By Bob Hiller –
The other day, I was scrolling down the old Facebook page, bypassing angry political comments and hilarious Biden memes, when an ad for an upcoming Beth Moore Women’s Study caught my eye. Such things are not foreign to my feed, as I look through a good deal of Bible study material and Facebook stalks my every internet move. At first, I didn’t think much of the ad. At second glance, something about the ad seemed strange to me. As Beth Moore stared back at me with her smart and pretty face, I noticed something strange about her photo. Beth Moore’s picture was airbrushed.
Now, I don’t know much about Beth Moore or what she teaches. I am sure there are plenty of other blogs out there that critique her theological stances. I am sure they are worthy of your time. Personally, I’m fine having had little interaction with her teaching. Frankly, her teaching is not my concern today. Though, if you buy me a beer, I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts. My concern is not so much with Beth Moore at all as it is with how Beth Moore was being sold by her publishers. They airbrushed Beth Moore.
Airbrushing is nothing foreign to those in advertising. I’m sure we’ve all seen some 20/20 special or YouTube exclusive on how much work the computer does to adjust the looks of supermodels on magazine covers. The world we live in is disturbed. People whose bodies are the equivalent of Grecian statues are still not attractive enough to sell magazines. But advertisers know that if you are going to buy their magazine or their product, they need to put an attractive face on what they are selling. And we totally buy it! Think about health magazines. The reason people buy Men’s Fitness or Shape is because the people on the cover are perfect. The advertiser has taught us to think that if we just buy this magazine and follow its exercise regimen and eat their prescribed diet we too will look like the person on the cover. The people on those magazines are airbrushed to sell you on their product.
Which is why it bothers me that Beth Moore was airbrushed. By putting a flawless, smiling, upbeat face on a Bible study, Christian advertisers are operating with the same marketing principles as the health magazine folks. If you just buy Beth Moore’s study (but, really, any evangelical celebrity will do), engage her teaching, and follow her tips on Christian living, you too will have a happy, successful life like her. Just look how put together she looks!
The problem is that this advertisement is airbrushed. That picture is a lie. No one is that put together. Nope. Not even Christians (especially not Christians)! To sell a certain life of airbrushed happiness is to crush struggling sinners with the idea that they are not achieving God’s ideal because they don’t look like that. Air-brushed Bible studies sell the deadly lie that says good Christians have everything put together.
The real trouble here is that this sort of practice sells a certain type of person to the Christian community and makes that ideal the focus. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that there has been a reaction against this airbrushed Christianity. In many ways, I think this is a positive move. The idea is to pretend that the Christian life is not meant for good, clean people, but for real-life, raw sinners. Biblical examples are given of people whose lives were a complete wreck and yet found a place in God’s grace. Christians should shed their pretense and openly embrace their sinfulness and sins before the world. Sin is no longer something that keeps people out of the Church, but it would seem that it is the one prerequisite to get in. There is no airbrushed Bible study here. No, this is a Church in which we are all completely sinful wrecks. And if you want to belong, you’d better be a complete sinful wreck, too!
Now, I tend to identify much more with this later crew. After all, I happen to be a completely sinful wreck. No amount of airbrushing will do any justice to this face. But there is still something about this latter attitude, as well intentioned as it is, that is missing the mark. They are selling a church that welcomes sinners, which is a good thing. But they are still emphasizing a Christian lifestyle, a certain ethos you must embrace if you are going to be welcome. There is a danger in emphasizing the sinner to the point that the sinner becomes the focus. One begins to wonder if Jesus has any place for them in His Church if they have not committed some heinous crime.
And that is just the problem. Whether one is selling air-brushed Bible studies or emphasizing the types of sinners who are welcome in a particular place, both sides move the crucified Jesus from the center. The sinner’s clean or messy life ought never be the focus of our message. Jesus is. To be sure, the sinner, whether airbrushed or mud stained, is the focus of Jesus. But the focus of the Church must always be on the Christ, not the Christian. Our Bible studies shouldn’t feature well-polished, air-brushed beauty queens, nor should they feature the reformed drug dealer who found the light. Instead, much like the old Cranach painting in which Jesus is bleeding on Cranach’s head as he stands next to Luther, the most important place our Bible studies, our ministries, and our churches should ever feature us is at the foot of the cross receiving the body and blood for life and salvation. The Church doesn’t sell the Christian; it preaches Christ crucified for you. The focus of the Church, I fear, has gone too far in emphasizing the Christian’s life and not the Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners—for sinners like you! Whether you are an air-brushed Beth Moore or you are just coming home from another bender covered in your own filth, the Lord Jesus has a place for you beneath the cross at His altar this Sunday. I pray He would be the center of your attention, just as you are the center of His.