I noticed a photo floating around Facebook on Wednesday. It was of a church sign, an advertisement for an “Easter celebration” at the Living Hope Ballantyne Church, an SBC congregation formerly called Covenant Baptist.
This was the photo.
It struck me as being in bad taste, to say the least. This is a pun, an attempt to be clever, a clear swing and miss at cultural relevance. And I let the church know this via a short, tactful post on its Facebook page.
About 20 minutes later, the phone in my office rang. “Hello, this is Jonathan,” I answered as usual, expecting to hear a choir member with a question, or perhaps a return call from that publisher I’d recently contacted.
Nope. It was none other than Living Hope’s pastor, whom I do not know. He had apparently found my name, looked me up, and called me at my office. I was dumbfounded.
He didn’t really seem angry. He was confused. Incredulous, even. “This is straight from Scripture. I can’t believe someone would think this was in bad taste.”
He continued, “I’m just trying to understand how a pastor [I’m not a pastor or any sort of ordained clergy, but it didn’t seem like the time to correct him.] could think it’s okay to contact a church and tell them they disagreed with them. This is the last sermon in a series that God’s been using to reach our community for him.”
I told him that’s all well and good, and that I believe God can work through any avenue God chooses, but that doesn’t change its appropriateness.
Most of you who have read what I’ve written know that I abhor the preaching style of most evangelical churches. The topical sermon series has spurned more bad theology and crappy exegesis than any other. I especially dislike the silly little titles pastors give these series, the way it stamps their own brand on the gospel of Christ and peddles it out to a semi-captive audience. I’ve been in these churches, and heard some pretty bad ones. “Angry Birds.” “Not a Fan.” “Purity.” “Real Marriage.” I read about them online all the time, I see the Facebook ads, I’ve encountered the work of the bestselling authors they’re shamelessly stolen from.
And most of the time, I say nothing. I just let it happen. It’s another phase in the evangelical obsession to cloak its old, outdated, beautiful story in the language of the culture in the attempt to try and redeem it for Christ. (Spoiler alert: This has failed, and it will continue to fail. You can’t make the gospel more relevant than it already is.)
“But what was it about “Nailed It” that I found so distasteful,” the Brother Pastor wanted to know.
Well, there’s the marketing, the topical sermon series based on a tiny sliver of Holy Scripture. There’s even the fact that Easter is about the resurrection, not the nails. But those aren’t the main problems.
It’s an obvious pun, when humor is clearly inappropriate. We’re talking about murder, and not just any murder, we’re talking about the violent, grotesque crucifixion of our beautiful Savior. While these good Baptists may have meant it well, there’s an inescapable glibness in the words.
Yes, it is finished, and, sure, Jesus did “nail it.” He accomplished his work perfectly. But how did that happen? Jesus – the Christ, the Word made flesh, very God, begotten, not created – he was actually nailed. Those nails that represent the pivot point of the play on words, they tore his flesh, they drew his blood.
I believe God has a sense of humor. Honestly, I’m willing to joke about almost anything, even when it pushes boundaries of decency and convention. Even when it threatens some of the things we hold sacred.But when we’re talking about the wounds of Jesus, I can’t. I simply can’t go there. I imagine Living Hope Church wasn’t trying to be funny, but it’s undeniable that there is a joke here. In the attempt to be culturally relevant with the sermon series titles, the cultural cuteness has encroached on something that Christians – and decent humans of every religious stripe – find to be objectionable.
Even my fellow Patheos blogger, Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist” gets this.
“These people take such joy in the torture of their Lord.”
That line sent shivers down my spine.
“Wait! I thought we were making Christ relevant to a younger generation!”
Lord, have mercy.