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The Bookends of Evangelism

One of the local sports talk programs, ESPN Radio 710, recently discussed religion in sports. The piece sprung out of news about NASCAR’s newest sponsor: Dianetics. The Charlotte Observer reported:

Racin’ fans, brace yourselves for some couch-jumping news: Scientology is ridin’ shotgun.

A No. 27 red Taurus emblazoned with “DIANETICS” and featuring the volcano from the cover of L. Ron Hubbard’s book has been tearing around California’s Irwindale Speedway.

(No word on whether the car can fix itself; [Tom] Cruise recently bragged that wife Katie Holmes needed no anti-depressants for her post-partum depression.)

NASCAR is decidedly reluctant to comment on scientology’s sponsorship. “This has generated a lot of interest the past few days,” NASCAR PR man Scott Warfield tells me. Not surprisingly, he didn’t want to say much more. “It’s not really something we want to comment on. It’s a minor league, small-team sponsorship deal.”

Yes, and it’s also the weirdest sponsorship since Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, the diaper-rash cream that began sponsoring a Busch Series car in 2005.

The flustered broadcasters were quick to compare Scientology’s ad blitz with Christian propaganda. As evidence, one of the announcers referenced a recent interview with a certain NBA star in which numerous G-bombs (God-bombs) were dropped. Every other paragraph was a “Praise the Lord” or “my Lord and Savior.” The question was obvious: How is this different from the Dianetic jalopy?

On the other end, you’ve got this:

Busted Halo recently published a fascinating interview with Sufjan Stevens. Interestingly enough, his relationship with God had become such a big issue, his publicist began asking reporters to stop asking him about his faith.

I mean, obviously, I’m not ashamed of anything, and I make all kinds of declarations about what I believe in, but I’m very suspicious of public declarations of things because I recognize that it’s a very, very personal thing. And it’s a community thing, as well, and it’s something that I feel inclined to express within a community of believers. When you make these expressions to the public, there are all kinds of miscalculations and miscommunications, and there’s just kind of a communication problem. I just didn’t want to be a part of that dialogue at all.

Stevens’ position is counter conventional thinking. Many Christians would suggest we should be looking for opportunities to speak, to “disclose” our faith, use our celebrity or success as opportunities to proclaim the Good News. Instead, Stevens suggests,

…I have a lot more to talk about musically than just my relationship with God, even though that’s evident in everything that I do, everything that I write about. It’s not something that I want to enter into a dialogue with in the press.

These are the bookends of evangelism. On one side are those who want to splash John 3:16 across every billboard and bumper sticker in sight, interject Jesus into every interview and display the biggest possible crucifix. On the other side are those who “have a lot more to talk about musically (read: artistically) than just [their] relationship with God.”

Despite what some zealots would say, media blitzes, Scripture-laced interviews and blanket G-bombs are not the ideal form of evangelism. Maybe we should follow Sufjan Stephens’ lead, opt out of the religion discussions, and give ourselves to the perfecting of our craft. Ultimately, the best witness for the Gospel is not emblazoning our racecars with crosses and doves, but winning the race.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • lindaruth June 19, 2006, 7:06 AM

    And probably not wearing crucifixes bigger than our speedos — that picture … oh my goodness.

    I lean more toward the Sufjan Stevens approach, but then I wonder if I’m chickening out. I think however we express our faith has to be God-driven. Otherwise it only serves to call attention to ourselves instead of directing the glory to God.

    I went to a Christian music festival in my town Saturday and one of our local musicians was a young man from my church. I sat by his mother, who told me lots of people don’t get Austin’s lyrics, which aren’t always overtly Christian. But his worldview shows through and I thought he did great. His lyrics showed a lot of depth and he’s an excellent musician. He’s not pounding people over the head with the Gospel, he’s letting the light shine through and it’s there if you’re ready to see it.

    Which brings me to the other thought I had while reading this post — most of the world doesn’t ‘get it’ when it comes to expressions of faith. So they equate putting Dianetics on a race car with NBA stars who openly profess Jesus. Stuff like that irritates me, but then I realize I shouldn’t be surprised. Most of the people in Israel didn’t get it,either, when Jesus was right there teaching them. Why should I expect the modern world to be any different? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Which is not to say the message shouldn’t be out there, but as I said earlier, it needs to be at God’s prompting, not just because we think we’re not doing our Christian duty if we don’t say “Praise the Lord” and offer the plan of salvation every time we open our mouths.

    OK, this is too long. But you gave me lots to think about. Thanks, Mike!

  • Mirtika June 19, 2006, 7:37 AM

    Call me cranky, but I think giant-crucifix guy needs a much smaller cross-on-a-chain and a much larger bathing-wear. There really is such a thing as too much bling. And sometimes, I suppose, a crucifix is…more than a crucifix.


  • Mirtika June 19, 2006, 7:47 AM

    About jesus-izing, I figure this:

    We talk spontaneously about that which we are passionate, and we tend not to speak about that which will cause friction (generally).

    Well, talking religion almost always is going to cause friction. Mix that with Christians who aren’t that passionate about Jesus or their faith, and why would they talk about it? It’s lose-lose.

    But if someone is genuinely passionate about Christ, Scripture and their faith, that passion will spill out, and I find that beautiful if they do so no matter where or when.

    If people can gush about books, music, their new shoes or house or car or kitchen renovation, then why can’t they gush about God? If folks can have shopping bags with their fave writer on it, why can’t they have one with their fave verse?

    Hey, there are some overt-displays-of-faith that are rather…tacky. (see giant cross man). And If someone painted their car with a full-out Calvary scene, replete with dripping blood and what-not, I could say, “Oh, tacky.” But then I think of that guy who put Bible verses all over his house and property and, hey, it’s folk art! And people go by to read this stuff.

    Perhaps God works mysteriously indeed, and maybe we should Bible up a Nascar. ; )



  • Ame June 19, 2006, 7:35 PM

    I posted this really great comment and it never made it! Ohhhh well … I’ll try again 🙂

    Mike – where did you find that pic of that guy? Only on the beach!!! I’m always amazed at what is resurrected on the beach that is burried and covered everywhere else!!!

    I am amazed at how uniquely and intricately God has created us all … so individual … with our own unique personalities and gifts and talents. Within the Bookends of Evangelism, we find that God has magnificantly created creative people to reach those whom He loves in ways unique to each person.

    Yes, there are extremes that should be covered … eeeek! But within the extremes there are probably fewer “cookie cutter molds” for evangelism than we think. Yet, I also believe that God gave us many guidelines for “etiquette” in the Bible that we should diligently adhere to.

  • Heather Smith June 20, 2006, 6:28 AM

    This is definitely thought provoking. I mean Christ says if you are ashamed of me, I’ll be ashamed of you, but where does that fall in these bookends? If you never say anything, then obviously you aren’t doing something right, but you shouldn’t go up to every person you pass on the street and say, “You’re going to hell!” either. I just pray that God will lead me, and I’ll say the right thing at the right time.

  • Janet Rubin June 20, 2006, 8:09 AM

    It’s crazy how being Christian has become such a novelty! I agree. Let’s strive for excellence, live as Christians and let the Holy Spirit do His thing. I don’t suppose that the family of 5 fish swimming across the back of my mini van will save anyone. They might bring a smile to my brothers and sisters on the road though.

  • Vicki June 21, 2006, 3:41 PM

    Each of us needs to let Christ saturate our very being, then we’ll have no need to debate this–just do everything as unto the Lord.

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