A billboard is just that. I don’t expect a billboard, not even from Answers in Genesis (AiG), to achieve reconciliation between Christians and atheists, present a full six-day-creation message, disclaim the myth that all creationist Christians think “creation = Gospel,” or else give the whole Gospel in a sentence while also being clever and getting viewers’ attention.
Still, some seem to approach AiG’s new billboard with those expectations. My view is a bit different. Yet it’s similar to my reluctant critique last week of another favorite organization whose founder made an (at best) confusing statement about how stories help make us holy.
I want these organizations to succeed, proclaiming truth and beauty effectively to as many people as possible. In the case of AiG, I simply think there may be a better way to do that — a way that avoids tropes, cynicism, compromise or clichéd Bible quotes. Sounds incredible? Of course it does. I’m writing on the internet and it’s easy to critique without an alternative.
My suggestion, however, is not mine. AiG is already doing this and succeeding at it, and like so many Christians who have already stumbled upon excellence in sincerely held truth and imagination, I wonder if this organization’s staff simply does not know their own strengths.
To all of our atheist friends:
THANK GOD YOU’RE WRONG.
Which is of course followed by the name of AiG’s website.
As one long familiar with AiG, I see this billboard and say, “Huh.” As in: “What’s the point?” Apparently that’s exactly what they wanted people to think. Thus they include the website: their point is to provoke a conversation and point viewers to this evangelistic article.
These billboards are a marketing tool to drive people to the website for detailed information–and they have done that better than we hoped. We live in an Acts 17 type culture–which requires and Acts 17 approach.1
With that clear conversation-starter mission in mind, I’m left wondering two things:
1. Do some well-meaning Christian critics realize the billboard’s actual aim?
Hearts are not changed by shouting “YOU’RE WRONG” from the corner of Times Square.2
Are we sure we’re not importing from evangelical culture a “give the entire Gospel and thus change hearts immediately” approach, to apply to this ad? That is an odd expectation of a billboard. It can only do so much. And if, as Mike Duran critiques, we expect all “atheist friends” to become impressed with any Christian slogan at all, that strikes me as strange.
Only one-on-one, personal evangelism can address the complexities of human personality and the reasons people reject Christ. Only if you’re practicing Biblical discernment with another person in your life, and in front of you, can you better determine if that person would respond better to arms offering to care for them, “national repentance” for other Christians, or even an in-your-face-yet-gracious attitude that may win the other’s respect.
2. Conversely, is that the best way to reach out to non-Christians in this culture?
If I had access to such a billboard, I can think of a few more friendlier-yet-still-provocative slogans that could even generate more light and less heat — more response, less outrage.
In this case, “thank God you’re wrong” manages to resemble one of the more gracious contributions to a YouTube atheists-vs.-Christians comment war. I’m not even objecting to those wars; I only ask: why pay money to say this? You can say it on YouTube for free.
Don’t hate — subcreate
But I’ve alluded to another solution, still matching AiG’s goals, that could be more helpful.
This solution presupposes that the Creation Museum in southern Ohio / northern Kentucky is a fantastic attraction, an artful triumph, an incarnated example of God-exalting creativity that most Christians say they’d love to see but haven’t often seen. The place is immaculate, well-run, and bristling with creativity — the moving dinosaurs, museum motion pictures, dazzling HD planetarium, soundtracks, actors, dioramas, set design, informational signs, and animatronic apostles3. I’ll put it this way: you may be the most hardcore “theistic evolution,” six-day-creationists-ruined-faith-for-the-rest-of-us advocate, but if you love well-done, creative Christian art, I’d still encourage a visit to the museum.
Here’s my question, then: if the Creation Museum is such a legitimately inspiring attraction, winning admiration even from critics, why not spread that creative sense a little? They’ve already been doing this locally with billboards advertising the museum. But I’m not talking of tourism promotion — only the same sensibility. Include a provocative phrase, perhaps, but show something. Show an image of something beautiful. Something that images this:
The Bible describes God as eternal […] all-powerful […] Creator of the whole universe […]4
Let’s show more creativity. Just as the Creation Museum shows. Think “incarnationally.” Appeal, as the best evangelists did, to Biblical truth shown in imagination. This applies whenever we share God’s Story, whether its beginning, middle, or end — because often we can’t share it all at once. Even if we do, it’s only a start. Only the Spirit changes hearts.
- Ken Ham in a Facebook reply, Oct. 17, 2013. ↩
- Responding to Things like AiG’s Billboard, Chuck McKnight, undated post, BeingFilled.com. ↩
- And like most art, this catches criticism. The apostle Paul would not have looked like that!, etc. Possible dog-bites-man headline: “Progressive” Christians criticize “fundamentalist” museum’s art design. ↩
- Thank God You’re Wrong, AnswersinGenesis.org. ↩