The Vanity of American Evangelism

Looking at my how my morning routine has evolved – shave (regularly, not just those few non-lazy days each month), cleanse, moisturize, put on contacts – and that’s just talking about the face – a thought popped into my head:

We go through so much trouble to manufacture our appearance and make ourselves more attractive, but then complain when people don’t like us for the “real” us. What is it that we’re trying to attract people to?

And as I was pondering the twisted logic of American cosmetics and personal grooming, the light-bulb went off: We do the same thing with how we present the Christian faith.

Just like we try to, umm… “manage” our appearance to impress, appeal to, and, ultimately, attract others (be it to get a date or a job or just to be seen as “cool” and “with it”), we do the same with our faith. We decide what parts we want to accentuate, what parts we want to hide, and what parts we want to do spiritual cosmetic surgery on to completely change or eliminate.

Suddenly, Jesus becomes only a loving, wise carpenter, spewing nuggets of wisdom from a heart of gold, but not also a ruling, reigning king who demands holiness, obedience, and worship.

Jesus’ death becomes only a sacrificial act of love, but not also the only path God provides to be reconciled back to him.

Christianity becomes only a motivational force that spurs us to love our neighbor and seek morality, but not also a demanding lifestyle of sacrifice and persecution.

I remember in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s it seemed that everywhere you turned in the Christian community, someone was talking about prosperity. The argument went like this: God want’s to make you rich so that non-Christians can see how rich you are and want to have what you have.

We present the faith we think others will be attracted to, even if it’s not the faith we really have and even if it’s not the faith that’s outlined in the scriptures. We manufacture a Christianity that should be able to attract many, but the question remains: What are we attracting them to?

Imagine a school that has an truancy problem. The school decides that the best way to increase the number of students in attendance each day is to change what happens in the school to make it more attractive. They realize that the students really like lunch and gym, so they expand the lunch and gym periods to take up 60% of the day. They also realize that academic classes are not popular, so they cut back on these classes until the take up only 20% of the student’s day. Finally, they realize that a lot of the student body enjoys watching risque music videos outside of school hours, so they create a “Music Video” elective and hire the hottest, raunchiest video girls to be the instructors.

As a result, attendance goes through the roof. Almost every student is present and on time each day.

Also as a result, test scores and literacy rates go down, pregnancy and obesity rates go up, and there’s also an increase in fighting and drug use.

The school succeeded in attracting students, but what did it attract them to? In an effort to appear likable, it lost its mission, the reason for its existance.

We can see the same thing happening to the Church. In an effort to appear likable, fill our pews, and pad our numbers, we’re loosing our mission. The Church doesn’t exists to add members. The Church exists to build the Kingdom of God.

And here’s the scary part: this vanity, this obsession with appearing likable, has gone past what we project to the world and is seeping into what we teach ourselves. Christians believe all kinds of radical things that have no biblical bearing but sound really nice. They’ve been attracted to plastic surgery Christianity and they have no appetite for the real raw deal. It’s the nice, safe, likeable Christianity that they were attracted to, and that’s what they want to maintain and pass on to others.

I’m not saying to “uglify” Christianity, just that we should let it be what it is: real, raw, and full of power.