There’s a wall at my workplace we affectionately dubbed “The Wailing Wall.” Employees who find crazy, unbelievable and preposterous ads for Christian merchandise pin them to “The Wall.” Some of these ads we’ve seen are so outrageous you wouldn’t believe them even if you saw them with your own eyes.
We’re not talking WWJD bracelets and fish emblems for your car. These range from Jesus action figures, early Church fathers bobble head dolls, Angel Snot, NASCAR match-box cars called “Faith,” “Hope” and “Love” and even ads for Testa-Mints and “Scripture Candy,” just to name a few. I often shake my head in disbelief and think, No wonder the world doesn’t take Christians seriously.
I’ve always been fascinated by Jesus junk and have even taken steps to have a little fun with it at times. In college, my friends and I attempted a grassroots effort to start a “Cheesy Christian T-shirt Day” on campus. What fascinates me about Jesus junk is the effort that Christians go to market specific products they believe will “encourage and uplift other believers.” But what intrigues me is an unending and definitive question that looms in my mind: “Is all of this necessary?”
Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh by calling all of this “junk.” But I often wonder if anyone has ever grown closer to God by owning a bear who says his nighttime prayers or wearing a pair of sandals that leave behind “Jesus Loves You” footprints.
Is this the new-and-improved form of evangelism? Maybe this encourages some people in their walk with Christ—maybe even someone has become a Christian as a result of these products—but I have never met anyone like that, so I seriously doubt it.
Besides believing these items are a bit cheesy, I have a number of concerns about Jesus junk. Taking a look at Church history shows us what happened as a result of consumer Christianity. The Reformation was sparked because Martin Luther was upset at the abundance of iconoclasts (religious objects that cheapened Christianity) and indulgences (paying off your sins or the sins of loved ones by send a financial donation to the Church). Indulgences discarded the fact that we are saved by grace alone—not by money.
Martin Luther essentially encouraged everyone to get “back to the basics of the faith” and eliminate the superfluous activities that saturated the Church. How ironic is it that you can now buy a Martin Luther bobble head doll?
Jesus junk can also cheapen our relationship with Christ. It’s disheartening to see Jesus turned into some kind of superstar … or, worse yet, a consumer product to be obtained and bought. Again, the question looms, “Is all of this necessary?”
Most importantly, we must be careful of the tendency to follow the ways of the world. You’ve probably seen the Tommy Hilfiger Christian T-shirt rip-off that says, “Today He Forgives,” with similar font and design to the fashion giant’s logo. Unfortunately, the tendency within the Church has been to follow the trends or fads that are popular and imitate them. We see this in music, fashion, consumer products and more. Several centuries ago, the world viewed the Church as the leading thinkers and shapers of culture in the areas of art, music, literature, architecture, government and education. Now we are often seen as a group of people who can’t be taken seriously. What happened?
Some of you may be wondering: Is it “wrong,” for people to create consumer products with a Christian slant, seeing that Paul says he has “become all things to all people”? The issue is not an issue of right and wrong. Let me remind us all of the fact that the Gospel is attractive. And if the Gospel is so attractive, why do we have to go to great lengths to imitate the world in an attempt to make the gospel seem attractive, based on what the world says is “cool”?
Cultural relevance is of great importance, but let me encourage us all to strive to be the ones who influence cultural trends and not settle into following closely behind at the world’s heels. As Christians, we have the potential to be the leaders of culture in every area—education, business, politics, film and music—because we lead, not for the glory of man, but for the glory of God. Politicians in Washington D.C, businessmen and women in Wall Street, film writers, actors and actresses in Hollywood and others are impacting their world for Christ right where they are. But unfortunately, it’s all too rare.
The issue of relevance is important. Yes, let us be relevant, but at the same time let us also be different and unique as we flesh out the Gospel. What makes the Gospel so attractive is its distinctive nature. This article is not intended to bash Christian marketers or products, nor is it written by an expert on the topic. It’s written to encourage us all to strive to be Christ-followers and not merely culture-followers. If we have something so attractive and precious as the Gospel to offer the world, we don’t need to follow the trends and fads of the world to make it fresh and appealing.
If we want to effectively show the world the power of the Gospel, let’s encourage each other to live it rather than wear it or own it. Let’s make sure our focus is on loving God and loving others. When we begin to live out the Gospel, the world will begin to take notice that there is something different about us because of the way we live, not by the products we own or the clothes we wear.
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