Friday, June 13, 2008

Christian Marketing: Selling God with Hellfire and Altar Calls

*I think I might need to preface this with a comment I've started to realise about myself... As a generalisation, I seem to take what I'm wrestling with or thoughts I have and come across quite strong and sometimes negatively in the first few paragraphs. I've found, that I usually tend to explain exactly where I'm coming from, or at least (hopefully) ground the things I'm saying in grace, in the latter half of my post/diatribe. So please try read the first few paragraphs in light of the last few - ie - what I write as a whole, and not as 2 separate thoughts. Usually the first part is in the context of the second.

If you do feel I'm coming across too strongly or painting too broadly with something, feel free to address it, and I'll try better explain where I'm coming from...

Thanks.*


I've been thinking on a strange thought lately - well a little strange to me - in that it sits somewhat contradicting my general status-quo. It's this: Are we doing people any favours when we advertise getting 'saved' as an escape from hell? The same question for the nice little altar-calls that modern Christianity is so famous for. How helpful are they really? I don't have a real answer to this - it's just something I've been pondering on - and to be honest, Dad can use anything to draw men to Him. But on the other hand I feel that firstly the whole 'escape the fire of hell' story falls so supremely far short of knowing God that it's like selling a Rolex watch only as 'something that can tell you the time'. As true as this may (or may not) be - that is never really the reason one would by a Rolex. In a similar way, accepting the gift of salvation has precious little to do with escaping hell and everything to do with learning to live in relationship with a loving God and Father.

My exception with the altar-call is a little harder to explain, although, again, I think where it doesn't sit right is that it often tends to fall short of what's really on offer. We seem to try and 'sell it' as a means to get people to 'join the club', like the more converts we get in, the bigger our 'souls commission' will be, like some elaborate pyramid marketing scheme. I suppose the simple fact that people are making a verbal commitment to accept the gift God is giving them is a at least a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it often just seems like a 'show of hands' and nothing much more. I think I've just experienced an increasing irritation with the seemingly 'pre-packaged' way we 'sell-off' this 'Christianity' thing to non-believers and the 'backslidden'. It feels so contrived, stale and life-less.

I'm not saying that no-one who's responded to the altar call has ever experienced God, I just think the whole process falls so far short of the type of thing that's on offer, although, unsurprisingly, it seems quite at home with the rather cold, stoic status of the religious club.

I rarely see someone being invited into a relationship with Abba, and I think from where I stand at the moment, if that's not what's being offered, then what's the point?

If you're a semi-regular reader of my blog, you'd know that semi-recently I've come to a place where my view of God and this whole thing we call Christianity has been seriously shaken up and turned upside down. In some ways it has been scary, but it's been life changing and exciting. I feel like for years (the last 10-15 years at least) my experience of God has almost been like looking at the back of a television. Every now and then, I might experience somthing, or get a slightly different view of God, but it's always been obscured and often plain wrong. I've felt in my gut there's something more to it. I've heard some of what's going on, but I've never had the right picture, until recently. Now it feels like someone's taken my hand and shown me that the 'TV' has another side to it- the intended side - where there's movement and excitement and I can see and hear clearer, and it all makes so much more sense.

I think that's why I'm so caught up on relationship with God. For me, I feel like I've been told that I should be happy with 'the back of the TV' - with a lacklustre Christian experience - or at least with the notion that my Christian experience is directly proportional to the amount of striving I put in. The lacklustre part was specifically because I wasn't 'trying hard enough' or wasn't 'doing the stuff'. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's been caught up in thinking the back of the TV is what it's all about, and we're missing out on SO MUCH MORE!

That's why I'm hesitant to try and get someone saved just for the sake of it, or even to 'save them from hell'. I'm starting to feel that I'd almost not get someone to 'say the prayer' unless they get (even on a small level) what's available to them, what they can look forward to, and hopefully they've seen the evidence of that Life lived out in my own life, and the life of others. I really don't want to sell them short. All too often we live life as if we are still slaves. As if we're just servants of an oppressive taskmaster, when this 'taskmaster' is more interested in being Father to us. He has robed us, put the ring of honour on our fingers and invited us into His house as sons and daughters!

And I want everyone to realise this. I want everyone to experience this boundless grace. This unwarranted mercy, this love from this Loving Father. It's still early days for me. I still have so much to learn and so far to travel, but for the first time in my life I feel like I'm really starting to 'run this race with my eyes on the prize' - and strangely enough, it's not tiring at all. It's nothing like the draining striving I've been used to - that rather unsurprisingly got me nowhere.

I think I've said this often enough already - but it's all about Him. What we do, say and how we live is all relative to our level of understanding of the perfect love that He has for us.

Ask Him to show you how. Ask Him to guide you. It may not happen immediately. It will most probably take time and it will, almost definitely, not be plain sailing or an easy ride. It's not the kind of thing you can plan ahead for, unless we're planning to be surprised.

He is faithful and He understands that we are not. He doesn't have any misconceptions or preconceptions about us. He knows us through and through. What we do or say or think doesn't surprise Him. His grace covers our weakness, and gives us the strength to stand. Let us keep our eyes on Him, our prize, as we live within His loving embrace.

3 comments:

Marc said...

Cam,

I seem to be your regular customer ... i think we should rename this blog: Hi my name is Cam/also Marc - hahaha :-)

Anyways ... interesting, i agree to a large extent - I don't believe we should "sell" salvation as the "get out of hell free card" ... cos really that is just to appease their conscience. Like you said though - God can use such a way to draw someone to Him. I don't think we should be punting it as the reason that people need to get saved though...
I the same breath though, i do believe it is an important aspect and needs to be brought into the picture. The only reason we need salvation is because of our mutual relative - Adam. (there is a whole bunch of theology wrapped up in that statement - but we must agree that its because of sin that we are separeted from God and a fulfilling relationship with Him). Now without trusting in Jesus as the way to the Father to restore that lost relationship, the result of this sin is a oneway ticket to hell. No Jesus - no heaven, No Jesus - no God. No Jesus - all hell!
I believe we need to present people with the reality of hell but in the context of a loving Father - if that makes sense?
People need to hear the bad news before they hear the good news ... otherwise the good news is just relative.
Yes, our salvation goes far deeper than just heaven and hell - God is woo-ing us into a ever more meaningful, real relationship with him, but for that process there has to be a starting point.

So to sum up - no, salvation should not be marketed as a "get out of hell free card" but yes, poeple still need to know that is a reality and that it is their destination without Jesus.

I the middle of my ever deepening realtionship with our Father ... i can stand and reflect on just how large a price Jesus paid for me so i don't have to go to hell and pay a price that i actually deserve.
I still brings me to tears sometimes at how amazing this gift of salvation is, and just how God has saved me from a lot that i actaully deserve, but because he loved me so much (while i still cursed His name) he made a way for me and paid the price in full for me! Agape' is a phenomenonal thing!
"Oh Dad - may i never loose sight of that!"

Love marc

Cam said...

hey! hehe, it's a little lonely with just you and me.. haha

hmm. I don't agree 100% with your reasoning on needing the bad news to give the good news context. I think it's the other way around..

God came way before sin or 'bad'. And He created Adam within the context of only 'good'.

Although I agree that maybe we need to have a starting point, I think Sin is so inerrant in mankind, that we know that we have all 'do bad things'. I'm not saying that we should talk about relationship with God outside of the context of Jesus and what He has done, but I don't think we need to point to Hell to emphasise how great we're getting it now.

I would go so far as to say, if the wages of sin being death simply meant non-existence for those who haven't accepted Jesus' sacrifice, that God would stand out as good news even over that. The good news is good news on its own merit. I firmly believe that God needs nothing more to define His good news than the good news itself - that we have a Father who loves us more than we can imagine or fathom.

I'd argue we don't need to mention the hell factor at all.

We were made for relationship with God. That was always the destiny of mankind. Anything that falls short of that loses the point. The good news is that God has restored mankind to what we were originally created for. That is the best news ever, regardless of what the other option (the bad news) may or may not be.

If by bad news, all you meant was that people needed some comprehension that they were sinners, then I agree fully. That's almost taken as a given, in that any human that presumes they're without sin would be so consumed in pride that, I would argue, they could not enter any real or meaningful relationship with the Godhead at all.

Hope you have a great weekend!!

Old Pete said...

Hi Cam
Not sure how I found your site. I read this post and then started at the beginning. I have not yet read the posts in between.

I relate so much to what you have written. But if my experience is anything to go by you are on an exciting but 'dangerous' journey.

I am 72 and I have been on a journey outside the walls of tradition Christianity for over 40 years. I would go so far as to say that selling God with hellfire and altar calls is seriously misguided!

I have looked at Adrian Warnock's review of John Piper's book and noticed the link to "The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment" by Tim Challies.

I thought I had been a committed Christian for over 50 years - but there was something I didn't understand - I didn't have a faith that I could really share with my children. This all changed last summer when I read "The Shack" by William P Young (I admit to being biased - I know the publishers).

More recently I learned a lot by reading the scathing review of that book by Tim Challies. Let's just say that I now understand much better why I disagree with fundamentalist theology.