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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 new book, “Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact Culture and Others Don’t” 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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19 Comments

  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 victory.com 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
    http://www.allenpaulweaveriii.com

  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. 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…

  6. 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.

    Best,

    HJ 

  7. 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…   🙂 

  8. 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 http://www.godandscience.org.  I'm on the discussion forum there as Canuckster1127.

  9. 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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