Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Wimpy evangelism

Forty-five years ago there was a city-wide outreach in our city based on the theme “I found it!” The slogan was purposefully vague so as to engage all churches who called themselves Christian.

The purpose of the slogan was to prompt people to ask “What did you find?” To which the answer was “New life in Jesus Christ.” This answer encompassed a wide range of possibilities of what the new life could be or how it could be attained.

The campaign was ambitious, including billboards, bumper stickers, radio and TV spots, mail outs and a newspaper supplement with testimonials from the whole Christian spectrum. Members of all denominations made a door to door campaign to distribute New Testaments to every home. They were ready to answer people’s questions and to ask them if they had found it or were interested in hearing more about finding it.

The whole effort was so vague, like a gray fog over the city, whose origin or meaning could not be discerned. The slogan was deliberately vague to get past the resistance of the populace and the media to all things Christian. So vague that we couldn’t clearly articulate what we were trying to get past their resistance.

“I’ve found it!” just didn’t resonate with people like another well-known slogan of the day: “Things go better with Coke!” We knew it was all over the day we saw a bumper sticker that read: “I stepped in it!” and laughed. We had tried so hard to appeal to everyone that there was no message left.

Evangelism that talks about Jesus but doesn’t try to make disciples, what good does it do? Discipleship means discipline. People willingly discipline themselves for a sport or a cause that they believe in. If Christian faith is not worth self-denial and discipline, why should anyone be interested?

If we are so afraid that people will find Christianity offensive that we try to water it down, it has no power to change people’s lives. Perhaps we should consider the success of Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup. W. K. Buckley freely admitted that it tasted awful, but said it worked. They have used advertisments that showed a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture and proclaimed: “You’d have to be really sick to take that stuff!”, followed by the question “Are you sick?” That is effective advertising.

Jesus didn’t try to sugar coat his message. He was gentle to the sinner who repented, yet blunt with the self-righteous. He seemed to look for ways to confront the scribes and Pharisees with the emptiness of their law, it’s lack of power to make a difference in the lives of sinners.

The result of wimpy evangelism is not wimpy Christians, it is make-believe Christians or outright atheists.

Buckley’s Mixture versus Christian Evangelism

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.

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