Tag Archives: evangelism

Down With Evangelistic Art!

“When art is used as a tool for evangelism, it is often insincere and second-rate, devalued to the level of propaganda. I would call this a form of prostitution, a misuse of one’s talent.” — H.R. Rookmaaker 

Also see Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting.

American Christianity: Older and less educated

Click here to access a larger view of the following graphic from the Religion News Service, based on figures from the Pew 2007 Religious Landscape Survey.
American Christianity is aging and uneducated, according to this Religion News Service graphic and the Pew 2007 Religious Landscape Survey

A few thoughts spurred by the above graphic:

  • To expand your church, look for younger, uneducated people (see the “nothing in particular” circle).
  • Anglicans are smarter but older.
  • Ecstatic experience seems less likely among the educated.
  • Protestant evangelicals want to reach many people who are both better-educated and younger than they are.
  • On balance, Anglicans are better educated than atheists and agnostics.

Yep, your position as an entitled consumer trumps your position as a Christian who is told to love enemies. Your position as an American trumps your duty to “the least of these,” especially those at the border. Cover the cross … Continue reading

How to make your church more popular

I’m kicking myself — I’ve been completely oblivious to something right under my nose. Here’s my no-duh moment: Of course people who elevate casual and contemporary services are primarily concerned with numbers.

Membership. Attendance. Popularity.

It’s been called “social proof” by Dr. Robert Cialdini, psychologist and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. When other people like it, you should like it, too.

I think of it this way: In the non-rational zones of anyone’s emotions and social interactions, we can expect to find a sort of default formulation that looks something like this, if applied to local congregations:

What Will Draw And Keep People = Big Congregation = Status Of Success = Implicit Proof Of The Best Theology Or Doctrine Or Worship Style Or Order Of Service Or Sound System Or Pastoral Hair Gel Or Whatever The Leadership Deems Most Important To Get Butts In The Seats = It Worked!

People will think, “That church is so big — they must be right, and I’m left out. Honey, we should check that place out next Sunday.”

Novelty works for a while. Any retailer will tell you novelty is a great way to get people in the door. However, novelty only remains novel for so long. So congregants, like consumers, eventually look for a new novelty. How can anyone use Novelty 2.0 to compete when Novelty 3.0 is available in the same market?

Thus, church leadership continually finds itself in a state of cyclical exasperation: The leaders must fine-tune that which is not fine-tunable — meaning, human beings.

(In some churches, it means trying to fine-tune God’s Sovereignty, which is by definition impossible, so each effort in ministry can be likened to a hamster’s efforts to keep the wheel spinning in place. He won’t get anywhere, but he can look great by spinning it faster. I can’t know if I’m one of the Elect, so maybe if I can keep the wheel spinning — i.e., work hard at character — I can look like I might be Elect, and thereby ease my anxiety and terror, even though I can’t build true character, so I shouldn’t try, but if I don’t, I won’t have anything to go on except my work ethic and my hopes that I believe right enough and enough enough, which has me thinking about that great Calvinist hit song “The Last In Line” by Ronnie James Dio, which seems to be referring to Judgment Day with the lines, “We’ll know for the first time / If we’re evil or divine / We’re the last in line.” Anyway, I’ll come back to great heavy metal songs that illustrate Calvinism, like “God Hates Us All” by Slayer, at a later date.)

A Parable

Once upon a time, the church leaders jiggled the handle twice and the toilet quit running for a few minutes. When it started running again, the leaders jiggled the handle twice, and it worked again. But when the toilet starting running after that, two jiggles wasn’t stopping the toilet from running. They waited a while and tried one jiggle. No luck. Eventually four jiggles worked — but only for a short time. So the leaders sent the pastor off to a conference on ever-more-precise handling jiggling.

The good news about human willpower: a new book by John Tierney

Human willpower doesn’t have the best relationship with Christianity. Human will has been described as rebellion against God, and pastors throughout history have spoken of willpower’s inadequacy for obtaining salvation.

All that is true enough in Christian theology. However, much of what’s expected of me on a daily basis — care for my own health, care for my family, care for the necessary material blessings of this life, care for the duties of my job — require a willpower available to all people at all times through common grace. 

In this video interview with Reason magazine, New York Times science columnist John Tierney talks about the recently released book he wrote with psychologist Roy Baumeister (Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength). Tierney talks about changes in the self-help movement in recent decades and goes on to say that a child’s achievement later in life can be predicted based on his or her demonstrated — or parentally developed — willpower.  

Perhaps we could say the problem is not willpower, but what we hope and expect to accomplish with it.

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The urgency behind a Christian defense of temporal good things

Continuing the theme of my previous two posts (first here and second here), I’ll give two brief reasons why a Christian defense of temporal good things is urgent.

1. This never-ending apologetic and evangelistic barrier: The belief that God is not the source of joy but instead a cosmic killjoy.

2. The belief that God is a cosmic killjoy grew out of actual preaching. After 41 years in churches and 12 concurrent years in four different church-operated Christian schools*, I can assure you that plenty of conservative American churches tend to be so worried about a misappropriation of earthly pleasures that their preaching and legalistic codes go ahead and scorch the entire earth, just to be safe. If they were dentists, they would be so worried about the future possibility of tooth decay, they would do preemptive root canals.

That is why I aggressively argue, however sloppily, from however small of a post, for balance in American Christianity. Understanding ourselves as creatures within a created order as well as appreciating normal human things are just as important as understanding ourselves as sinners.

*Eight of those years were in schools operated by churches other than my own. Attending mandatory weekly chapel services, I became familiar with their points of view, which had substantial differences from the points of view in the churches I attended on Sundays. Looking back on all these church cultures, I think too many lives were wasted due to fear and withdrawal from our culture. Instead of bringing the influence of God’s grace into the world, many people shrunk back into safe Christiany ghettos — because they, too, believed that God was a cosmic killjoy. I have a good friend today who works in full-time ministry in a church similar to those that ran the Christian schools, and considering my conversations with him, I think I can safely say the old situations I addressed above have not substantially changed.

Christianity as propaganda; Christianity versus propaganda

Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes by the late Jacques Ellul could have been written yesterday. Alarmingly current, the book was published in 1965. Marshall McLuhan, famed media theorist, praised Ellul’s book. Ellul, a sincere Christian and a leader in the relatively small French Protestant circles of his time, devoted part of his analysis of propaganda to the propagation of Christianity.

“Obviously, church members are caught in the net of propaganda and react pretty much like everyone else….

“Because Christians are flooded with various propagandas [in our media-driven age], they absolutely cannot see what they might do that would be effective and at the same time be an expression of their Christianity. Therefore, with different motivations and often with scruples, they limit themselves to one or another course presented to them by propaganda. They too take the panorama of the various propagandas for living political reality, and do not see where they can insert their Christianity in that fictitious panorama….

“At the same time, because of its psychological effects, propaganda makes the propagation of Christianity increasingly difficult. The psychological structures built by propaganda are not propitious to Christian beliefs. This also applies on the social plane. For propaganda faces the church with the following dilemma:

Either not to make propaganda — but then, while the churches slowly and carefully win a man to Christianity, the mass media quickly mobilizes the masses, and churchmen gain the impression of being ‘out of step,’ on the fringes of history, without the power to change a thing.

Or to make propaganda — this dilemma is surely one of the most cruel with which the churches are faced at present. For it seems that people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities, less and less suited for the autonomy of a Christian life….

“I already have stressed the total character of propaganda. Christians often claim they can separate material devices from propaganda techniques — i.e., break the system. For example, they think they can use press and radio without using the psychological principles of techniques that these media demand. Or that they can use these media without having to appeal to conditioned reflexes, myths, and so on. Or that they can use them from time to time, with care and discretion.

“The only answer one can give to these timid souls is that such restraint would lead to a total lack of effectiveness. If a church wants to use propaganda in order to be effective, just as all the others, it must use the entire system with all its resources; it cannot pick what it likes, for such distinctions would destroy the very effectiveness for which the church would make propaganda in the first place. Propaganda is a total system that one must accept or reject in its entirety.

“If the church accepts it, two important consequences follow. First of all, Christianity disseminated by such means is not Christianity. We have already seen the effect of propaganda on ideology. In fact, what happens as soon as the church avails itself of propaganda is a reduction of Christianity to the level of all other ideologies and secular religions.”