Union University
Union University Dept of Language


"The weapons of our warfare are not . . . "

Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship

January 29, 2010 - Christian cultural engagement increasingly requires levels of discernment that transcend the current motif. By and large, the current motif is characterized by an ethos of invasion. If we Christians can simply get our people and our message (however that’s characterized) into enough of the cultural crevices and, of course, stages as possible – hence, reaching as many as possible, we’re bound to win. At least, so the thinking goes . . .

The internal momentum of this trajectory requires entry into every dimension of public life, regardless of its relative level of darkness. Thus, Christians presume that with enough cultural clout, there is no cultural arena beyond redemption.

The recent effort by Focus on the Family to invade one of the world’s largest cultural stages, the Super Bowl, by airing a pro-life commercial featuring Florida Gator superstar Tim Tebow is a noteworthy instance of this strategy and its attending assumptions. As one might expect, Focus on the Family’s effort to get the Super Bowl spot has attracted no small amount of attention. From the nearly irrational blather of ABC’s The View to more sober analysis from the Baptist Press, nearly everyone in the virtual world seems to have a stake in whether CBS airs a 30-second version of the inspiring life story of a missionary kid who plays football.

So how much do Christians really have at stake in this matter? Judging by the recent efforts of a gay dating site, ManCrunch.com, to have their own ad shown during Super Bowl XLIV, some Christians may immediately conclude that Focus on the Family’s advance into the heart of American sports culture puts them on the front line of the proverbial “culture wars.” (Think of Tebow leading the charge having put on the full armor of God.)

ManCrunch seems ready to fight, but they insist, quite reasonably it seems, on equity in the rules of engagement. (Haven’t evangelicals made similar appeals for a “voice” in the public square?) Elissa Butcher, a ManCrunch representative argues, “If the ad showed a man and woman kissing it would have been accepted. You see ads for erectile dysfunction morning, noon and night. It's discriminatory that they won’t show this.” (“This” means their own ad, which features two men making out on the sofa.)

The Butcher comment is revealing. For years now, the Super Bowl, indeed the entire football industry (college and NFL) has been anything but family-friendly – much less, Christian-friendly. More importantly, the very terms on which the football industry proceeds (i.e., the basis on which it makes such decisions about what airs and what does not) are not designed to assure a fair fight for those Christian institutions and organizations who wish to use the industry to engage culture. For the football industry serves Mammon.

Perhaps there is a respect in which Focus on the Family is to be commended for their efforts to penetrate the darkness with the light of life. But Christians must recognize that, as Butcher’s comment makes clear, the rules of engagement in this particular battle have been decidedly stacked against Christian witness for some time. For every 30-second spot that Focus on the Family can buy, Viagra and Budweiser can buy 10 more.

Where and how the light of life should penetrate the cultural darkness is a matter of prudence. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah suggests that there may be cases in which the cultural darkness is so great that redemption might, of necessity, require the Divine fires of refinement. In situations such as these, it is the height of folly to advance. It is worth wondering whether, like the Coliseum of Rome, the Super Bowl will become the sort of event from which Christians should take their families, retreat, and not look back.