When did banter become a spiritual gift? Jon Acuff and Christian radio DJ’s

I’m not sure how to explain what I’ve been wrestling with today. It started when I went to Jon Acuff’s blog and saw that he got 163 comments for a post where he talks about loving to hear people pray with a British accent. There’s definitely some envy going on (I’ve never had more than a handful of comments on any of my posts), but I really think something else is getting under my skin. It’s similar to the cringe I felt later this afternoon when I heard my Christian radio station play a single mom’s  emotional confession that her radio station is her only friend as part of their self-promotional jingle. It’s astonishing how matter-of-factly Christian radio DJ’s can remix their listeners’ pathos into another reason to congratulate themselves with an “aw shucks” kind of chuckle. Does that really make nobody else queasy? It seems like there are two kinds of Christian celebrities: the Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson variety who say really scary, hateful things that make people run from Jesus and then the cute and funny Christians who turn every spiritual issue into ditsy banter. But when did banter become a spiritual gift?

I’m tired of the “family name games.” I’m tired of the cutesy “call-in” questions about favorite moments with your pet. I’m tired of self-help and self-promotion being the same pyramid scheme that somehow gets the adjective “Christian” attached to it (if you buy my book about how to “live out your dream,” then you too can sell millions of books telling other people how to sell millions of book to others who want to sell millions of books). I honestly don’t want to have anything to do with the Christianity that is successful and popular and cute and funny. Part of my problem is I suck at banter. 90% of my stress in writing sermons is the pressure to come up with something funny to say. I’ve never been good at what the cool kids do so naturally.

My second year in college, I went through a brief phase of attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. There were definitely some true Christians in that group (and there were lots of babes!), but when I went on their beach week trip, I realized that I was never going to fit in with them because they were exactly like the popular kids who rejected me in high school. Have you ever hung out with people who live in a sort of banter-giggle-land that can keep them going for hours but then when you try to jump into their conversation, the laughter stops? That’s what FCA beach week was like for me in 1998. I don’t think the good-looking, charming, successful Christians I’ve never fit in with were actually trying to exclude me; I’ve just always managed to create awkward unfunniness in their presence.

When I went through training to be a Young Life leader in college, we were actually instructed to target the popular kids each time we visited local high schools under the assumption that if we got the leaders, their groupies would follow (This was why I didn’t become a Young Life leader). When I had done Young Life in high school, I had a leader named Phil Weeber who decided to waste his time on a low-yield relationship with a loser like me. My friend Brian and I would go to Phil’s house and shoot potato guns with him because nobody else in our high school really wanted to hang out with us. If Phil had budgeted his time more strategically by striking up friendships with people who actually had a following, he probably would have won more “personal decisions” for Jesus on his scorecard, but he did get at least one in Windy Gap, NC, in July 1994. I could take you to the exact spot on the sidewalk in between two cabins where Phil prayed Jesus into my heart that night. I wonder if he ever got rebuked by his higher-ups for investing too much energy into nerdy kids like me with so little social dividend.

In any case, the fact that I’ve never been cute or popular is probably why I have a hard time not being offended that a writer can build a career off of being cute and call that “stuff Christians like.” I don’t want to think that real Christians could ever like anything that’s referred to as “stuff.” Aren’t we supposed to have a little more gravitas than that? Is what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians really something you can boil down to  “having a dream job”? Is it really that shallow and utterly identical to the world’s “Everyone is special” metanarrative?

In any case, one of Jon Acuff’s recent blog posts anticipates my jealous rant: “Love your dream too much to hate somebody else’s.” He writes that people who hate on his books usually do so because they’ve never succeeded at writing books themselves. I guess that calls me out. Except that I hope I can do better than write a really popular book and become a Christian celebrity. My dream is to be part of how God cultivates a Christian culture where people value each other enough in their immediate communities that celebrities become irrelevant and people like me repent of ever wanting to be famous. At the same time, if I had 74,184 twitter followers, I really hope I would be saying things of greater theological urgency than musing about my love for British accents. I can’t understand Christian banter because there’s too much at stake. But Lord, please help me get over my envy.

22 thoughts on “When did banter become a spiritual gift? Jon Acuff and Christian radio DJ’s

  1. I like what you have to say. We have become too easy at being “popular” Christians and at “looking good and politically correct” rather than being real Jesus followers, which means, sometimes being in the dirt. As one of Phil Weeber’s Young Life Leaders it is good to hear that his example was taken and, it seems, emulated.
    Keep up the good work.

    As for Pat Roberston, as a graduate of his university, I agree that he says a lot of things he should not and that are destructive. At the same time, he says a lot that is true and should be heard. Unfortunately, usually what most people hear is the negative.

    • Thanks for sharing Lee. A lot of us are loose cannons who say a mix of destructive and prophetic things. As James says the tongue is such a treacherous thing to control. I can vouch for that myself.

  2. Not a minute of my time was wasted with you Morgan.
    I am humbled by your post with tears in my eyes right now.
    Thank you – I really needed to stumble upon this today.

    • Wow Phil. That’s so cool that you found this! Seriously brother, if it hadn’t been for you (or Christ acting through you), I don’t know how I would have turned out. I grew up in the church and everything, but God specifically planted seeds through you that made me the kind of pastor that I am. That potato gun was important evangelism. I still can’t believe you gave your time so freely like that. And I’ll never forgot how you always called Him “Daddy” when you prayed.

  3. Pingback: My Superpower – Invisibility | M I K E P E S H . C O M

  4. The banter makes Christianity feel light, fluffy and fake. I know I crave substance – the material to forge real relationships out of – not just fluff. I’ve felt distanced from Christian Culture recently, and this is largely (but not the only) reason why. Your post reminds me that not everyone thinks it should be so…empty. Thank you for that.

    • Christian pop culture is the Disney World version of the kingdom of God, which is so much richer than most middle-class Americans will ever allow themselves to experience.

      • I’ve been on Facebook too much recently! I wanted to “like” your reply. Really, though, I do like the way you put that. It’s so true, and so much more unfortunate.

  5. ‘I can’t understand Christian banter because there’s too much at stake.’ That is simply profound. Excellent article.

    I’m going through the same struggles you are. Here’s what I have determined:
    1: Don’t be offended. Being offended is the opposite of forgiveness.
    2: Don’t beat yourself up over your observations, because you are right and don’t let anyone make you think otherwise. God opened your eyes. It’s bothers you because it bothers Him. Christ is far greater than anything of this world, and His sacrifice earned so more than cutesy catchphrases and plastic smiles. The Christian Culture is making a mockery of God, no matter how well-intentioned it may be. Sadly, the salvation of many people is suffering as a result.
    3: BE the Light of Christ, don’t worry about ‘acting’ like the light of Christ. Those who truly have a hunger for God will be drawn towards you, because they will be drawn to the Spirit that is within you. Many Christians treat evangelism like a popularity contest, or like selling used cars. Jesus Christ was NEVER like that. Not once in any of the Gospels will it be found.
    4: If you truly follow God, you’ll find yourself standing alone among your fellow Christians. But you’re not alone. There are so many others who are called by God who feel the same way you do. The culture is wrong. We are not. And best of all, you have the love and comfort of Jesus Christ, and He blesses you for your suffering for His sake.
    5: Read the Word of God. Read Jeremiah, and take comfort in knowing he went through the same things you are. It’s the burden of the Called.
    6: The true, living God prevails. Not the false, shallow culture.

    There’s so much more I can say, but I’ll stop here. God bless you. I take comfort reading your article and knowing there are others like me.

    • Yeah I was partly inspired by your blog. I’m just tired of living in this plastic, banter-ish Jesus culture today that is nothing like the ragtag army of fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes who the kingdom really belongs to.

  6. Very true David! I think because I can’t do funny, I don’t like people who can. My outsider “prophet” trope is just my own form of self-justification. I remember when we studied sonnets in college, Shakespeare got on my nerves because he couldn’t stop being witty but Petrarch was my guy because he was SO… tragic. The unnamed beef that I have with Jon Acuff is that he’s Dave Ramsey’s sidekick on his “Don’t Apologize for Being Rich” tour.

  7. I always thought “Stuff Christians Like” was satire. It always seemed to me like Jon is poking fun at the shallowness of the stuff he writes about, and I have always admired his ability to do that in a humorous way, whereas I can only write scathing and thoroughly humorless sermons about it.🙂

    Having said that, I deeply relate to the struggle with the “popular kids.” But perhaps through God’s ironic humor, I ended up meeting and eventually marrying our high school class president and meeting all of her popular friends. I was stunned to find out that among them were some jerks, and some very kindhearted people, just like in every other circle. I had to repent of my attitude (which took years, and is probably ongoing) — what I realized was a sense of superiority that was born simply of feeling like I was on the bottom. Pride will certainly find its way in through any crack that is available.

    I wonder if that is part of what fuels guys like us, Morgan (yes, I’m identifying with you here as a fellow thinker and preacher). We want to go into ministry so we can change things, teach people about what “really” matters. Yet as we are continuing to struggle with wounds we received long ago, our motives are mixed. I must admit that it sometimes feels amazing at my church to be the go-to guy — the one everybody recognizes and comes to for guidance about what “really” matters. All we can do is know that God is working in our woundedness and frailties, and allow him to continue healing us as we play a small role in bringing his grace and goodness to others. Thanks for your honesty.

  8. Your posts are consistently challenging, Morgan. I’m nearing fifty and the merry-go-round that is time just seems to keep spinning faster. I don’t have a lot of time for a lot of blog reading any more, but yours is one of the few I take the time for, precisely because it is not banter. Time is short and getting shorter.

  9. Oh my gosh Morgan, you have no idea how many of us can relate to your life as described in your blog!!!! I love your blog and follow every post. You express so well what is also in others hearts and minds but may not be able to express as well as you (like me)

    Keep up the wonderful posts, I look forward to every one and always finish reading them feeling inspired and motivated to try to live a better Christian life. Go Morgan!!

    • Thanks for the affirmation. I wasn’t sure about this one. I know that part of what frustrates me is something that needs to be named and challenged, but part of it is just straight-up sinful jealousy that I need to work through.

      • Jealousy I think is something we all struggle with at some point, I know I do, maybe more than I would like to admit to myself. We are all continuously a work in progress. Hearing you express your feelings helps me to accept mine, know I’m not alone, and like you try to work through and move forward. We probably usually don’t know the impact we have on others lives, as you have had on mine. Whether through your blog, your sermons, in prayer, or just one on one you touch and inspire so very many many people, Thank you!!

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