Improving one’s image

Dried fruits and assorted nuts have become my favorite snack in recent weeks. Nestled in the grocery display among the cranberries, raisins and mango was a bag touting “Premium Pitted Dried Plums.”

It took me a moment to realize these were prunes. Clearly there was an effort here to improve an image. Prunes conjure up visions of the elderly and regularity — not exactly the full market share that producers of dried plums want to reach.

In the March 10, 2009 issue of The Christian Century, writer Rodney Clapp points out the need for evangelicals to work on their image as well.

He notes that evangelicalism has thrived while mainline Protestantism has declined over recent decades. Therefore, there is a false sense of security.

“Evangelicalism is a tradition that does not know it is in trouble,” he writes. “But I think it is, in fact, profoundly in trouble.”

Clapp points to the forced resignation of Richard Cizik from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for showing too much interest in global warming and too much tolerance of homosexuals.

This, Clapp said, is just one example of current evangelical leadership’s “deeply reactionary tendencies.”

As its basic definition, evangelical means a bearer of “good news.” The problem, as noted Clapp, is that much of what comes from the most vocal conservative evangelicals today does not sound like good news.

An image built on condemnation, intolerance and judgment is not very attractive. And, as Clapp has observed, “…Evangelicalism is in deep trouble because the gospel really is good news, and reactionaries are animated by bad news, by that which they stand against.”

His point is well made and one worthy of our consideration — while enjoying some cashews, almonds, cranberries and prun…dried plums.


  1. On the other hand Time Magazine says the return of Calvinism is a top ten trend setter these days.
    So lots of ways to play the matrix; I’m not saying your wrong but when too many churches that shoulda by this time moved away from the SBC still fund Richard Land no questions asked; I’m not sure Clapp’s point is as strong as it looks on first viewing.
    And we both know Jerry Boykin held forth not long ago to 300 or so in a leading CBF church; so it all may be a distinction without a difference.

  2. You might also be interested to read Michael Spencer’s recent blog post-turned full fledged Christian Science Monitor article, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” And this is of particular interest for Baptists – since Spence is himself a Southern Baptist and, in his article, works from the assumption that most baptists (of any stripe) fall under the umbrella of “evangelical.” Baptists, I think, tend to believe that we’re somehow separate from the sphere of american evangelicalism when, in fact, we’re probably in greater risk of collapse than any other evangelicals.

    Check out Spencer’s article“ REL=”nofollow”>here.

    On my end, I think that it’s much more than a problem of “image.” It’s a problem of self-perception and self-understanding. A bigot by any other name is still a bigot – just as a prune by any other name is still a prune. It’s not merely an image problem, it’s an imagination problem. Evangelicals – and baptists in particular – have difficulty imagining a Christianity free from hatred and fear. The Gospel is, indeed, Good News but evangelicals have so many filters that we’re not able to see or hear it.

    Great post! I hope to hear your thoughts on Spencer’s article and on the evangelical/Baptist imagination problem.

    Grace & peace,
    Andrew Tatum

  3. While I felt each of Spencer’s points was valid and well made, he seemed a wee bit alarmist.
    I guess it is a matter of degree, but any collapse, I believe, would take longer than one decade.
    Perhaps a little alarm is in order, however. The trends he identified are real and deserve the attention of those shaping church life today.

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