Monday, April 14, 2008

A Lead Balloon: Trading Cards for Evangelicals

The 'Lead Balloon', for the uninitiated, was a column in The Briefing. It was always a bit cheeky, but behind it was always a serious thought. The tag line for a Lead Balloon was 'A idea slightly too outrageous to be taken seriously'. Gordo, in a rare moment of nostalgia, tried to revive the Lead Balloon in March 2007. On the back of my previous posts about Fan-Clubs within Christendom, I offer you my first ever Lead Balloon. Hope you like it...

When I was in short pants in the 1980s, we swapped "Trading Cards". Trading Cards were the size of a normal card. But on the front they showed a color picture of someone or something (baseball or cricket players; monster trucks; racing cars; vintage cars; fighter jets; cruise ships and the like). And on the back, they listed various impressive statistics belonging to the person or thing.

You could just look and collect them. Or you could play a game with them: You would shuffle the 'deck', hand out the cards, and as each card came to the front, you'd nominate the strongest of the statistics on the back. And if your person or thing was better in that particular statistic, then you'd take their card. The winner was the one who collected all the cards by nominating the strongest, fastest, greatest winners in their class.

Do you remember?

Well, here is my suggestion: We ought to resurrect 'Trading Cards for Evangelicals'!

I should tell you right now the catalyst for my idea: It came from Dallas, Texas (of course!). William McKenzie wrote an Op-Ed in December called: "Celebrity worship in evangelicalism a risk to the soul". McKenzie says:

If you spend any time within evangelicalism, you hear people speak in reverential tones about the pastor at this church, the seminar led by this speaker or the book by this author. It's easy to feel as if you need to hear that speaker, attend that church or read that writer to establish your credentials as a believer.

The number of icons and rituals within one of the nation's most influential movements is actually surprising. Evangelicalism prides itself on being decentralized. Whereas Catholics put a premium on popes, bishops, saints, stations of the Cross and various forms of hierarchy and rituals, evangelicals see themselves as needing no mediator between themselves and God.

That actually isn't the case. Evangelicalism suffers from a worship of icons.

Now, you may not agree with everything McKenzie warns about, but there certainly is an elevation thing going on with lots of pastors and preachers. Just go to a conference with a great speaker, and look at their Bio.

So I thought we could all come clean about our culture, and put together these 'Trading Cards'.

We wouldn't have to go very far for the pictures: there are professional shots already circulating because of all the conferences we get our heroes to speak on. These pictures are distributed widely in the Blogosphere: Every time a hero is quoted, we post a picture of that person. So pictures would be not be hard to find.

But what about statistics? What would the categories be? I have some thoughts:
  • Size of person's Church
  • Rate of Growth ('Fastest growing')
  • Emergent Quotient (How Missional'?)
  • Pagan Quotient (How 'Unchurched' is the city?)
  • Charisma Quotient (How attractive is the person?)
  • Ratio of Dogs to Christians in the City
  • Number of Podcast downloads
  • Number of churches planted
  • Number of books published
  • Number of books published each year
  • Number of Fans on Facebook
  • Rating in the 50 Most Influential Churches
  • Rating in Time's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals
  • Theological degrees and Doctorates
  • Number of visits to the White House
Have I missed anything?

I guess my fear in the game would be this: It is not the way of the Cross. In the Scriptures, whenever a person is elevated this way, that hero almost always fell. But the 'way of the Cross' means that we will not elevate them in such a worldly fashion in the first place. They will have nowhere to fall, because we will not have elevated them.

So what does the Apostle Paul boast in? Galatians 6:14
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
And what is on the back of the Apostle's 'Trading Card'? 2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:9-10
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (...) Christ said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The problem with the game: it almost always ends badly.

So... will my balloon float?




Ben said...

Have you seen the Karl Barth trading card, Justin?

Justin said...

No way!

Great minds...

byron smith said...

Don't forget the first two released earlier!

sam said...

great idea justin... i recently had conversations with some 'evangelicals' who looked horrified when i told them that i loved certain aspects of this card holders ministry and preaching but disagreed with other aspects. Shock horror!
I reckon your card would be worth a bit Justin. Perhaps, you could also wack in the stats hits on blog in the year 2007???

Anonymous said...

Those guys at Christians in Context recently made an R. C. Sproul card too.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Seems as though a critique of the very concern for an inflated emphasis on numbers, missions, etc. is by definition an exclusive sort of 'preaching to the choir' (just a thought)... And please don't side with people who think that Catholics put too much of an emphasis on popes (plural??) priests and bishops. Protestant evangelicalism in America has always been and always will be a anti-Catholic cult of personality.
--love, your wife's characteristically skeptical sister.

Justin said...

Sister-in-law -- how great to have you over. I'm with you on your comment about Catholics. That is the very point of the Op-Ed piece. Evangelicalism has a lot of self-examining to do.

Cameron & Alex Grey Jones said...

Don't forget the trumps category of "Theological college attended"'s a biggie in the UK and is the make or break for all aspiring Bishops..

Anonymous said...

May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him
--Kate Wilkinson

1 Corinthians 2
2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

Julia said...

brilliant Justin...but will we also have a Sydney equivalent? number of speaking gigs at Katoomba Conventions, proximity to local bishops...amount of hate mail from local/regional/national liberals???
just a thought...

Gordon Cheng said...

It's a fine balloon, Justin. I wasn't ignoring it, it was just that I needed time to feel the weight of it!

Anonymous said...

"Ratio of dogs to Christians in city" lol. cheeky indeed. phil m

Keith said...

phil m stole my comment...