Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Jesus is not 'gnarly.' He is God.

HANK: Can't you see you're not making Christianity better, you're just making rock 'n' roll worse.

PASTOR K: You people are all alike. You look at us and think we're freaks. Come on, even Jesus had long hair.

HANK: Only because I wasn't his dad.

What Stephen Baldwin needs is to have a looooong talk with Hank Hill. And he needs to stop beating the word "gnarly" to death, perhaps by stretching his vocabulary to include -- oh, I don't know -- "bitchin'." Or something.

The youngest Baldwin brother, as you may know, has found Jesus. And has decided his mission in life is to spread the gnarly gospel to gnarly teens through gnarly means. Here's a bit from an
ABC Nightline profile Tuesday night:
After his conversion, Baldwin says he quickly found that Christianity lacked a certain edge. So Baldwin decided to fill Christianity's gnarly niche by starting a youth ministry that evangelizes with skateboards, bikes and motorcross.

"I'm here to reach the youth culture of America that's dying everyday spiritually," Baldwin says. "They're overdosing, they're committing suicide, they're doing this and that. And the thing that transformed me was coming into the understanding the things of God and the spirit of God. And I want to share that with people — and I want to share it in a fun way."

We interviewed Baldwin on a skate ramp in Houston, a recent stop on his evangelical road show, "Livin it Live." Baldwin says the stakes are high: no less than a "spiritual battle" for the souls of young people.

Before the "Bikers for Christ" and the "King of Kings skate team" could start the show, Baldwin insisted his riders take a safety precaution of a higher order — an invocation.

"I just ask that every skateboard and bicycle and motocross bike, Lord, have a legion of angels all around them," Baldwin said, as he led a group prayer.

The "gnarly" niche, unconventional though it may seem, is proving very effective.

Baldwin is now one of the most influential up-and-coming evangelicals in America. He and his holy rollers regularly sell out stadiums, and he's put out one of the best-selling skateboard DVDs of all time.
I am all for Christianity having a certain "edge." But, then again, didn't it always? Christ was not killed for being a milquetoast, nor were most of the apostles martyred on namby-pamby grounds.

If Christianity lacks "gnarly" cred, the fault lies in various warped American subcultures that have attempted to mold God instead of letting God mold them. Now, to fix that, Baldwin seeks to create yet another gnarlier-than-thou subculture which, of course, is attempting to mold God instead of letting God mold it.

I think it's time now for the "King of the Hill," ol' Hank himself, to have that little talk with Stephen Baldwin. Heck, it could be the same talk he gave to his teen-ager, Bobby, after the younger Hill did the Full Gnarly:

BOBBY: When I turn 18, I'm going to do whatever I want for the Lord. Tattoos, piercings, you name it.

HANK: Well, I'll take that chance. Come here, there's something I want you to see. (Hank takes down a box from the shelf and opens it up) Remember this?

BOBBY: My beanbag buddy? Oh, man, I can't believe I collected those things. They're so lame.

HANK: You didn't think so five years ago. And how about your virtual pet? You used to carry this thing everywhere. Then you got tired of it, forgot to feed it, and it died.

BOBBY (looks at a photo of himself in a Ninja Turtles costume): I look like such a

HANK: I know how you feel. I never thought that "Members Only" jacket would go out of style, but it did. I know you think stuff you're doing now is cool, but in a few years you're going to think it's lame. And I don't want the Lord to end up in this box.


BOBBY: Hey, what's this picture? Mom used to have blonde hair?

HANK: Farrah Fawcett was very popular back then.

I don't think Jesus is interested in gimmicks. I don't think He is interested in bait-and-switch events. I don't think He is interested in looking cool.

I do, however, think Jesus is very interested in having a close, profound relationship with every one of us, both personally and communally . . . meaning in the context of a church body. Specifically, from my perspective, the Catholic Church, which WAS founded by Christ Himself.

And while the Church absolutely needs to be "salt and light" -- absolutely needs to impact the culture in a major way -- the Church (and that's all of us in the Body of Christ) ought never slip into Hucksterism for Jesus. What it has to offer -- not sell . . . offer -- is compelling and powerful enough to render gimmickry superfluous.

Gimmicks just get in the way.

Not that I have anything against BMXers and skateboarders who are Christians, and who attempt to bring their faith into what they do. After all, here at Revolution 21, we are Catholics trying to bring our faith into what we do . . . which, in our case, is radio.

There is a fine line, however, and it shouldn't be crossed. That line would be where you start to be nothing more "Bread and Circuses for Jesus."

That line would be where you are sooooooooo focused on getting people through the door and manufacturing "New Christians" that you forget about getting them grounded in their newfound faith.

That line would be where you forget about preparing them for a lifelong voyage on sometimes stormy seas.

What Stephen Baldwin needs to be asking himself is whether -- as "gnarly" and "cool" and popular as his Skateboarder Jesus might be now -- in five years some sad-eyed parent will reach for a shoebox, a shoebox tucked away on a top shelf in a closet somewhere in America, and in that shoebox will lie Skateboarder Jesus . . . dusty, scuffed and very forgotten.


Anonymous said...

I agree that all this "relevance" stuff can (and often is, especially in youth ministry contexts) be overdone, but it's interesting that Baldwin doesn't actually use the word "gnarly" during the interview - that's the journalist doing his/her own interpretation. I think a more potent (and broader) criticism would be against evangelical Christianity's tendency to use event-driven evangelistic tactics instead of appealing to people's God-given hunger for righteousness to make them apprentices to Jesus. The latter is far more difficult (and more dependent upon the Spirit) than the former.

The Mighty Favog said...


I saw the telecast -- telecast . . . now THERE's a word you don't hear much anymore -- and Stephen used "gnarly" incessantly.

As a matter of fact, he said the genesis of his ministry was when, as a new Christian, he went to a Christian bookstore and asked where the "gnarly section" was . . . only to receive befuddled looks.

As Jesus often said, I'm sure, "Oy veh."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this definitely is interesting. It is also challenging! As much as we wonder about the sincerity of what is being done or even the long-term effectiveness, I have to realize that this ministry is touching more souls than the entire youth community of my town. That challenges me to think that God is capable of working in ways that I can't even begin to imagine. I have to think that God is pretty excited that a "gnarly" student encounters a "gnarly" God, even in unconventional ways.