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The Sunday after President Obama delivered his second inaugural address, my pastor preached on Luke 4:14–21, the story of Jesus' reading from the Isaiah scroll in his hometown synagogue. After reading about God anointing a prophet to preach good news to the poor, bring release to the captives, and sight to the blind, Jesus applies the text to himself: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

This, my pastor said, was "Jesus' inaugural address"; framing it that way seemed natural. Just as the President had used his inaugural to outline the ways he would work over the next four years to make America better, Jesus used Isaiah 61 to outline his kingdom agenda.

I was relieved when my pastor didn't launch into a sermon on civil religion, the subject of his postinaugural Facebook posts. Instead, he focused on how Jesus' agenda dovetailed with our congregation's mission statement. When I mentioned "Jesus' inaugural" to a coworker, he said that his pastor had labeled Jesus' use of Isaiah 61 differently. The passage was, he said, Jesus' elevator speech.

Elevator speech is a term from the 1990s. In the early days of Web development, aspiring innovators prepared themselves for brief encounters with venture capitalists. If they could present their vision in the short span of an elevator ride, they might get the capital needed to bring vision to reality.

At first, I reacted negatively to labeling Jesus' announcement an "elevator speech." Because of the term's marketing overtones, it called to mind one of the worst books ever written about Jesus. In his 1925 bestsellerThe Man Nobody Knows, advertising pioneer Bruce Barton cast Jesus in ...

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Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
Previous Past Imperfect Columns:
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Jesus' Elevator Speech
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In the Magazine

May 2013

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