Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2010

The Place for Christian Humor and Satire

Okay, let’s have at this issue.

Earlier this week, in the Wednesday Link List, I posted another link to a blog I have really come to appreciate over the last year, Stuff Fundies Like.   Fundies as in Fundamentalists, though referring more to a conservative culture than a specific set of doctrines.   It’s important to make that distinction, though some people can’t.

Anyway, I got a comment from a reader who found the rather humorous graphic, Fundy Preacher Bingo, not so funny.   Actually, “Christian hate” is the term she used.

And then she asked the question that I think is key to all this:

What kind of hardened heart finds delight in making fun of your brothers and sisters in Christ, as if you weren’t flawed and saved by Grace – same as them?

Well, the answer is, many people.    One of the items in our personal book collection is Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row.   I’m sure it was not the first example of literature in which Christians take some potshots at their own foibles.

And the phrase “at their own” is also key.   When non-believers want to lampoon and ridicule Christianity that’s one thing.   But even there, I wouldn’t want to be too dismissive, because I think it’s important for us to be able to see ourselves as others see us.   Some of the attacks by atheists are unwarranted, but at other times, it’s like holding a mirror up to The Church.

But it’s always better when the barbs come from within, ergo the long-time popularity of the now not-in-print Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door.   So while I could criticize fellow Evangelicals, I wouldn’t criticize Lutherans.   For that we have Garrison Keillor, although he has spent enough time among Baptists and Pentecostals that increasingly a larger group of people are swept up in his humor and storytelling.

So rule number one would be that you criticize your own.   And Darrell, the author of SFL spent enough time among the group he is highlighting:

I’m a conservative evangelical Christian. Very, very conservative by most standards and I’ve got the Wide-Margin Old Scofield King James Bible to prove it..  [comment Sept 10]

But he has been able to step back and see the forest for the trees, as has Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like, and Joel Kilpatrick and the author of the blog Jesus or Squirrel or Matthew Paul Turner at Jesus Needs New PR or the host of cartoonists mentioned in the blogroll down the right side here, including the seven different ones at Baptist Press.    And let’s not forget years and years of cartoon and satire books published by Zondervan and InterVarsity, and the cartoons printed in each issue of Leadership Journal.

I remember years ago a Christian musician saying, “The Wittenburg Door is my conscience.”    Humor is a powerful force and it can be abused for sure, but it can also be a force for keeping us all honest and accountable.

The enemy of The Church today is not those who poke fun at our sacred cows, but the people who simply walk away.    I responded this week…

…For what it’s worth, “hardened hearts” don’t engage. They walk away. They are apathetic. Most of us read something like this and it’s very easy to resonate with the spirit of it, and that is fully compatible — to me at least — with being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.”  In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.

As to “hardened hearts,” I think if anything, reading blogs like Darrell’s at SFL has softened my heart in terms of understanding and relating to people who are from faith families different to my own.

So what’s your take on Christian comics, Christian cartoons, Christian satire, Christian humor, etc.?  Is there a place for this genre?   Is it helpful?   Is it hurtful?


  1. I have no problem with humor, cartoons, etc as long as the jokes are in good taste and not crude.

    Seriously, God created us with a sense of humor. I am even sure that Jesus laughed…

    Comment by Rick Apperson — October 15, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    • And here’s proof:

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 15, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  2. I said: “I challenge you to ask your readers if Fundie Preacher bingo made them uncomfortable in their heart and soul, and why. I dare say, you will be surprised.”

    You asked a completely different question:
    “So what’s your take on Christian comics, Christian cartoons, Christian satire, Christian humor, etc.?”

    Were you afraid of the answers you might get about the hateful, bigoted Fundie Preacher bingo that you thought was just a riot – not once, but twice upon additional consideration?

    “Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.” In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.”

    Let’s not pretend I didn’t tell you why. “As for me, your blog has become ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3-9)

    What is to you “walking away” is to me “escaping”.

    Comment by Laura — October 16, 2010 @ 3:45 am

    • Laura,

      Again, all I posted — without commentary — was a graphic that contains elements of a certain style of preaching we all grew up with, and one that does continue to persist mostly in rural areas of the United States.

      That graphic was posted at SFL as a follow up to a piece that asked readers to reflect on sermons they have heard in their lifetime; a post that as of this morning has had 285 comments posted.

      I did a computer scan of those 285 comments, and unless you are commenting there under another name, you haven’t actually responded to the originator of the piece; nor are you one of the 80+ people who commented — all positive — on the subsequent piece, the bingo card itself.

      I just have one question: I posted a graphic containing 25 elements of mid-20th century American preaching. Which one of those phrases is hateful? List the phrases that you think shouldn’t be there and tell me why it is hateful to include them?

      I’m not giving you the option of saying the whole thing is hateful because 285 + 80 people are prepared to tell you lighten up.

      And for the record, my question at the end of the post gives people a perfectly good opportunity to say, “This makes me uncomfortable;” and so far one has… you!

      Maybe you were born without a sense of humor.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 16, 2010 @ 9:32 am

      • Paul:

        I think you making an example of one person’s disagreement with you is a mistake, and puts you in a worse light than it does her.

        What if she is posting according to her conscience? How about responding with humility and grace toward her?

        I Corinthians 8, NIV

        9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
        10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?
        11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
        12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
        13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

        I think in some ways that Christian satire should be something only “mature” (and by that I mean in the church and loving God for ages and ages, not more or less learned than others) Christians. I don’t think it’s a good idea to model to new believers the poking fun and laughing at our faith and our leaders. I’m not actually that sure it’s a good idea for any of us to mock each other at all. We are called to love one another.

        I Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

        Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

        I don’t want to take a sword and cut you off at the knees. I think engagement in Christian forums is important. But if you would like to have people engage you on a topic and have anything valuable come from it, I think it might be more productive to try to meet them where they are and engage with them yourself. I’d guess from your post that you consider yourself a more mature, thoughtful Christian than our sister.

        Act like it.

        Engagement in a topic does not necessarily include or involve agreement with each other. Remember, she did engage with you by bothering to tell you how the post affected her in the first place. I think that a thoughtful response acknowledging her position and admitting that there is more than one facet to an issue would have gone a long way in fostering a dialogue, and in encouraging her.

        I don’t see that one person’s disagreement could cause you to call on having “285 + 80” people behind you. Is your pride so easily pierced?

        Please just take time to consider those who read your blog, and consider them with love and patience. It will serve you well as you endeavour to glorify God through your thoughts and writings.

        Comment by Hollie — October 17, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

      • If my response seemed less than charitable, it is simply because I’ve already walked down this road with this particular reader in a previous post in reference to the source blog of the material involved. But let’s look at what you wrote…

        I don’t think it’s a good idea to model to new believers the poking fun and laughing at our faith and our leaders. I’m not actually that sure it’s a good idea for any of us to mock each other at all.

        I like this particularly because now we’re getting to the heart of the issue. Yes, there is a real danger in Christian satire and comedy that there are people who are reading it who are just brand new to faith, and didn’t grow up with the culture and don’t see the humor. In fact, some of the things which are now such a cultural curiosity in a modern world to those of us who’ve been on this journey for quite some time may be the very things that attracted that person to a local church or to Jesus Christ himself.

        So you and I probably agree on that one. But it leaves a bunch of problems.

        What happens if a new believer picks up Jon Acuff’s book Stuff Christians Like or gets invited to a Tim Hawkins or Brad Stine (Christian comedians) concert? Or ends up online reading Lark News or Sacred Sandwich?

        Hollie, I gotta be honest, I don’t have the answer for that one, any more than I don’t have the answer for the guy who has just destroyed all his secular CD collection, and suddenly finds himself in a Christian bookstore staring at a huge wall of Christian rock CDs.

        But there’s really only two options. Either we say that the entire genre should not exist — a position that I know that some people hold — or we have a range of possibilities allowing for the possibility of poking fun at ourselves, but hoping that the new believers among us don’t stumble upon any of it too soon in their journey with Christ. (The “weaker” brother/sister referred to in I Cor 8:11 — and also Romans 14.)

        Hmmm. I don’t know. The first option seems too legalistic. The second one is fraught with complexities and problems.

        In a church that I attended many years ago, there were two girls in their late teens who sincerely believed that we were not supposed to laugh at things that happened in the realm of our faith walk. They used the “coarse talk, foolish jesting” verse to voice their disapproval. Actually they weren’t big on comedy in general, and that was before it had degenerated to the point where everything comedy these days is about sex.

        To me that seemed rather Puritanical.

        So while I don’t profess to have all the answers, I believe God created us with a laugh reflex response because he expected it to kick in.

        This was a different case, however. The writer of “Fundy Bingo” deliberately and wisely avoided commentary. It was, in essence, a list of words arranged in squares on a page. To “get” the humor of it, you have to have been in the church for a long time. None of the terms are particular useful as comedy fodder, but in the aggregate, in the collective list as a whole, it becomes mildly amusing. So the “weaker” brother/sister isn’t an issue here, because they wouldn’t see what’s going on with it — at worst they might be bewildered as to why it’s there — but the people who understand it, are the very people who will “get” it. And it’s not laugh-out-loud funny; it’s just interesting how those elements of 1940s and 1950s style preaching somewhat shaped an entire style of homiletics. (And this morning, visiting another church, pastored by a 27-year old, we were reminded that some of that homiletic style survives in pockets of North America even among younger preachers.)

        What it didn’t deserve was to be called “hateful” and “bigoted.” If it’s truly hateful, then all humor which helps us see ourselves more clearly is also hateful. It would mean that the writings of Martha Bolton and the stage shows by Mark Lowry and the CDs by Chonda Pierce are hateful.

        And that’s just not the case.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 17, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

  3. You hit the nail on the head. We Christians need to learn how to take ourselves less seriously, and that necessarily involves the kind of humility that is able to laugh at our own foibles and de-idolize our sacred cows, as you say. When people are unable to do that–that’s a problem. Thanks for pointing that out so well!

    Comment by Widsith — October 18, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

  4. […] here’s what I want you do:   Check out both Saturday’s post and the comments; and then answer the following question which is similar, but […]

    Pingback by The Place for Christian Critique « Thinking Out Loud — October 18, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  5. Paul:

    It’s funny how we saw comments different ways.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea for newbies to be exposed to Christian humour because they have just found THE ANSWER to everything. They have found a delicious, delightful, loving beautiful God who has changed their entire lives. They’re in a church that maybe has one of the pastors you poke fun at. You can laugh at the Fundy Bingo or whatever it was called, because you’ve apparently experienced that preaching first-hand. But for a newbie, who hasn’t any background with it, I think it causes mockery and looking down on someone they’re supposed to be looking to for leadership. God appointed every last one of those preachers.

    I know God has a sense of humour. I’ve seen it different times.

    I don’t think he’d laugh at the Jesus laughing picture. I don’t think He’d laugh at Fundy Bingo. He ordained those men! Even if they were preaching about hair, they were serving faithfully. I don’t think you’re going to hell for laughing at it or anything, but I feel that we’re in danger of losing sight of just how big, how powerful, how … I mean this is GOD and we’re acting like he’s just another buddy in the pub. He’s not someone to be laughed at.

    I think the world would take us more seriously if we took ourselves more seriously. It’s when we can love each other and love that pastor and love the unlovable that the world will notice. The more we “lighten up” and “take ourselves less seriously” the more we’re just like everyone else in this world.

    The Puritans accomplished a lot for us. Being Puritanical is far, far from being an insult. When we all look back on this time in history and at ourselves and our work, will we have accomplished anything to further the gospel?

    Have you read Foxe’s book of Martyrs? Would you be burned at the stake so that others could have the Bible in English, as the Scottish Covenanters did? Man, I hope I could ever be called a Puritan when I grow up.

    A “weaker” brother is NOT someone who’s new to church, necessarily. It’s someone whose conscience is more sensitive than others. It’s interesting that with all our enlightened views etc our job is not to enlighten them but to encourage them to live by their conscience. If they don’t feel they can laugh at a joke, we need to respect and support that. If they feel Christians shouldn’t drink at all, that’s their rule they need to live by. Their conscience dictates how they live, and Paul clearly says that we cause their destruction if we try to persuade them out of it.

    I think we need to spend less time being entertained and more time getting down to business. The persecuted church in China, for example, probably doesn’t spend a lot of time poking fun at others’ prayers etc. It’s life and death to them. I’m not sure that our life of ease and spare time won’t turn out to have been a handicap rather than a blessing.

    Comment by Hollie — October 22, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    • Some quick responses…

      I think it’s important at this stage to affirm that whatever quirks and foibles there are about any local church of The Church in general, that we are Christ’s body; that “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”

      I’ve always found the “Jesus Laughing” picture a bit of a paradox. (A search of “picture of Jesus laughing” yields 18,900 results, so there are many opinions.) Rick, the guy who posted the first comment, is a missionary and pastor with Youth With A Mission, and didn’t just make a random comment; I shot the picture back to him just because he had reminded me of it.

      The question is; Does it depict something that would have actually happened? I would say absolutely. (Think of the children in Salem that Jesus invited to come close.) But it starts to take us off-topic.

      While we obviously have different opinions about using humor to look at church, I agree 100% with you that it’s not appropriate to have a casual, irreverent attitude toward God. If God is the subject of the joke, then something is seriously wrong in our understanding of who He is. That might be actually be a better choice for “Rule #1.”

      Using the (rather common) pejorative meaning of Puritanical was perhaps a mis-step. Perhaps “straight-laced” would have worked better.

      I think your best point here has to do with your definition of “the weaker brother” as “someone whose conscience is more sensitive.” That being the case, the persecution that the church in China lives under definitely would leave no time for fun and games. But I would hesitate to use the word “weak” to describe these people; they are giants of faith. (Oddly enough though, they would probably have great difficulty processing the brand of Christian culture — if we could fully translate the nuances of it — that kicked off this discussion.)

      Your conclusion, “I think we need to spend less time being entertained and more time getting down to business;” is fine; but it’s also important for the church to see itself as others see it, especially if our communication style is drifting further and further away from the culture. My English professor always reminded me that, “The function of words is to mean” and I would add that the function of sentences is to communicate.

      There will always be words and phrases for which we need to do some translating so that new believers will understand the basics, but our overall communication style should never be such that it drives people away. Someone once said that the problem in the church today is not that we need ‘seeker-sensitive’ churches, but that some churches are ‘seeker hostile.’

      We need to be alerted to this, and in some quarters it requires a louder wake-up call; and humor can be a powerful device for accomplishing this; indeed, I would argue that it can be the very device that compels us to take ourselves more seriously. To repeat, it may be that the churches caught in a cultural Twilight Zone are the ones ‘playing church,’ and the ones who are calling them on it are the ones actually taking their faith more seriously.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 22, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  6. As the author of Stuff Fundies Like, I\’ll take my own stab at this…

    Inevitably bad stuff happens in churches. Preachers will preach silly and hurtful things. People will do and say things that are un-biblical. On a personal level you deal with those things one-on-one or as a local body to correct behavior.

    But I cannot as a single person correct an entire movement or philosophy — especially one that I\’m no longer a part of. So I stand outside the gate and use what little talent I have to write satire and humor to highlight the problems that exist. The sermon bingo card is an attempt to humorously highlight the shallow and repetitive nature of what passes for \”preaching\” in Fundamental Baptist churches. If you head over to my site the latest entry today is an example of such \”preaching\”

    The preachers who indulge in this type of thing are not at all open to critique. Trust me on this. The avenue of en masse satirizing is an effective tool if done well. (Whether or not I do it well, I\’ll leave for others to say).

    Now to the question of \”a young Christian might see it an be confused\”….

    We do no service to a young Christian (or non-Christian for that matter) to pretend that the body of Christ is without its warts and pimples. At some point they will learn the truth that not all Christians are nice people and that some will try their best to lead people astray.

    Paul wrote in Scripture warning people of such folks — often by name! We can only assume that he meant both old and young Christians alike to pay attention to the warning.

    I refuse to subscribe to the notion that the greatest evil is pointing out that there are, in fact, problems in Christianity. If we who know better stay silent then it is those same young Christians who will be discouraged and risk falling away.

    That\’s how I see it.

    Comment by Darrell — October 25, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

  7. Definitely a place for humor and satire. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we can’t reveal truth.

    Comment by Robert — November 1, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  8. Can I just say what a relief to find an individual who really knows what theyre talking about over a internet. You actually know how to bring an problem to light and make it important. Much more folks need to read this and realize this side on the story. I cant consider youre not much more well-liked due to the fact you really have the gift.

    Comment by ibn fulan — November 12, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

  9. You should check out this guy’s blog about satirical Jesus action figures. Hilarious.

    Comment by Jason Dunn — December 13, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

    • I’ll probably use it on tomorrow’s link list! Thanks.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — December 13, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

  10. Luke 10:21 — a commentator says it is best rendered, “Jesus jumped for joy in the Holy Spirit!” The biggest thing that makes people dismiss believers is the sour looks on our faces and the critical spirit in our bones.

    Comment by karen helsel — January 28, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  11. Is there room for Christian satire and humour in the way we interpret the word of God? What we say may not be meant as seriously as interpreting, but invariably what we say will have the potential to be used either way, good or bad. If we’re inclined that way we should first of all consider, have we got what it takes to get a message across that honours God and that leaves no doubt in people’s mind. Just because some biblical figures have done this most effectively with holy anointing, does this mean that we should try our hand at this, just for the hack of it? By its very nature satire and humour are thrown around in ambiguity purposely, mainly to cause a laugh. If that is what we aim for, well, we’ll reap what we sow. If nothing else….THE STORIES ARE ALL TOO OFTEN FAR TOO LONG….for people to get to the end, the bottom line, and run with whatever has appeal. KISS, yes a good rule.

    Comment by Jim van Ommen — November 23, 2017 @ 12:29 am

  12. Rejoice in the Lord always !

    Comment by Jim van Ommen — November 23, 2017 @ 12:37 am

  13. Got one I always thought was funny… “Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, the devil hands you a shovel”.

    Comment by bdrudolph — December 2, 2019 @ 2:24 am

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