Buckley’s Mixture versus Christian Evangelism
November 9, 2012
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In the mid-nineties I saw posters in Montreal’s buses and subway trains showing a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture with these words beside it: You’d have to be really sick to take that!, followed by the question: Are you sick? (I’m translating from French here; the English version of the ad campaign may have been worded slightly differently.)
In 1919, W. K. Buckley created a remarkably effective cough syrup in his Toronto pharmacy. It was remarkably bad-tasting, too. Buckley decided it wouldn’t do to attempt to hide that fact from potential customers, it would work better to make that part of the sales pitch. Buckley’s Mixture is still the most popular cough syrup in Canada. It is alcohol-free, sugar-free and still tastes bad. In fact their web site proclaims: A History of Bad Taste.
Compare that blatant honesty with some of the insipid attempts at Christian evangelism that I have witnessed, or even taken part in.
Forty years ago, my wife and I were attending a small evangelical church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. A decision was made that all churches in the city would cooperate in a mass marketing campaign to bring the gospel to every home in the city. Posters and billboards went up proclaiming I FOUND IT! Printed in smaller letters was the answer to the obvious question of what had been found: New Life in Jesus Christ. A newspaper supplement containing sweet-sounding testimonials was delivered to every home. Church members were grouped into teams to deliver a New Testament to the door of every home in the city and attempt to engage people in conversation about New Life in Jesus Christ.
The whole campaign was designed to be bland and sweet-tasting to get past the antipathy of certain parts of the public for all things Christian. The slogans and campaign materials defined New Life in Jesus Christ as broadly as possible, for the same reason.
Hardly a ripple was seen in the sea of apathy. Instead of excitement, a yawn. One day, my wife and I were out for a walk and the bumper sticker on a car caught my eye: I STEPPED IN IT. I laughed. It seemed a fitting epitaph for the whole well-intentioned campaign, all it did was lay a big flat cow-pie.
Perhaps we need to take a page out of W. K. Buckley’s book, admit right up front that Christianity is difficult to swallow, then boldly explain why we need it. That’s what Jesus and the apostles did.