Shock Jock radio hosts have come and gone over the years. Their whole shtick is to be offensive and provocative in their discussions. The goal is to be shocking and outrageous to improve ratings by breaking taboos and focusing on titillating details of indecencies. The shock and entertainment value which captures attention is what is important. Shock jocks try to outdo each other to increase their own celebrity status.
There is great cause for concern, then, if we see such methods used in the online theological blogosphere. Certainly the cross is offensive to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18, 23), but the trouble comes not when the Gospel offends, but when the Gospel is thought not to be enough. The trouble is when pastors or other writers try to outdo each other in cleverness in attempting to get attention. The trouble is when writers try to shock the reader with titillating details of indecencies to outdo each other in order to increase their followers and clicks to their blogs.
Part of the problem is our media-crazed culture and the massive amount of content out there. There is a temptation to have article, blog, or sermon titles that scream at the reader through the clutter in order to get a click. Sure, I get it. I struggle with this when entitling my sermons that I put online. This article itself may be helped out by its provocative sounding title.
The real concern is when the provocative nature of what is written or preached hijacks the message of God’s Word that is proclaimed. The real concern is when writers are so edgy that they don’t write the truth. Regularly you can find these edgy writers saying things like God doesn’t care about your good works and doesn’t care about turning you away from sin, but the devil loves your good works. These are provocative and help the articles stand out from others. The problem is that saying such things suggests that we should then not do the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10). It suggests that Jesus came to abolish the Law, which He says He did not come to do (Matt. 5:17). In fact, these statements are only true for unbelievers, not believers.
If the approach taken in writing is to stand out and provoke, that goal may well be accomplished, while the message of God’s Word is in danger of being lost. Whatever shocks and provokes tends to be more memorable than the other content that is read. Thus, what the reader takes away from a particular article is only the radical lie connected to it even if there is also much truth.
Another issue is that going for shock often leads to misstatements like those mentioned above. When we proclaim the Gospel, certainly our works must be removed from salvation. In proclaiming the Gospel, however, we have to be careful to not step into antinomian-sounding statements, as if now we are free to sin or free to not do good works.
When edginess is the sought after goal, it is also more difficult to have a balanced theological approach. For instance, when trying to shock with how sinful Christians are, it is difficult to balance with a Scriptural call to repentance and the turning away from sin. When trying to shock with titillating details of indiscretions in order to demonstrate the enormity of forgiveness, it is difficult to balance with a Scriptural call to shame over sin.
The Gospel doesn’t need our cleverness to be effective. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). The Gospel doesn’t need our wit to do its work. Shock and provocation can help gain readers and followers but can also lead to theological misstatements. Shock and provocation tends to lead to battles of outdoing each other’s wit rather than solid Scriptural teaching. It tends to lead to eloquent worldly wisdom that empties the cross of its power (I Cor. 1:17).
In the end, the writers become shock jock junkies, always looking for more provocative and edgy things to write; always pushing the envelope further. Readers become shock jock junkies as they always look for their next high on theological wit; the next one-liner to re-tweet or re-post.
The Gospel has all the offence and shock needed already built in. “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven” has all the shock and provocation needed by a sinner. Christ came to fulfil the Law for you (Matt. 5:17). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Editor’s Note – With this post we welcome a new regular writer, Pastor Johannes Nieminen, who will bring some contributions from north of the border. A feisty Canadian? You bet. Faithful too.