Shame or Seduction

June 18, 2018 Justin Peter Gudel

What’s worse, those theologians have such high sunken costs and a commitment to those rehearsed lines, that they will likely never be able to connect with certain audiences.

I promised that we’d look at shame and seduction today. And we will, but first, more about me (please forgive my sarcastic ego and its tendency to float to the surface of everything).

This past week my friend Alec gave me his copy of the book Sway, written by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. It was a New York Times bestseller and focused on how we’re all irrational even when we’d like to think otherwise.

I’m not sure if Alec knew how spot on this book was for me. Since 2007 I’ve been relentlessly pulling myself through this rabbit hole of behavioral economics. It started with an interest in economics and branched to behavioral economics, then to general behavioral sciences, and now I’m even taking a course on cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s all so good.

Each new idea that I stumble on, opens up a new window for how I once looked at something in my life, and for PunkChiridion’s mission to reshape evangelism.

For example, how can the church communicate a life-changing message, when preference plays a magisterial role in what we believe. It’s scary, but repeated social experiments have shown how a commitment to an idea can override overwhelming evidence against it. In one study, people were shown evidence against a deeply held belief, yet in the end, they left the experiment even further entrenched in their original thoughts.

Some bits of data are now so charged and so heated, that facts don’t feel like facts. Instead of being able to prove what direction we should be moving as a country, we malign the opposition and spin the negative press away.

Last week I shared four possible working assumptions or consequences of background thoughts. They were:
-The idea of how it would be easy for the dechurched to assume past experiences with Christians is indicative of all of Christianity.
-Also, if something is viewed as a contradiction in a particular text, then the entire piece has the potential to be wrong/incorrect. Even if the perceived contradiction was incorrect.
-If Christianity is defined as a system of obligations, it is reasonable for each new piece of information, including grace, through that lens.
-Since negative experiences or loss feels about twice as impactful as gains, those experiences will be the ones that will likely sway a dechurched individual the most.

The above are realities that don’t generally come up in conversations about outreach or evangelism. Instead, we charge right into shame or seduction.

SHAME OR SEDUCTION

We’re all too aware of the ‘perceived’ shame that Christianity has branded on the secular world. It’s in that sermon which is still taught in high school American lit classes, Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. It’s the man with a sandwich board and a megaphone. It’s when a parent disowns a grown child for their antithetical lifestyle.

To use the Christian lexicon, we’re talking about the Law. In the Lutheran mindset, the purpose of the Law is to show us our sin and lead us back to God. It’s also there to help guide us to a lifestyle of love. It’s a vital piece to the puzzle. I’m not dismissing it here but identifying it as one of the two ends of a continuum.

On the other end of this spectrum is seduction. When pulled past a certain point, seduction is the promises of God made cheap. It’s the prayer of Jabez. It’s a theology of glory and a megachurch which seats 30,000 people. It’s when a pastor says once saved always saved, no matter if that same person has later rejected God.

Seduction is Gospel. It’s God’s love, gifts, and actions in our lives. The Gospel is the reason we were created and the relationship to God that we’ve been promised. But in the above examples, the Gospel has been reshaped by humanism to fit a false theologian’s agenda.

Back to the book Sway. In one of Ori and Rom’s case examples, they bring up college football to illustrate the power of risk aversion and commitment.

Risk aversion (sometimes called loss aversion) was identified by psychologists Danny Kinmen and Amos Traversky as the irrational behavior humans display in regard to losing something. Basically, we feel twice as much hurt from a loss than we do of an equal gain. As such, we go to ridiculous lengths to mitigate the what-ifs (our fears) in our lives. This could mean ignoring a beneficial change in our lives if it risks our status quo.

Back to the case study. In 1990, the University of Florida named Steve Spurrier as their head coach. This was at a time when throwing the ball was an admission to not being able to control the line of scrimmage. This was an era of running. Ori and Rom identify the unwritten law of that time, football was about outlasting your opponent and not making mistakes. It was a conservative game evolved around repeatedly pounding the opposition and mitigating your risks.

Spurrier took over the mostly milquetoast team. He brought in great players and coaches. He also decided to play the game to win. His ‘Fun n Gun’ offense took advantage of an era of teams playing to not lose.

The interesting thing here — after a meteoric rise and numerous championships — was that the other teams were slow to adopt this now proven offense. Instead of adapting to an exciting new way of play, they held to what they had always done. They were still in a mindset of risk aversion. That fear of losing was powerful — what’s more — their past commitment to the run game made it nearly impossible to let go of.

This is often where we find ourselves. When communicating Biblical messages. First, there are those trying to share the good news. Many, have only known one way of communicating our need for God, and that is the way of shame. They were raised up in Christian traditions where the gospel was shared, but only after the gritty deposition of shame. They pile up heaping coals and then sweep in with a get out of jail free card. Their message often feels disingenuous.

On the other hand, many churches have moved too far in the other direction. They have separated grace and forgiveness from the impact that it should have on our lives. Instead of these great acts of God changing our hearts, they have watered down their theology to the point that it has lost its potency. For a mundane example, it’s a nonalcholohic beer when you wanted a crisp IPA. Those theologians often sound like Billy Mays, shouting out promises for a product — but only if you buy it right now.

In both cases above, the theologians mean well but are immovable in their mindsets and presentation. They fear the risk to their theology or position to change course. What’s worse, those theologians have such high have sunken costs and a commitment to those rehearsed lines, that they will likely never be able to connect with certain audiences.

CERTAIN AUDIENCES

This is where PunkChiridion wants to step in. We want to reach the people that the above approaches have failed to communicate with. One of the first ways we aim to do so is to honor them with the same honesty that they deserve. They are also humans, they are also risk-averse.  These are the people who have left, often because of the church.  

The dechurched are deeply invested in their lives. This might included unchurched friends. To the dechurched, their lifestyles and Friday nights might be in jeopardy to a renewal of faith. They could even be fearful of changing their mind on something that they once rejected as toxic. Yes, many of the dechurched individuals that I’ve spoken with, recall their time spent in church as toxic to their mental health.

Now multiply those worries by their current commitments. Perhaps it’s a new spiritual mindset of Eastern thought. Maybe they’ve picked up a social cause that they feel is in opposition to conservative/church values. The anxiety might be as simple as the old taboo of a live-in significant other.

When we share faith in that space, what words are going to resonate?

Do we move forward with shame or seduction?

Or is there a third way?

Many of you are familiar with the story of the woman at the well. It’s found in the gospel of John. In this account of Jesus’s ministry, He both calls attention to the woman’s sin and yet never condemns her for it. He speaks with compassion and conveys enough of her story back to her to show that he understands her. Then He offers an idea that she’s never even considered. He invites her into a space where her identity can be greater than she’s ever considered.

This other/Jesus approach, it’s a bit of both (shame and seduction). But mostly, it’s an invitation to a better story, one so enticing, that it’s not being pushed on anyone. It’s not a hard sell.

I try to keep these posts short, so I better end it here for today. Next week I’ll do my best to fully define what I mean by a better story.

Until then, thanks for reading and I looking forward to reading your comments.