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The Finest Column Ever Written
Remember the year 2000? Wasn't it simply amazing? Didn't everything change dramatically as the global odometer turned over all those zeroes?

Remember the Y2K scare? Remember how terrible things were on January 1 when the power went off, the banks lost track of our money, and planes fell out of the sky?

Remember the scaremongers—including many Christians—who made so much money by telling us how bad things were going to be and by selling us stuff to protect us against various horrible dangers? Well, the End Of The World didn't come after all.

But how about this? Do you remember when "across America, God's people were preparing for the greatest celebration in history"? Yes, "Celebrate Jesus 2000" was—in case you missed it—"the greatest celebration in history." The full-page advertisement for it in a major American Christian magazine (January 1999) used that phrase twice. It also claimed that this event would be "the greatest revival and spiritual awakening this nation has ever seen."

Forget your George Whitefields, Jonathan Edwardses, and Great Awakenings. Forget your Charles Finneys, your D. L. Moodys, and your Billy Grahams. "Celebrate Jesus 2000" was to be the greatest evangelistic event—no, the greatest celebration of any kind—in all of history. It kind of passed you by, didn't it?

Lest any of us be tempted to adopt a lofty Canadian air toward those excitable Americans, let me remind you of advertisements you yourself have seen in Canadian Christian journals that have sought our support for this men's rally, or that prayer meeting, or this missions conference, or that Bible school. My research into Canadian evangelicalism over the past century has turned up lots of extravagant claims for events that turned out to be, it seems in retrospect, much less than their press releases and advertisements promised.

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith that God has assigned to each" (Romans 12:3). Yeah, well, thanks, Brother Paul, but you obviously don't understand marketing and motivation. Without a relentlessly positive attitude, without attention-grabbing claims, without the rhetorical elbowing—aside of competitors in order to seize the microphone and the limelight, our project or school or mission or church won't get the attention it deserves.

Here's another advertisement in a major magazine, this one a two-pager (big bucks for this one) depicting a Christian conference early next year. Among other things, this star-studded conference promises attenders that "you will learn how to become a visionary leader and achieve God-sized goals"—those are pretty big goals—and "you will understand your culture [I'm glad somebody does] and communicate effectively to all kinds of people"—Wow! Even the apostles couldn't do that. All of that, and much more, is promised if you will attend this three-day conference. One might wonder why it took Jesus three whole years to train His disciples.

Please. It's great to be enthusiastic about whatever God has called us to do. It's natural to want to kindle that fervour in others. But it's arrogant to believe that my cause should be your cause. And it is conceited to claim more for whatever we're doing than we accurately and soberly can.

"Let your yes be yes, and your no, no," Christ commanded (Matthew 5:37). We should be telling that to our publicists and advertisers. We should be telling that to ourselves. If the truth isn't impressive enough, we should either reassess our objectives or find something else to do.

What we can't do is lie. Inflated speech about the greatest this and the most wonderful that is not just zeal: It's deceit.

John Stackhouse is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee professor of theology and culture at Regent College, Vancouver.

Faith Today, Jan/Feb 2002,




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