Friday, January 02, 2015



Bill Kangas in Relevant Magazine:
Recently, an image has been circulating as the latest example of a "relevancy fail" by an evangelical group.

They seem to have mistakenly switched the text up in a flyer that seeks to encourage more prayer by presenting a conversation with Jesus as a series of text messages on an iPhone. Instead of portraying a Christian who gives Jesus' pleading attempts at conversation the cold shoulder, it depicts Jesus as the one who is indifferent to the pleas for intimacy.

It's funny. It's sad. It's not all that surprising. Evangelical churches are notorious for trying to grab people's attention through pop-culture, either through emulation or parody. The results are often groan worthy.

Like many in the Church, I have participated willingly in the baptism of pop-culture for the sake of outreach and evangelism. I have been in bands that made "Christian Rock," I have worn Jesus t-shirts. I even have a couple of the obligatory Hebrew and cross tattoos.

I understand why people do this stuff. They want the message of Jesus to reach people where they are.

The problem is that in the context of American evangelicalism, where religious images are often absent, pop-culture representations of the faith can become the formative symbols and images that a faith community encounters. People begin to actually see Jesus primarily through the lens of materialism and pop-culture, both of which by their very nature are constantly in flux. As a result, evangelical faith becomes faddish, salvation is a style and praise is a phase.


Historical Christian symbols, on the other hand, are primordial and polyvalent: Flesh, blood, light, water, birth, death, eating, drinking, hunger and thirst. These symbols are not seeking to emulate the ephemeral but they encompass our entire existence.

The symbols not only contain a wealth of meaning, they contain us. They dig deep into who we are as people in our deepest depths, in our hopes and fears. They are the building blocks of poetry, romance and drama. They have layers of meaning and depths that require a lifetime to divulge. They captivate rather than entertain. In many places these images have been lost, and I believe they need to be reclaimed.
I am deeply reformed. Images are not my thing, but I am learning to appreciate them more than ever before. Here's what I have learned.

Being a Christian is on more than an intellectual level. It takes more than words to reach those levels. Images are one way to reach those levels. Liturgy is another. What strikes some as boring repetition is actually a way to move past the words to their meaning on deeper levels. Rote infests our souls in a way that fads never can.

What I am talking about here is more than emotion, although emotion is an element of it, just as intellect is. It's that part of ourselves that is closest to the divine. It is the image of God in us that our sin buries so deeply.

Yes, as with all things art can be perverted and become an idol, but without it, it seem to me all hope of reaching that part of ourselves that is somehow supernatural is lost.

We've tired intellect alone - today it seems we try emotion alone. We need to find God's home in us.


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