What Super Bowl Marketers Know that the Church Can't Miss

The super bowl this year was one for the record books. People watch the super bowl for a variety of reasons – some for the game, others for the commercials, and some for the half time show. The super bowl has become such a huge event in America it is practically a national holiday. As I was watching the game something stuck out to me about the commercials this year. It seemed like many of the commercials strongly featured Dads.  A few different companies this year decided to market their products by featuring prominently fathers. It was nice to appear to the sentimentality and bring father’s in the focus, but why? No matter how great the commercial is, the aim is not to pull on your heart strings but to sell you a product. These companies don’t spend millions of dollars to just give you warm fuzzies. We live in a marketing world. We are always being sold something, and often marketers know our culture and know what makes us tick better than anyone. And this year, for Super Bowl 49, Dads were the focus of the commercials. Watch some of these commercials in case you missed them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bd1qCi5nSKw#t=58

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoqWo3SJ73c

Isn’t this strange? In a day and age where many are arguing to eliminate gender stereotypes and where Father’s living in the home is a relic of the past, these marketers decided they could best sell their products by bringing fathers to our attention. While the marriage between a man and a woman is being redefined in our culture into a genderless union and while the home has been shattered by divorce, these marketers feature loving, gentle, and present fathers.

There is a crisis of fatherhood in America. The traditional family of Dad, Mom, and children seems to be rapidly fading. Many men ignore, run away from, or deny any responsibility they have when it comes to their children. Rather than rising to be worthy of the title husband and father many men are content with the title “baby daddy”. Men refuse to fight for their marriages and for their families and cowardly run from difficulty indulging every selfish pleasure their hearts crave.

But that’s not the picture these advertisers presented to us at the super bowl. These advertisers know us better than we think. They know that there is something hard wired into humanity that longs to be loved by a father. We long to experience the warm protective, self-denying, embrace of dad. The picture of Dad they presented to us is the ideal we crave, but not this is not the reality for many of us.

Children need Fathers. Despite arguments trying to minimize the father in the family, marketers know what many deny – we long for a Father. These super bowl commercials point to the great challenge of Christian men to be father’s who sacrifice, love, protect, and provide for our children.  We need Christian men who can demonstrate in word and deed the love of God the Father to our children. Every human being longs for this. Though our earthly fathers may fail us, we must always point people to the Father who never does. We must point them to the Father who displays his lavish love for us by purchasing our redemption. America has a hole and a desperate longing for fatherly love. The marketers know this. Does the church?

Sneaky Syncretism

One of the greatest threats to Christianity is syncretism. Syncretism is a fancy word but it is an important one to know. Here is a definition for Syncretism:

The attempt to assimilate differing or opposite doctrines and practices, especially between philosophical and religious systems, resulting in a new system altogether in which the fundamental structure and tenets of each have been changed. Syncretism of the gospel occurs when its essential character is confused with elements from the culture. In syncretism the gospel is lost as the church simply confirms what is already present in the culture. (PDTT, 111)

We are all prone to syncretism. It comes naturally to us to add to the Gospel and completely distort Christianity. Our propensity to take biblical, authentic Christianity and distort it into a religion of our own making should frighten us into a continual state of self-evaluation. If the true Gospel is not viciously guarded and defended the drift into syncretism will happen faster than we thought possible.

Sneaky Syncretism

Syncretism is sneaky. It creeps in often unaware as we begin to import the idols of culture into our faith and churches. They often enter unnoticed but like any disease begins to fester and grow into deadly unhealthiness. Syncretism was not only a problem for the early church (Col 2) but also for the nation of Israel. Over the course of their history we see their tendency to reject their monotheism to polytheism. They deny the exclusivity of Yahweh and begin to worship Baal or any other pagan god. Israel's desire to be like other nations even included importing their false gods to worship. As a result of they syncretism which grew into just plain idolatry, The Lord brought judgement and exile upon the nation.

A blind eye to syncretism can be deadly. We would be fools to think that there are not some ways we are importing the idolatrous ideas of culture into Christianity. In the west this is a particular problem that goes unnoticed, yet we must attack syncretism and guard the precious Gospel with our lives. Here are a few common areas where syncretism is common in American Christianity.

1. The god of Comfort

The god of comfort and leisure has greatly consumed the minds of Christians. We tend to have an love for an easy and comfortable life. Ideas like persecution, hardship, or cross-cultural evangelism just seems to uncomfortable. God wants us to be at leisure right?

2. The god of Materialism

Materialism is a poison that has greatly influenced the church. We love things and we love stuff even though it will all end up in the dump one day. Even in our church we tend to have a love for huge buildings, fancy technology, and attractive decor. God wants us to be rich right?

3. The god of Free-Sex

Over the last few decades the sexual revolution has impacted the churches understanding of sin and sexuality. The biblical truth that sex is a good gift from God reserved between a man and his wife in the covenant of marriage is largely ignored. We tend to tolerate sexual sin among Christians making excuses for our additions to pornography, homosexuality, or sex outside of marriage. We import the cultures understanding of sexuality into Christianity. God is love right?

4. The god of Tolerance

Our cultures understanding of tolerance comes from a position of pluralism. A true understanding of tolerance is allowing other people to have differing view points. Christians should be tolerant in this sense. But to be tolerant in our cultures eyes is to not only allow differing view points but to celebrate them. In honor of the god of pluralism many Christians operate in a If-its-right-for-you mindset. The god of tolerance tells us it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe. God tells us to believe, right?

The Very Real Danger of Syncretism

As you can see it is so very easy for us to begin importing the idols of culture into biblical Christianity. I just mentioned a few, but the danger is real. We must defend what the Bible says is the true Gospel and we must constantly evaluate our own hearts and actions as individuals and as a church to make sure we are not importing idols into our Christianity. The threat of syncretism is real and we must be on guard from our wandering hearts who continually seek to great a religion of our own making.

Are there any idols that I missed? Be sure to share with us in the comments.

6 False Gospels in the Bible Belt

I've spent my whole life growing up in the Bible Belt. I grew up in the home of a pastor and listening to sermons from countless teachers and Christians. The Bible Belt gets its name because there tends to be a lot of conservative Christian people and you can find churches on every street corner. Although the Bible Belt seems to be disappearing slowly, there are remnants of a culture that assumes everyone is a Christian and that expects everyone should be going to church. Although I am thankful for a culture in which I had such ready access to the true Gospel, over the years I have been exposed to a number of pseudo-gospels trying to pretend to be the real deal. These false gospels are often unknowingly proclaimed by pastors and churches in the bible belt. Some of the most dangerous lies we believe are not elaborate teachings of heresy but a subtle twisting of the truth. The false gospels run deep in the Bible Belt and makes pastoring in this area of our country quite difficult.

1. "My Baptism Saves Me"

Many people are confused about their salvation. There are many who think of salvation as some sort of ritualistic tradition where you walk down an aisle, sign a card, and get baptized. Many in the Bible Belt have done this often at a very young age before they really understood what they were doing. As a result there are many people who call themselves Christians who could care less about Jesus. They find assurance in their baptism or their church membership. They feel security in their salvation because they are on the rolls of a church they haven't attended in decades.

Many of these people cling to "Once Saved, Always Saved" which is a twisted distortion of the perseverance of the saints. The perseverance of the saints is not "Once Saved, Always Saved", but "Once Saved, Always Persevering". If you became a Christian at 8 years old and then spend your entire life disconnected from God and the church and think you have salvation, chances are you are fooling yourself. Those who are truly in Christ will persevere in following Christ until he calls us home. All of this is by God's grace and an indicator of a truly converted heart.

2. "I go to church and I'm a good person"

Moralism is the rampant poison in Bible Belt culture. If you listen carefully you can hear it taught from many pulpits across the south. It is the great distorting of the Gospel in which all God wants from you is to be a good boy or girl.  God then becomes the great Santa Clause in the sky where heaven becomes beautifully wrapped presents and hell becomes a stocking of coal.  So many have twisted the Gospel into a moral check list to complete. You hear the lie of moralism at funerals, bible studies, and even in sermons. Moralism teaches "Be Good and Work Harder". The Gospel says "You're not Good and you need the atoning work of Christ".

The true Gospel is not one in which we work to earn God's favor, but a Gospel in which we receive God's favor through Jesus Christ. Salvation is all by grace. Yes, God wants us to live lives of holiness, but our morality does not save us. We are saved only through the blood of Christ.

3. "God wants me to be happy, healthy, and wealthy"

The prosperity gospel runs wild and free in the Bible Belt, and unfortunately remains unchallenged. The lie of the prosperity gospel can be found in our Christian Book stores, Facebook statuses, and again from pulpits throughout the Bible Belt. More often it is a Christianized package of American consumerism. Rather than loving the giver of all gifts we idolize the gifts God gives us. We expect God to give us our best life now filled with a great salary, great car, and perfect health.

Yes, God does give us great gifts, but the problem with the prosperity Gospel is that it imposes that God MUST give us those things. The path of true discipleship is often not one of roses and ease. It is often difficult to follow Jesus and it may mean we suffer in this life as our savior did. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. God does not exist to give us all creature comforts, but he calls us to lay down our lives for his glory.

4. "God is my Therapist"

Pop Psychology has crept into the church. We often think that God just wants me to feel good about myself. He is there to affirm my feelings and my life style. Those who believe this false gospel often highly value emotional experiences that make them feel better about themselves. Often times there is an over emphasis on God's love and a de-emphasis on his justice and wrath towards our sin. The idea of the sinfulness of humanity is largely avoided in the Bible belt and instead we hear about a God of acceptance and affirmation.

Yes, God is our healer. Yes, he is our refuge and strength and help in trouble. Yes he is our great counselor. Yet, God is also serious about our sin. This is why he sent Jesus to die, to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus' death was a death of substitution. He died in our place. God is not interested in increasing our self-esteem but transforming us into new creations. God is making us new and conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. We are sinners in need of new hearts. We must be born again. We must change, and the power of change does not come through self-actualization but through spiritual regeneration. This means that we must turn from our sin and live lives transformed by God's radical grace empowered and initiated by the Spirit of God.

5. "God Doesn't Care About My Heart"

The Bible Belt is often cloaked in a veil of legalism. Many think that God simply cares about their external actions. Many think to be a Christian is to be but a moral, good person. If I put on the church mask and make everyone believe I've got it all together, that is all God cares about. So they put on their nice suits and their fake Christian smile and act out this role of a faithful Christian. Yes, God does care that we do the right thing, but he also cares about our motives. This is what Jesus was getting at in the Sermon on the Mount.  God does not want us to commit adultery, but Jesus says that even the lust of the heart is just as sinful as the act of adultery. God also cares about our motivations behind our actions. Yet, many in the bible belt are religious shells, externally doing the right thing without their hearts transformed and renewed by grace.

6. "God Doesn't Expect Me to Serve Him"

Many think that God has called them to a simple, cozy, easy life. Many do not believe that God has called them to serve or sacrifice at any cost to themselves or their life style. Giving of our money or giving up our time or moving to an uncomfortable location for the Gospel all seems ridiculous. We often think that God is here to serve us, not us to serve him. So we come into our churches as Christian consumers ready to take from others but never to serve our church, our community, or our world. Every Christian has been given the mandate of the Great Commission. Every Christian has been given the calling of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. God has not called us to a leisurely self-serving Christianity, but a costly self-denying faith that risks anything and everything for the greater joy of knowing and savoring Jesus.

A Recovery of the True Gospel

Have you identified any of these six false gospels that get thrown around the Bible Belt and across much of evangelical Christianity? More than anything in the Bible Belt and across the world we need a revival and a renewal of the true Gospel:

A Gospel that proclaims a great holy God.

A Gospel that proclaims the wretchedness of our estate in our sin.

A Gospel that proclaims the great love of God in sending a savior.

A Gospel that accentuates the cross as the ultimate display of God's love and wrath as Jesus dies in our place.

A Gospel that calls all people to turn from sin and have faith in jesus.

A Gospel that expects followers of Christ to actually follow him.

Be sure to check out the sequel to this post: How to Share the Gospel with Cultural Christians

Spurgeon on the Movie Theater

spurgeon11Ok, so there were no movie theaters in Charles Spurgeon's day, but there were regular theaters with actors and plays.  I'm currently reading through Tom Nettles new work on Charles Spurgeon called Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Spurgeon. It is a mammoth of a book, but I've enjoyed learning and studying the life of Spurgeon.  I came across this section where Nettles is describing Spurgeon's view of London and the sinful habits of the people. Nettles writes:

If Spurgeon could have added another curse, he probably would have selected the theatre. The moral tone of the theatre was too bad for mending and the character of drama is such that the tendency always is toward quick corruption. While some advocated Christian attendance in order to raise the moral level, Spurgeon thought that was like advocating pouring a bottle of lavender water into the great sewer to improve its aroma...Spurgeon claimed that he had never entered a theatre during the performance of a play, but when coming home from a distant engagement he had passed by and seen enough to 'pray that our sons and daughters never go within the doors.' Should that practice even become a habit among church members, Spurgeon believed it would prove the death of piety. 'Who can suppose,' he asked, 'amusement surrounded with the seductions of vice to be fit recreation for a pure mind? Who can draw near to God after sitting to admire the performances of a wanton woman, and I am told that some who have dazzled London society are such."

If Charles Spurgeon was concerned about the theatre of his day, I'm sure he would be astonished at the sort of TV shows and films that constantly play on our screens.  I'm not sure I agree with Spurgeon on the inability to redeem the artistic medium of theatre or film. I do not think Christians should abandon the arts but seek to transform them with the Gospel.  Yet, his point about the rubbish we intake as believers on our screens could very well 'prove the death of piety.' Maybe the reason we have such a hard time living for the Lord is that we have been filling our mind with these seductive vices? I'm not advocating we necessarily throw our TVs out the windows or never walk into a movie theatre again, but there is a greater need for discernment as we seek to grow in godliness.

Standing Firm in a Hostile Culture

The American church is heading into unknown waters and difficult circumstances that American Christians have never experienced.  In some ways the modern church is beginning to look much more like the early church.  We are faced with some tough sets of challenges such as false teachers and cultural and political persecution. We have been on the road back to Rome for quite some time now.  There is an increasing hostility to the Christian faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Changing Cultural Landscape

In the 1950s, it was culturally advantageous for you to be a Christian and belong to a church. It seemed like everyone went to church.  If you grew up in the Bible belt there was incredible social pressure to church.  However, over the past 50-60 years we have watched a rising secular and anti-Christian spirit begin to dominate the cultural landscape of the West.  The privileged position Christians have enjoyed in the West over the past 1,000 years is quickly being eliminated.  I believe that we are only seeing the beginning of a zealous secularism that seeks to permanently eliminate the church and its influence from the public square.

It is easy to be a Christian when you are the moral majority.  Can we stand firm in Christ as we increasingly become what Dr. Russell Moore has called "the prophetic minority"? In the coming decades we will have an incredible task of standing firm in Christ in an increasingly hostile culture.

Yet, it is easy to see the cultural reshaping of our country and be pessimistic about this.  It is a bad thing for our country, but I believe that this is a wonderful opportunity for the church.   The dead weight chaff of an uncommitted cultural Christianity is being eliminated, and the opposition we will be facing will be used by God as a purifier for the church.

Standing Firm in Hostility

May we stand firm in Christ regardless of the blazing heat that may be rising around us.  May we stand firm on the unchanging truth of the Gospel and may we boldly call all people to repentance and faith.  May we urge every man and woman to trust in Jesus as their Lord and as their savior.  May we unapologetically proclaim Christ as the exclusive means of salvation for all people as we stand on the solders of Christians over the past millennia who laid down their life for the cause of Christ.  As the early church father Tertullian said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church".