We have a short attention span. We like to think of ourselves as current with everything; we are, after all, modern men. But, to use Andrew Lytle’s striking phrase, we are not modern men at all, but actually momentary men.
We careen from one thing to the next, thumb on the remote. Our presidential debates are not debates at all, but more like demolition derbys between competing sound bytes. On virtually all our products we plaster some form of “New! Improved!” In other words the product is emphatically not what it was the last time we were foolish enough to buy it. Sermons have deteriorated into little ten minute, entertaining sketches of some inspiration mini-thot or other. Momentous events on the other side of the world are summarized for us on the evening news in one minute and forty five seconds. And now this. Continuity bores us. Sustained thought is wearisome. And whatever you do, it better be different from last time.
In a culture like this, fads are just like cotton — the fabric of our lives. The evangelical world is nothing but a (superficially) pious echo of the postmodern chaos all around us can be seen in how well we excel at fads. In many significant ways, we are better at this foolishness than the non-Christians are.
The content of the WWJD phenomenon is addressed elsewhere in this issue. And of course, it is self-evident that there is nothing wrong with the content of the question. It is perfectly reasonable to ask what Jesus would do. The problem with our marketing campaign is that the first thing He would do is refuse to put on any dumb bracelets. And this is not because of what it is saying, but rather with what it is. It is a fad.
Fads and fashions are always driven by a particular kind of fuel, which is a lust for newness. And as we watch the fads go along, one of the most obvious things about them is the noise made by all the cash registers. We are looking at an area where the laws of supply and demand have certainly not been set aside. And as we ponder this, we do not have any difficulty with the supply side of the equation. We do not have to wonder about why we always will have salesmen with an abundant inventory of dumb stuff in the warehouse. The reason for this is hoary with age, and we cannot look at any time in history when this reason is not fully operative. A fool and his money are soon parted, and hustlers have always been quick to make a buck. This is why we now have WWJD everything now — teeshirts, bracelets, stuff, ad nauseam.
But why is there such a demand? What would we think of someone who underwent plastic surgery three times a month because he never liked his nose? Or of a housewife who rearranged the furniture three times a day? If we were to talk to her about her rearranging compulsion, we should not be distracted into a discussion of whether the current arrangement is any good. The issue is not the arrangement of her living room furniture; the problem is the arrangement of the furniture of her mind. If someone were to wash his hands every ten minutes, the issue is not the value of personal cleanliness.
We call our participation in this constant flux a “desire for relevance.” But we are confused on the point, thinking that relevance is a matter of packaging. If we want to market the gospel in an ever-changing world then we have to keep repackaging it. We know we are supposed to present the gospel to sinful men. But in a fatal confusion, we are trying to preach to the sin, and not to the men. The nature of man, created imago Dei, is constant. The nature of sin, detached as it is from reality, is adrift and constantly changing. “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 12-13). We now preach to this rootlessness, trying to persuade people that the Christian is every bit as rootless as they are.
So in an oxymoronic triumph, we have become profoundly superficial. We rearrange, change the colors, move things around, always with one imitative eye on the constant flux of unbelief outside the church. Evangelism over the course of a few decades becomes, “Christ is cool. No, wait, Christ is rad. No, wait, the gospel is awesome.” And actually, it was, back when that word used to mean something.
Huffing and puffing to keep up, we have come to want our faith to be just as unstable as the world outside, and we present ourselves accordingly. Instead of the Athenians hearing of the timeless message of the gospel, we have become just like the Athenians. “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
We should always keep in mind C.S. Lewis’ admonition. Whatever is not eternal is eternally out of date.