Merchants of Eternal Life (Stephen)

Recently, Brett McCracken has offered an insightful Wall Street Journal opinion piece (found via First Thoughts).  After laying out the dire situation that evangelicalism faces among its younger generation (“70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly”), he rightly ridicules the tendency to try to seem cool or use shock tactics such as Mark Driscoll’s addressing of the topic “Biblical Oral Sex.”  To be blunt, no younger post-evangelical is fooled by such cheap pageantry – or, at the very least, a vanishingly small percentage are.  As McCracken indicates, we’ve seen it all before.  In youth groups, we were often the ones who were desperately trying to make God cool, so we know the game already.

Toward the end of the article, McCracken wisely quotes David Wells (from The Courage to be Protestant):

And the further irony is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.

If you eliminate the cross in exchange for Power Point presentations, in other words, you will have given away what little credibility you had.  As for McCracken’s solution, I found it both convincing and unconvincing:

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.

While this is absolutely right, I don’t think that evangelicalism can offer this.  Instead, Wells’ vision of historic Protestantism may be necessary, since evangelicalism’s connection with marketing ploys runs deep.  If nothing else, the Fundamentalists were advertisers, and, from Billy Graham to Rick Warren, neo-evangelicals have likely been better at selling things than at anything else.  As we might be finding, though, you can’t really buy or sell eternal life in the long-term.

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Comments

  • Barbara  On August 24, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Books & Culture editor John Wilson takes a swing at McCracken here:

    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2010/august/adventuresmccracken.html

    • Stephen  On August 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Wow, any thoughts on why he came out swinging so hard? I can see how one would disagree with McCracken, but the WSJ article seems too irenic to merit such a response.

      • Barbara  On August 25, 2010 at 8:07 pm

        Not sure, really. McCracken (& his book, I guess) is the subject/writer of the cover article of Christianity Today next month, which is interesting seeing as CT is the parent publication of Books & Culture. Perhaps Wilson is tired of lazy/poor writing style in general and took it out on McCracken. Or perhaps Wilson took offense at McCracken’s negative tone toward Lauren Winner’s Real Sex. Winner is on staff at Books & Culture and likely a friend of Wilson’s.

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