"They Will Know We Are Christians By… What?" - Crosswalk the Devotional - Sept. 15, 2010
September 15, 2010
They Will Know We Are Christians By… What?
Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." Colossians 3:12
Whether you think they're kitschy or bold statements, you have to acknowledge that Christians t-shirts sell - and sell well. My must-be-modest adolescent wardrobe was full of them. My teen brothers have a few that play on the name of a certain guitar-based video game. The Christian-to-shirt ratio seemed to dip in college, but you could still spot them on the campus of my Christian alma mater.
Why the popularity? Well, for one thing, t-shirts are more effective if you don't yet own a car that you can slap with a Jesus fish. Or a Jesus fish eating Darwin fish.
The ubiquitous puns on soda, candy, even popular TV shows motivated Christian singer/songwriter to Justin McRoberts create yet another Christians t-shirt in 1999, one with a more ironic twist. His creation read, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our T-Shirts."
The slogan wasn't meant irreverently (if t-shirts are, indeed, worth reverencing). He explained it like this:
"Jesus prayed that it would be by our love that people would recognize us as belonging to him. In light of this, I think it's quite a bold move to wear a shirt that advertises your faith in Him. Because by doing so, you are claiming to be the most helpful, most ready to listen, the most selfless and most dependable person in the room … That's quite a bit to live up to.
"That's why I created the shirt slogan ‘They Will Know We Are Christians By Our T-Shirts' in 1999. It was a tongue-in-cheek way to say that I hoped we were known for far more than that … Whether or not we are a people who market well should be entirely secondary to whether or not we are a people who love well. That was the intended plan."
So let's leave any questions of artistic merit aside for a moment and talk about our motivation instead. Do we wear the shirts as an invitation for people to let us into their lives? Or, like McRoberts implied, are the t-shirts our way of copping out or kidding ourselves that we're doing real evangelism?
If the 12-year-old me ever had someone genuinely ask questions about a Christian t-shirt in my collection - not that anyone ever did - I would've broken into a cold sweat and mumbled something like, "Um, well, Jesus loves you, and, uh, here's my pastor's number." That's because there's no background for such a question, especially from a stranger. But what if that question was asked by someone I was focused on loving, helping, and supporting at all times, not just the time I was wearing a t-shirt? Living the Gospel is a lot harder than wearing a t-shirt. But it also makes questions more natural.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
We should never think tools - whether they be t-shirts, Jesus fish decals, or a heady knowledge of apologetics - get us off the hook for real evangelism. Let's commit ourselves to authentic living that follows the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times… and when necessary use words."
1 Peter 3:15
1 Peter 5:5b