Monday, March 16, 2009

The Gospel Blimp

“The Medium is the Message”, huh? While Marshall McLuhan’s 1968 book title may have sounded like a bunch of Sixties freak-speak, the Jesus and the Apostles understood this idea from the beginning. When God spoke the Gospel to Man, what was His medium of choice? "The Word became flesh and dwelt a while among us." The medium and the message were one and the same, Jesus living in the flesh!

Never content to leave well enough alone, Christendom has continually added enhancements to God's Medium of “Word Incarnate”, with the inevitable effect of trivializing the Gospel of God. The Imperial Gospel had its day, and the Industrial Gospel had its way. Now the Consumer Gospel is upon us.

Behold, The Gospel Blimp. Way back in 1960, Joseph Bayly (president of stodgy, corny David C. Cook, publisher of Sunday School quarterlies) published The Gospel Blimp, a prophetic and hilarious satirical parable on the subject. It was made into very a popular Christian film in 1967. For all the good it did. Check out the trailer here.

The story begins with a group of people trying to determine how to reach their next door neighbors for Christ. One evening while sitting out on the patio, they notice that the "Naughty Neighbors" pause from their card playing and beer drinking long enough to look up as an airplane passes low overhead. This gives our budding evangelists a great idea: Why not employ a 'gospel blimp' to fly over the town proclaiming the Word of God for all to see? This is gonna be big. REALLY big!!

The remainder of the parable chronicles this 'ministry' effort. The undertaking consumes enormous amounts of time and resources, and requires a mighty public relations effort. And none of it includes sharing the Gospel with the "Naughty Neighbors" who were the inspiration for the idea.

Bayly's parable drives home the point that the emphasis on infrastructure, facilities and public relations effectively neutralizes the gospel itself. The amazing thing is that Bayly wrote this in 1960! I can just hear him saying "I told you so."

"Let the Word of god dwell richly in YOU." Let the Word become flesh in your life, and humble yourself to dwell among your neighbors.

(Thank you Larry Farlow of Reformation Ramblings for paragraphs 4 & 5, which I mainly swiped from your fine blog!)


Christi R said...

Card playing and beer drinking - those heathens!!

The trailer was funny and I’m sure the movie is too and I think Joe B’s point is right on… and yet…. something about this rubbed me to wrong way (not the post itself, Joe B). I’m going to go spend some time thinking about why this aggravated me, but for now I’ll leave you with my opinion:

Seems to me the better option would be for those good Christians to just stop judging their neighbors and go be neighborly with them.... talk to them! But then that would be too easy, right? And do those good Christians really want to be seen associating with the "naughty neighbors”? I mean what would all their other good Christian neighbors and friends think?

People often make things too hard and with trying to come up with the next big idea, manage to miss the point altogether.

Joe B said...

Yeah, that was pretty much the point of the whole satire. It actually ends with the "evangelists" getting burned out and having a big falling out. Having failed in the blimp initiative, they find themselves with no friends, and become friends with the Naughty Neighbors. So the gospel is back in its natural habitat: the backyard barbecue.

Joe B said...

I liked the "Fire-Bomb" gospel tracts. :-D

I don't care what you print on paper, once it's thrown out the window of a blimp it has become a "different gospel" by the time it lands on the heads of those below!

scott said...

I finally got to watch the trailer for the movie. I gotta say, that's some fine comedy, there. That was probably more effective than our own attempt at church-satire in film...

Like that fantastic "Building Christian Community" book, it's amazing how a few things written 30-40 years ago seem to hit the nail right on the head of our current-day issues.

Joe B said...

There is always a voice crying in the wilderness, Scott. We are seldom if ever the prominent voices, because our message has nothing to do with power or wealth.

Love cannot be institutionalized. But love never fails!