GodtheFather ShirtChristian bookstores give me the creeps. A lot of that stems from the fact that they contain very few books. Some of it also comes from the decorative knickknacks that cover every shelf and display table.

I have to be fair. I know people who love their local Christian bookstore and are genuinely cheered and encouraged by Christian décor. And the Christian bookstore isn’t the only knickknack heavy outlet I try to avoid. Hallmark stores are equally silly (to me) in that they have all types of quaint figurines and decorative pieces. It’s not my style, but that shouldn’t be a strike against either place.

Here’s my problem. The Christian bookstore tends to be like the Hallmark store but with one major difference: everything is plastered with Bible verses or Christianeze phrases.

On the one hand, you have cheesy Christianeze paraphernalia. T-shirts made to look like The Godfather that read “GodtheFather.” Shirts made to look like Goodyear that read “God’s-here: Acts 2:17.” Twilight-esque handbags that read “InTheLight.” Apparel that proclaims “GodIsKing” rather than Burger King. Keep the font, baptize the slogan. That seems to be the modus operandi.

Upon This Rock ShirtAnd then you have Scriptures ripped from their context and emblazed on every item imaginable. I’ve seen t-shirts featuring electric guitars with the slogan “Upon this ROCK I will build my church (Matt. 16:18).” Flashlights that boast about being “the light of the world.” Mini-sound systems emblazoned with Psalm 96:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” In every case the use of a Bible verse is cheesy, and in every case the verse cited is taken out of context, its meaning is reversed or severely distorted, and its application is comical at best.

The most shocking item I’ve seen is a multi-tool engraved with Job 1:10, “You have blessed the work of his hands.” It sounds like a fine verse for a multi-tool, but apparently the people who created this fine product didn’t consider that Job 1:10 is a quotation from Satan. They could market it like this: “This holiday season, get that special man in your life this handy tool adorned with the words of the devil.”

It’s no stretch to say that faithfulness to the truth of Scripture is not the primary goal here. It’s almost as if these people are using the Bible to make a buck. But would people really use Jesus’ name as a marketing gimmick?

Devil Quote Multi-ToolBefore we answer that, let’s take a quick look at the “Christian technology” sector. Yes, it exists. You no longer need to mess around with secular companies like Apple or Windows. Now you can buy a Christian “edifi tablet.” It’s essentially an iPad, but they are marketing it using Romans 15:2. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Okay, Paul is talking about edification there, but is that any reason to buy an edifi tablet? I’m not sure how that logic works. I’m not sure why we need a Christian version of the iPad. What does it even mean for an electronic device to be Christian, anyway?

I have to be careful here. I am not anti-Christian-bookstores. They sometimes come in handy for me (though I increasingly find myself on Amazon instead), and they are frequently handy and encouraging for many of the people I love.

Here’s my point. We need to question the marketing strategy that says, “If Christian terminology will make it sell better, or if we can get a share of the secular market by creating a Christian equivalent, then let’s get in there and make some money!” Let’s put our energy towards creating and propagating things that are genuinely creative, useful, and that honor the biblical worldview from which we operate. If it looks Hallmarky, that’s fine. What I want to see is integrity, creativity, and biblical faithfulness. And by all means, let’s please stop waiting for the secular marketing world to come up with another semi-clever ad campaign so that we can turn it into a Christian t-shirt.

 

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of “Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music” and the co-author with Francis Chan of “Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples.” Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I think I need to begin asking people who wear these t-shirts if they actually like the shirts or if they wear them out of some sense of responsibility. I’m sure many people wear them because of the belief that it is helping them “witness”, even if they don’t particularly like the style or method. Maybe they aren’t concerned with style or what other people are actually thinking when they wear the shirts in public. I’d be interested to learn what motivates people to buy and use these types of products, along with what is motivating the people selling them. There is definitely a market for these things; otherwise, the companies would not continue to create and sell them, which further confirms your idea that it’s more about making money than it is about providing useful or beautiful things that are an accurate representation of God. In reality, I think it conveys a message to the world that God copies people, instead of communicating that people reflect God.

  2. Cheesy sells!! Just don’t know if unbelievers would wear those shirts unless it is a gift from grandma. I think it helps Christians to blend in and somehow be cool. This is a way for Christians to identify other Christians without being awkward. Sort of like a secret hand-shake. A hip Christian that watches Twilight or the Godfather but God is more important, sort of.

  3. I had a dream once that I went to Family Christian Stores looking for a Bible. It was a two-story store, white walls and tall ceilings and fluorescent lights, complete with escalators and strewn with tables for businessmen to work. We got there five minutes before closing, and they made us sign in because we were there so late. We went upstairs to find a Bible, and in the whole huge store there was only one shelf of Bibles, and they were all pink and fuzzy (like one of those terrible pillows that need to be shaved before they’re sold in stores) and embroidered in orange were the words “My First Bible.” I turned to my friend and said, “This won’t do. I guess we’ll have to go to the regular bookstore tomorrow and find a real Bible.”

    I also had a dream that Family Christian Stores called me one day and asked me why I hadn’t worn the complimentary bracelet they sent me in the mail. I went and found it and it was rubbery and had an owl face on it, and when I pulled the owl face off, there was a tracking device inside.

    Needless to say, I loved this article. But I’m biased. I admit it.