Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Driving the Marketplace Out of American Christianity

A handful of people were directed to a recent post on Christian retailing after doing searches for "gospel golf balls" or something similar. The LA Times article linked to in that post quotes Alan Wolfe, a non-Christian sociologist who has done a lot of research about American evangelism. When asked what he thinks the proliferation of Christianized products reveals, Wolfe replied, " "It's as if they're saying the task of bringing people to Jesus is too hard, so let's retreat into a fortress."

The above searches in combination with the fact that just last week someone offered me a fish-shaped "Scripture Mint" prompted me to link to this interview of Wolfe by Russell Moore on a recent broadcast of the Albert Mohler Program (HT: Justin Taylor) in which Wolfe had more indicting commentary about Christian retailing. It's painful listening because so much of what he offers as reasons for the mass production of so-called evangelistic merchandise is true.

I think there's another reason behind the impulse to stamp a Scripture verse on every imaginable object. In large part we have an anemic doctrine of creation. Our conviction that God is the maker of heaven and earth should be evidenced in more ways than ongoing debates with evolutionists. Certainly, there's a need for such apologetic activity but the doctrine of creation, like all biblical doctrines, is not given primarily for the purpose of our defending it but for our living it.

How do we live the doctrine of creation? By affirming along with God that his creation, though cursed on account of humanity's rebellion, is still good and is given to us to richly enjoy with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4; 6:17). As Michael Wittmer says in his book, Heaven is a Place on Earth:

Because we know that this creation is the good gift of God, we are not only permitted but encouraged to enjoy it as is. Unlike those who think that worldly objects are somehow enhanced by stamping Scripture verses on them, Christians who understand the goodness of this world celebrate the freedom to enjoy God's creation as is. We no longer need to sanitize secular items with our sanctified slogans to make them suitable for Christian consumption....In fact, our feeble attempts at baptizing creation tend to cheapen both it and the gospel (p. 66-67).
If believers really grasped this, many Christian businesses would go belly up and perhaps Christian "bookstores" would become bookstores again.

By the way, if you'd like a concentrated dose of the kind of creation- and gospel-trivializing merchandise Wittmer refers to, the Ship of Fools' collection of Gadgets for God is hard to beat. Among their current list of top-ten products is a lanyard and cap designed to convert your iPod Shuffle into a cross. Click the picture for their description and ordering information.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Bravo. I'd never thought of it that way. I get sick walking by Christian bookstores.