mark of 666.  He wanted to know, what did it mean?


    So, he asked a proud lawyer, who was president of a Christian bible college.   But this man’s theology was actually so repulsive to God and so far from the Mind of Christ, that angels had marked that man’s soul with a six.


    The lawyer also didn’t know what the mark of 666 meant, so he asked a famous dispensational preacher.  Now this preacher was so hungry for gain, God’s angels had marked that man’s spirit with a six.  But unlike the other two men, this preacher thought he knew what the mark of 666 meant.


    The dispensational preacher said 666 was the number of the coming anti-christ.  Further, the preacher told his two friends he was becoming rich by spreading fear far and wide concerning such end-times subjects.


    This intrigued them all, so they decided to collaborate and share their talents.  As a team they made many television programs, books, movies and seminars about the expected disappearing of people who were ready to be raptured, the coming world war Armageddon battles, how to fear a dreadful anti-christ leader and especially how to avoid the one world mark of the beast. 


    Their work generated in their audiences great fear of the future, which they disregarded, and wealth for themselves which they didn’t.  Actually in their heart-of-hearts they didn’t believe in the rapture, because why charge for their material unless the royalties created storehouses of wealth for themselves?  They also didn’t really believe in end-of-the-earth Armageddon battles after the passage of time proved that wars come…and they go while the earth continues.  Neither did they fear a coming anti-christ because none of their predictions had ever been true, including dire prophecies about what technology would do with the numeral six.


    But after a while each of them received from God’s angels two more markings which they never had spiritual eyes to see.  With the marks, they could no longer buy truth.


    By the time they died they all had become rich, envied and entirely pleased with themselves.  But in hell they learned that their spirits, souls and bodies on earth had been marked by God’s angels with the number they knew nothing about:  666.


    The Sorry Televangelists – Once there was a famous televangelist who loved to preach escape Christianity.  Over his life his media ministry reached 120 nations, hundreds of millions of people and garnered several billion dollars in donations and product sales.  The televangelist loved to preach and write about the escape of the rapture, the escape of eternal security and the escape of Jesus’ imminent second return fixing everybody but the faithful escapists.  Then the preacher died and was told by heaven that his triune escapology doctrines had been wrong.  Jesus wanted to indwell responsible Christians, but this televangelist’s lifetime of efforts had impeded God’s kingdom of truth from coming on earth.  So since the televangelist had put himself first in Christianity all his life on earth, heaven put him dead last in heaven.  The televangelist was then, for the first time, sorry.  In fact, he was very sorry.  So for a thousand years he told everyone in heaven he was sorry.  After that, heaven told him to stop.  But the man still was sorry, and told everyone in heaven another thousand years that he was sorry.  Heaven again told him to stop.  But the man could not stop feeling sorry.  He did this for ten thousand years, until heaven realized he was actually in his own hell, and could not come out of it.  So as a mercy, heaven sent him to where he believed he belonged.  He went to hell and was extinguished in the lake of fire, because even with the gift of eternity, he could not stop being a sorry televangelist.  Many others like him had the same experience, and could not make anything of heaven but hell.  They were called the Sorry Televangelists.  Had they but once been sorry on earth for their monstrous deeds, they could have prevented themselves from filling heaven, and then hell with sorrow.  Only the lake of fire ended their misery.

  9. AmeriKan says the following about Smith Wigglesworth: "He lived a consecrated, holy life and would not read anything but the Bible, not even a newspaper."

    So does that mean that Christians who are informed about what is going on in the world, and who even have the audacity to read secular books and magazines and newspapers, are morally compromised, worldly people? Then presumably, people such as C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were spiritually lacking, because both men were very well educated. Their reading materials were not limited to the Bible, although they certainly read the Bible frequently.

    The premise contained in the aforementioned quotation is bogus at best. In fact, I would argue that such a premise is designed to encourage Christians to equate holiness with ignorance, in order to reduce their capacity to strongly influence the world with the gospel of Christ. (Satan would love that!) It was precisely because Lewis and Schaeffer were well read that they had such an impact on the world. One cannot refute the fallacies promoted by modern culture if one does not know what those fallacies are.

    If I had to be limited to just one book, then of course, I would choose the Bible. Fortunately, there is no need to make such a choice. I'm glad that it is possible to buy books about other subjects (such as how to operate a computer); otherwise, it's unlikely that I'd be able to enter this blog post or use the Internet, to name just one of the many skills which cannot be acquired by those who limit their reading materials to the Bible alone. (And just for the record, it is likely that one would never know about Smith Wigglesworth if it were not for books about the man! Yet, if one defined holiness as "avoidance of all reading materials other than the Bible", one would not be able to read such biographies.)

    As for Mr. Burke's thinly veiled attacks on the authors of the "Left Behind" series of books and movies, I think that those attacks are despicable. It is not enough for Burke to publicly express his disagreement with the doctrines on which those series are based. He further insists on implying that believers in premillenial dispensationalism are bound for hell. (That pretty much includes most members of the Assemblies of God church.)

    What unholy, unloving arrogance! Regardless of the merits of premillenial dispensationalism, it is not one's escatological beliefs which determine one's eternal destiny. It is faith in the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, and the atonement purchased for all believers on the cross of Calvary, which saves Christians from the fires of hell.

    Theology is important. I don't deny that. But the Bible does not say that unbelievers will know Christians by our impeccable theology. Rather, it says that we will be known by our love for one another. In that respect, Mr. Burke is sadly and pathetically lacking in the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

  10. M. Pettigrew, in mentioning about S. Wigglesworth's life, these were reports of those who knew him best.  I, personally, do not advocate Bible reading only.  I just find it interesting that this man was so focused on the Lord and scripture and prayer that he was able to accomplish all that he did in his life….more than most of us could only dream of.  As much as there is out there in print and on the internet, I do believe it behooves us all to be selective with what we feast our eyes on and read.  It could easily produce "moral compromise."

  11. Ben Stein has placed this in an excellent way. Now this is a great way to show how faith is lived in life. Now this being offensive for the right thing in the right way.I am watching this movie on DVD unless it gets distributed in cinemas here in the UK (but the UK is so behind and just love being old and conservative – so fearful).

  12. I think that one of the reasons that Christianity has gotten a (very mild, truth be told) thumping lately is because its loudest proponents <i>are</i> already so offensive.  At the same time, mainstreaming doesn't mean "being offensive."  The new surge of atheism, of which I partake happily, is not offensive, it's earnest and it's an honest expression of how these people see the world.  Of course, we don't recognize what you consdier the source of your moral authority, and that might be considered irksome to you, but it is in much the same way that non-theists feel when they are branded as "intrinisically immoral" or "without moral guidance", which of course it hooey.  I'm a pretty good guy.  i give to charity and help people because it's nice, not because it will get me any accolades or brownie points with the Supreme Diety.

    When you say that Christianity is "under attack" you need to keep some perspective.  Anyone who stated that they were not a Christian would have no chance of, say, winning a presidential race, or quite possibly winning an election.  Of course, there is nothing more dangerous than feeling wronged and "knowing" that God is on your side.  You can justify anything.  The rise in visiblity of atheism dsoesn't necessatrily mean a decline in Christianity.  It's just that some atheists are no longer afraid, or even slightly hesitant, about stating what they believe.


  13. Very well said Bing, and thanks for contributing. I totally agree with you that when our leading voices are offensive, it damages our perception. And I also agree that when we discuss the faith with someone who doesn't place moral authority in the Bible, we need to be able to speak in a language they understand with reference points they relate to. I do have issues with the strident (perhaps hysterical?) style Dawkins, Dennet, and Harris use, and the intellectually shallow nature of many of their arguments. But this is an important conversation, and I appreciate you jumping in…

  14. Dennett, I have found is supremely reasonable, in my opinion.  His "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" is a stunning read.  His Breaking the Spell…it's been a while, but I don't remember being shocked.  I think that both Dawkins and Harris try, though I think that Dawkins in en route to becoming an Ayn Rand-ish, but the boy has the scientific chops to back it up.  If I had to summarize The God Delusion, it would be: If there is a god who interacts with the world/universe in a meaningful way, you are making a scientific claim (floating a hypothesis) about the nature of reality that can be tested and should be measurable or at least observable objectively.   Whatever you think about how Dawkins dresses up the argument for publication, that is the gauntlet he throws down. He rejects the notion that god's influence is immune from scientific (measurable and objective) scrutiny because, well, it's supposed to be in the real world, which is all science vouches (or can vouch) for.  The atheists, mind you are only claiming that the world is there, nothing extraordinary.  The theists' claim is that there is some intelligent force behind the universe is a pretty majestic claim, and it requires, by the standards of science, majestic evidence.  Indeed, it would have to be more miraculous and inexplicable for there NOT to be a god(s).  One verifiable observable miracle would be enough to shake Dawkins–and me–out of the atheist tree. (Even then, however, he'd still want to know HOW God did it!)

    Anyway, I would recommend that one errs on the side of diplomatic engagement.   Also, honestly, nobody who reads this site regularly wants to visit mine.  That's fair warning.



  15. Agree again on many of your points.  The central premise is science.  Can the creator of the universe be verified scientifically?  Can he be contained in the framework of what we understand is "verifiable"?  My biggest issues with Dawkins aren't scientific, but what happens when he moves into theology.  For such an excellent scientist, he seems to toss a lot of rigorous method out the window and replaces it with opinion, diatribe, and exaggeration.  I understand his attempts to create a buzz to sell books, but it does seem to undermine what he's trying to say about reason, Truth, and science.  The Harris problem is just shallow scholarship.  He casually tosses out 2,000 years of Christian thought as if it didn't matter, or as if he's the first person who thought of this stuff…  

    By the way – I checked out your site and you seem to be closer to atheists of an earlier generation.  They wanted to be heard and respected and weren't so interested in the mean streak we see in many public atheists today.  Your site also reminds me of something I struggle with as well – trying to create that "buzz" I spoke about by balancing cheap shots and ridicule, with reasoned discussion of the issues.  It's tough when we're trying to improve our readership…   🙂 

  16. I help to moderate the discussion forum of an Old Earth Creationist site hosted by Rich Deem, that deals with many of these type of issues, especially reconciling the Bible and Science where possible.

    If anyone is interested, and Phil doesn't mind me making the plug, it can be found at  I'm on the discussion forum there as Canuckster1127.

  17. Because It’s Not In Fancy Words Or Speeches, It’s In Showing Physical Concern And Compassion To Those In Need. And In So Doing, You Become “Sons And Daughters Of The Most High”….Jus Saying…<3'n Jesus,k.

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