I’ve been considering the question of whether or not Christian athletes should use their well-knownness as a “platform” to speak about Christian faith.
I’ve indicated that I think they should not do this. I’ll elaborate on a third consideration here and in a subsequent post turn to some constructive comments about how well-known athletes can embody Christian faithfulness.
It seems to me that this strategy doesn’t consider wisely our current cultural climate.
It doesn’t take seriously our media-saturated culture of cynicism and its familiarity with well-worn manipulative evangelistic strategies.
Cynicism about evangelical Christians in American public life has as long of a history as does evangelism, going back at least to Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Elmer Gantry (1927).
More recently, movies like “Saved” and evangelical characters on TV sitcoms point to a culture tired with evangelicals inappropriately exploiting opportunities to inject canned evangelistic messages. Our wider culture views American evangelicals as judgmental, manipulative, superficial, and offensive.
And it won’t do to identify this kind of public profile with the persecution of early Christians or the offense of the cross.
Early Christians were persecuted because their alternative lifestyle was perceived as a threat to the imperial economic order.
And the offense of the cross had to do with the gospel’s call to embrace weakness and humility, to worship as lord the One who had disappointed corrupted Jewish messianic expectations.
In contrast to this, contemporary evangelicals have this public image—rightly or wrongly—because of their participation in the culture wars of the last forty years and a history of evangelistic strategies shaped by manipulative salesmanship.
Our culture perceives evangelical behavior as offensive, not the gospel.
We can claim that this is unfair or we might wish to put forward better examples of genuine evangelical Christianity. At some point, however, we’ve got to reckon with this reality.
Given this cultural context, it may actually be counter-productive for Christian athletes to use their well-knownness as a “platform” to speak of Christian faith.
Despite their good intentions, our culture is more apt to identify them as an advocate for one side in the culture war than as a gracious exponent of genuine Christian faith.