Swimming Against the Stream

Sacred Cows #7: The Gospel of Fun


Having Fun With Christians

So imagine the following scene: A church decides to have an Easter sunrise service on a Sunday morning. One of the features of this event is to attach a cross, that looks suspiciously like a white frosted cake standing upright, to a cloud of helium filled balloons that will float off into the distance. There is some talk that maybe someone will find it. There are some printed words somewhere in the confection. And there is a prayer that it might be a mighty witness for the gospel as well as an offering of praise. I beheld this with my own eyes in the late 90s. The Gospel of Fun has indeed taken over the church.

Jesus Christ He's the Real Thing

This T-Shirt originated with the Christian Hippies of the Jesus Movement back in the 70s.

Now if we are going to use our imaginations seriously let’s picture this: Present at the balloon offering there are a host of other Christians representing different traditions down through the ages; Martin Luther, the Reformer is there next to John Calvin, Augustine and Paul are looking on, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are standing near T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers. Frederick Douglass and Dostoevsky turn to each other. Saint Nino of Georgia, Thomas Aquinas, Jane Austen and Charles Finney are all in attendance. And finally Jesus himself is present. And what would such a cloud of witnesses make of this strange diminution of the truth of their faith into a pop spectacle. (And balloons do pop!) Could any of these believers from times passed not be disturbed, even deeply saddened, perhaps some even to the point of tears. And Jesus? Who suffered and bled and died for all of humanity? What would he think of balloons being offered in his name? I certainly can’t claim to know. But I do remember the story of the unworthy offering of Cain way back when.


Judges, Lamentations and the Crucifixion of Christ are Especially Fun

And this strange image of balloons and sweet crosses flying into the sky is only the tiniest metaphor of the shape of a Christian faith now also tainted and deformed by the new universal Gospel of Fun.

A Cake for Christ?

Happy Birthday Jesus Cookie Cake

The Spirit of Christmas?

The examples are legion… and I am thinking of the exorcism story in the Bible when I use the word legion. Where to start (because there is no end): What about Happy Birthday Jesus cakes for Christmas? Or Youth Bibles to make the Faith more Fun and Exciting? How about Catholic balloons? Speaking of balloons, what about hot air balloons shaped like Jesus? There are at least two. T-shirts featuring Pepsi or Coke graphics with ad slogans modified into a ‘Christian witness’? How about images of a laughing Jesus? Church music, like much contemporary religion, has turned into a blood bath of feel good commercialization. In the extremities we find such phenomena as the Toronto Blessing, where for over a decade congregants engaged in laughing, dancing, shaking, barking like dogs and entering trances all in the name of being ‘drunk in the Lord’. Sounds like Fun doesn’t it? And it is, with a capital F.

All in One Bible Fun

Extreme Teen BibleAction Bible












The Gospel of Fun and Positive Thinking (we’ll get to that down the road) have essentially taken over much of Western Christianity and beyond. And I can already hear many of my Christian friends saying ‘Hey no fair. We have to do whatever we can to reach out for Christ. Don’t be critical.” What’s really odd is that the general impression of the Western secular world that Christians are still all hellfire and brimstone. The media jumps on every weird ‘Christian’ they can find. Think Westboro Baptist Church. Think of the crazy Florida pastor who was going to burn copies of the Koran. Or the naïve folks in the Jesus Camp documentary. They leap at every utterance that any celebrity makes that suggests that they are still clinging on to some bigoted form of traditional morality. And in reality most churches in America have long ago converted to a feel good version of the Faith. Concepts like hell, heresy, judgement are nearly taboo in most Western churches. God is a therapeutic deity. The point is to be positive, whole, healed, happy and to have Fun.

Mega Church Worship

Worship Time in a Mega-Church

That it’s impossible to find such a message in the Bible doesn’t seem to cause too many sleepless nights . The anti-intellectualism which had surfaced within Christian circles in the second half of the 19th Century has had the effect of making sure that the average congregant is no more worried about these contradictions than they are about eating a moist birthday cake.

Happy-Birthday-Jesus-PartyHappy Birthday Jesus Cake Drawing









Interestingly the word ‘fun’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Neither do any of its relatives; amusement, entertainment or diversion. Although one word does show up which is an elderly relation: merriment. And some folks try to shoehorn words like blessed, happy or joy under the Fun umbrella. But merriment is an interesting word. The word in the New Testament is a Greek word which can also be translated as ‘cheer’. And it is a good thing to be of good cheer. The prodigal son was certainly cheered up by his father’s celebration. But then there is this ominous passage in the twelfth chapter of Luke where Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who has worked all his life just to finally kick back and have some fun. His motto? ‘Take life easy; eat ,drink and be merry.’ And then next word out of God’s mouth is ‘You fool. Tonight your life will be required of you.’ It’s more complicated than that, but I think we can easily see that the philosophy of Fun gets no free ride from Jesus.

Laughing Jesus 3


Laughing Jesus 1

Laughing Jesus 2











And in fact Fun with a capital F did not enter the Christian world until the 1950s. When in order to combat juvenile delinquency and a fear of Communism para-church organizations began to seriously create youth ministries who would lure kids into the fold with ‘funspiration’. These ministries continued into the Sixties and they hooked up with the Jesus Movement in the 1970s. This was a crucial time. These new Christian hippies moved away from the stale and boring traditional churches and into the charismatic world. They brought with them the new catchier praise songs, developed by the youth ministries during the folkie era. Catholics had guitar masses. They brought a looser, more casual, approach to the Faith. Jeans and T-shirts came into the church. And they also brought in the T-shirts with cute Jesus slogans. By the mid-eighties the transformation was fairly complete. The older culture of easy listening Christian crooners and televangelists had merged with the newer Christians and their peppy tunes and Christian market. Eventually New Agisms would be interlarded. And lashings of Positive Thinking culture.

Jesus air balloon Nevada

A Jesus Hot Air Balloon in Nevada. How Are We to Resist the Conclusion that Christians are also Full of Hot Air?

There is an informative book called The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas E. Bergler (Eerdmans). In it he states that “Of course these changes came at some cost. White evangelicals invested heavily in young people and aggressively adapted to their preferences for an informal, entertaining, feel good faith. They ended up with their churches full of Christians who think that the purpose of God and the Christian faith is to help them feel better.”

Slain in the Spirit

Somewhere in Florida… The Sleep of Reason Produces…

And so for far too many folks the Gospel of Fun has superseded the Gospel of Christ, and they can’t even see it. It is identical to the aging hippie wearing high tech spandex biking gear. How can you explain it to them? Rational argumentation is dissed as judgmental. Everyone is supposed to smile. Check out their Facebook pages. (Of course there is a very dark side to all of this Fun and Positivity. Try to express a thoughtful dissenting opinion on internet sites like IMDb or in response to a newspaper editorial and just watch the knives come out.)

You know this might all be a bit of a downer… But if you look at it a different way it’s just so Cute.

Precious Moments Chapel

Inside the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri

I think we’ll have to continue this next time…

Byrne power

Haines, Alaska


10 responses

  1. Kathy in Pittsburgh

    There is an ignorance of the Word of God. Even the idea that Christ died for the sins of the world is misunderstood. The word world = cosmos in Greek, which means an ordered collection. The context will tell you if it is referring to the universe, all the living creation of earth, all sinners, all saints, Satan and his minions, etc…John 17 is a good passage to illustrate this. Also, John 3:16-read 3:14-21. (I have edited this down a little because I really do not want this topic to turn into a theological debate. I prefer to keep to the subject of the post, which I felt this reply was getting a little too far from. But thank you for taking the time Kathy.BP)

    August 11, 2014 at 3:22 PM

  2. Again thanks for the comment Kathy.

    It occurs to me that over time this post might attract quite a bit of heated thought, which I don’t mind. But it also might attracted off topic remarks as well. A word of caution. I do edit these replies, when I feel for one reason or another they need to be. And final approval is what appears here is completely up to me. I will certainly take topical criticism. But I’m a whole lot less eager to publish the kind of writing that seems to ignore the writing in the essay.

    August 11, 2014 at 4:39 PM

  3. Patt

    I remember some of the “fun” youth activities back there during the Jesus Movement. It was so easy to get swept up in it all especially if one had a desperate need to be a part of a “cool” group. In retrospect, I’d say Christianity of that sort rather dwarfed my ability for analytical thinking but, then again, it beat the alternative at the time. I actually think that, if churches want to reach young people, they might want to attempt to be truly action based rather than contrive silly little activities. Most people, regardless of age, would rather feel they are actually accomplishing something worthwhile. Running around telling others that Jesus is the real thing and He died for our sins just really isn’t an accomplishment in my opinion.

    August 17, 2014 at 6:21 PM

  4. Yes Patt the concept of Fun is still used as a lure for conversions. It becomes a propaganda tool. It reminds me of what Jacques Ellul wrote back in the 60s in his book Propaganda: “In such moments, Christianity ceases to be an overwhelming power and spiritual adventure and becomes institutionalized in all its expressions and compromised in all its actions. It serves everybody as an ideology with the greatest of ease, and tends to be a hoax.”

    I will say that there was more to the Jesus Movement than that. But far too much propaganda, meaningless activity and eventually commercialization tainted the mix. Nevertheless there was some genuine reality at times.

    August 17, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    • Patt

      I agree. The Jesus Movement gave me lifelong friends and readied me for a life of contemplation and responsibility …..for all it’s faults, not a bad outcome. The problem that remains highlights difference between contrived fun and spontaneous fun. One is a goal, the other a byproduct. Much of Christianity today seems reactionary and defensive – not an effective draw for the unbeliever. Perhaps that explains a bit the emphasis on creating a fun yet superficial setting -,palatable to those who otherwise would not care.

      August 18, 2014 at 1:23 PM

  5. strike2012

    Where’s “Buddy Christ” from the opening scene in the film _Dogma_ in your collection of FunJesus images?

    October 1, 2014 at 8:26 PM

  6. strike2012

    After 7 posts: We get it. You are seriously, totally, completely, utterly down on the banality of fun. So are we–some of us. Speaking for myself, I only wish you were to more wittily laugh at it, though. As in the adage, “Laugh at the devil…”

    October 1, 2014 at 8:33 PM

  7. strike2012

    I forgot to add: Grimly.

    October 1, 2014 at 8:34 PM

  8. Pingback: 21st Century Propaganda #7 | The Anadromous Life

  9. Note: There was no ‘Buddy Christ’ because that was obviously designed as a parody of these things for the film Dogma.

    March 7, 2019 at 10:08 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s