Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Christian kitsch as an ancient tool in evangelism?

I just finished up an excellent book by Michael Green titled Evangelism in the Early Church. It has given me much to think about, and I'll probably post my book review when I get it done. In the midst of this insightful and well researched book there is this very weird section in the chapter on evangelistic methods. The subheading is "indirect evangelism in the home". Green writes, "The earliest Christian meetings took place in homes. It is only to be expected, therefore, that Christians should have borne witness to their faith through the decoration of these homes. The evidence shows that they did so in a tentative and allusive way. They affected decorations which would mean much to a fellow Christian , but would either seem unremarkable to the non-Christian or might excite mild comment, which in turn could give the Christian householder an opportunity to bear witness to his faith."

Ok, did I just read that the early church used Jesus junk (aka witness wear) to evangelize? Green gives many examples, the oddest is a pair of oranti (not exactly sure what an orante is, but from context I'd guess its' a tile mosaic) from Pompeii dated before 79AD. One of the orante is of a typical 'pagan' style and pictures a man with the "upper arms to the side of the body, while extending the forearms in supplication". The Christian orante is similar but the image stretch out the whole arms in supplication. Green comments, "The similarity to the pagan type would allow the Christian orante to go unchallenged by most visitors to the home. But the churchman would recognize it at once [maybe you have to see it to understand?], and the pagan acquaintance interested enough to enquire about its peculiarities would provide his host with an ideal opportunity of explaining the faith to him."

It is very easy to make fun of the kinds of Christian merchandising [and, if I'm being fully honest, I too once wore such silly clothing and bought all the greatest Christian rock music and went to the festivals...Cut me some slack, I was 16 and in a fundi type church]. I think it would make a fun hobby. However, maybe there's something in the heart of those who wear their "His Pain, Your Gain" t-shirts that we should emulate. I do think such merchandising trivializes Christ and his church, making both look silly. But many people do buy this stuff hoping it will spark some kind of spiritual conversation. I want to applaud that. I don't think it's the best method; in fact, I would discourage it. However, the impulse behind it is very good, and ancient, and God honoring. We should be looking for opportunities to speak about the good news of Jesus Christ with people and far to many of us do not look to do so in any intentional way at all. Why we might want to laugh at those who wear such tacky Christian merchandise, they might look on us and wonder if you care at all that people are lost without Christ, wondering what effort we are making to speak to people of Christ's love and salvation.

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