The eBay Atheist: musings about the Christian media

Are you looking for new people to attend your church? Try eBay. In January, DePaul University graduate student, and committed atheist, Hemant Mehta listed his services on the auction site. Mehta promised to attend one hour of church for every ten dollars of the final bid.

Off the Map.org purchased the atheist's services for $504 and sent Mehta on his assignment to attend churches throughout the Chicago area. With an open mind, an outsider's perspective, and a dose of humor, Hemant has been reporting his findings on Off the Map's "Atheist Blog."

In a recent post, Mehta explained why he's addicted to Christian media. He began with his musings about TV preacher and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen:

I enjoy watching Joel [Osteen] for the same reason many Christians don't watch him? it's Christian-lite!
He's not solely dependent on the Bible to make a point. Instead of using the Bible to write a sermon, it always seems to me that he wrote the sermon with a life lesson in mind, and then consulted the Bible to back up his points. And I walk away from watching him thinking, "I do need to make better use of my time!" instead of "I should read Mark because Chapter 2 (or whatever) said some interesting things about Jesus." Obviously, the former sits better with Atheists.

Reflecting on the print media, Mehta noticed the many conferences marketed in Christian magazines:

I enjoy the advertising of the (approximately) 23128937182 conferences going on each month, hosted by the same pastor husbands with their big-blonde-haired wives. I'm not ripping on them at all (I'm sure Atheist conventions wish they had just a fraction of the attendees of any of these Christian conventions)?it all just seems so homogenous. Even the ads for the conventions are all the same. The inset Glamour-Shot poses of the hosts, the globe in the background, and the Photoshopped image of all the speakers together in a row.

The eBay atheist summarizes his observations:

Moral of the story: Christianity works best for non-believers when we hear stories that sound like something we would see or do. Joel tells me to not be dishonest by telling a story from his college days (Hey, I went to college, too!) and then supports his message with a story from the Bible. Dobson tells me I shouldn't be dishonest because Proverbs 6:16-19 says so (as he does in the April issue of Charisma). Period. Who would I be more inclined to listen to?

Read the full post here. And for more insights from Hemant Mehta, the eBay atheist, visit Off-the-Map.org.

April 19, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 23 comments

Rick Turner

May 19, 2006  10:59am

Jesus did not come to give us the all wise guru who gives "tips to a better life." Jesus came as the all conquoring Savior who gives forgiveness of sins to those who convert, i.e., repent of their sin, believe trust in and submit to His Lordship, so as to reconcile lost men to their loving heavenly Father. To use the pulpit to do anything else confuses the issue. Should we be as creative and relevant as possible, yes. Should we be creative and relevant to the point of misrepresenting who Jesus was/is and His message, no. This is the crucial question of these days. May we answer it with great prayer, care, devotion to Scripture and love.

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Ir

May 04, 2006  6:37am

I think Out of Ur's choice to focus in on Hemant's comments on Christian Media was unfortunate. I expect you chose those comments since you, being a Christian publication, fall under the heading of 'Christian Media.' However, I think any of Hemant's surveys of evangelical churches (Willow Creek, Park, Park Community and Moody are all evangelical, I think) had a lot more comments about evangelicals in them than Hemant's survey on Christian media. They would have been more relevant.

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Sam Andress

April 26, 2006  8:10pm

Joel Osteen is a fraud. But that is the case with most "tele-evangelism." American Christianity is a pop-psycologized version of religion which "meets needs." It does not follow the road of disciplship after the way of Christ, nor does it carry a cross, and it certainly has misunderstood salvation as "souls being saved." Sorry that was a neo-Platonic philosophic. The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be packaged, reducued, or made easy. It is both offensive and beautiful simultaneously. It's offense is its great beauty. But then again that is never good for a numbers game. Most of our churches are not ekklesia's they are collection tanks for a narcissistic society that perpetually recreates Jesus in the indvidual mind after the individuals image! peace.

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Tim

April 26, 2006  1:27pm

In my thinking, it is very sad to see an unbeliever pointed toward mass media Christianity and institutionalized, crowd oriented gatherings of Christianity and asked to observe for truth and authenticity. The foundation of both these approaches to Christianity are denials of its core element: God is a personal relationship God, and thus is a two-way communication God. This core element is almost completely eliminated from these two approaches to Christianity. Mass media Christianity and institutionalized gatherings are at least 90% one-way communication. When Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life" he is saying these 3 elements are all a personal relationship with Him. Therefore there is no surprise that every passage that calls the saints to proclaim Jesus to the lost is to be done in PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP / TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION. WE ARE His ambassadors, not impersonal mass media presentations of true facts about Him. There is a HUGE difference between the two. American believers are quite gullible to "outsource" their personal relationship responsibilities to impersonal media and crowd oriented/one-way communication events, even though it all costs multiplied billions of $. I remember Howard Hendricks saying something like "The lost are weary of merely hearing facts about the truth." Alas, as Paul said he could rejoice even when Christ is preached with selfish ambition, so can I, even though it's a struggle. But this does not mean we should not rebuke systems of preaching Christ with selfish ambition. Millions have not yet heard the gospel in personal relationship fashion because American believers have suckered for funding non-relational systems that give the gospel to people who have heard it in this fashion a hundred times already and have rejected it a hundred times. This is not good stewardship of God's economy and God's design for His family.

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Nate

April 25, 2006  8:34pm

"Even the wise take counsel from fools..." ... so says the book of Proverbs. Just because someone is an athiest doesn't mean that they can't have insightful comments for the Church. I find his characterization of 'Church-lite' to be very compelling and true... if only Seeker-sensitive churches would actually listen to this. This movement to 'palatize' Christianity has had some real good benefits. But it also has been destructive in that it gives so-called Christians a choice to be disengaged theologically with their hearts and minds. And I think Metha senses the lack of thoughtful engagement that takes place in the church. Furthermore, this destructive view simply confirms the athiest view that Christians are simply looking for comfort, not the truth. Thanks Mehta for calling this out.

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Julie C.

April 24, 2006  8:45am

What I find most interesting here are the assumptions being made about Mehta (Hemant). The short blurb at the start of this post explains a little about what the project was about but obviously does not give the whole picture. I think it is necessary to read more of Hemant's post, especially his reviews of the churches he visited to gain a fuller picture. It is real that we as Christians are being watched. Perhaps our goal is not to cater to what we think people want, but it is also dangerous to ignore what outsiders see when they look at our churches. It scares me how many people refuse to listen to criticism or who deal with it by attacking the person who is doing the criticizing as if that would invalidate his words. We are weird - and we can't blame all of that on Jesus. Sometimes we need wake up calls and the eBay atheist project has been a good wake up call for many churches. As part of the project, Hemant visited the small church plant I am helping start ( Via Christus ), and it was great getting to have a conversation with him and "seeing" our church through his eyes. We discussed ideas, and while I don't agree with his beliefs and basic worldview, I respect him and appreciate what he is doing.

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Pastor John Atkinson

April 23, 2006  11:28am

All of need to understand that the lost are watching us. Don't think for one second that the lost aren't judging Jesus by how we act. Believing in God requires faith but so does not believing, whether non believers know it or not. Faith is not easy because it's believing in something you can't see or touch so we work on our faith to stay strong. But since we're human we all struggle from time to time. The lost are no different. They struggle too because, whether they know it or not, built inside them is the desire to seek God. So they look to us to justify their nonbelief. Christians are supposed to be the light of the world and the lost need to be able to look at us and wonder what it is that we have. The blogging world is awesome and I have made some great friends across the country but at times I wonder if it's really a good thing. The blogging world seems to have become a place for us to air our dirty laundry with each other. I don't want to speak for Mehta but I suspect, since he is a blogger, that he has seen his fair share of this. I wonder how it affects him? I can't speak for him but I have seen firsthand how it affects other nonbelievers. As Christians we must never forget that we're in this together and the only way someone like Mehta will ever begin a search for the truth is if we love him into it. And we can't if were spending all our time attacking one another. As a Pastor some might think I have gained this understanding from the people in my church but to be honest most of this I have gained because I am the brother of a lost person. I love my brother with all my heart and pray daily for him but I feel like sometimes I'm beating my head against a wall because he has so many places to go to find Christians who are brutally attacking each other and frankly I hear about when he does. He's lost and he's watching us because he needs something to help him continue to not believe. Mehta my friend, I'm glad you're here with us. I hope you will continue to look at all of this with an open mind because my prayers are that you will find something in us that you just can't explain away. If your mind wasn't at least a little open you wouldn't be here. Besides maybe I can learn something from you that will help me reach my brother. Stick with us my friend and who knows, you may find yourself searching before it's over. And if you do, email me because whether you know it or even believe it, God loves you. And to all of my brothers and sisters in Christ, let's never forget how closely the lost are watching us. I believe they're watching us closer than we're watching each other.

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eric

April 22, 2006  5:29am

Mehta may be a spiritual consumer, but his insights are good in that they help us understand where to begin with people. Yes, we must point to Jesus. Yes, we must point them back to the Bible. But we they must first be willing to listen to us. Paul started with the spiritual sensitivities of those on Mars Hill he did not start with the Hebrew Scriptures. Mehta is an atheist, and I don't think we should transform our approach to church because of everthing he writes. But I do think we can gain something. Over time, Mehta may eventually hear something or "feel" something that leads him closer to God. But he won't experience that moment if he (or any other seeker) is completely turned off by the speaker. Our preaching should not turn people away. The Sunday worship service is only one aspect in the ministry of a local church, but it is an important one. The preacher must work to be the best communicator that he or she can be, not because he or she does it all on their own, but because God expects the best. The results, though, are Gods. He must move in people's hearts. But, again, our preaching should help not hinder their movement toward God. For some unknown reason, God has decided to work through human voices and in unison with human beings.

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Aaron

April 21, 2006  7:28pm

So it is safe to say that preaching on Acts 14:22 would be as unpopular with Atheists as it is with Christians. "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."

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Mike

April 21, 2006  3:15pm

As others have pointed out, Metha is indeed spiritually blind. He appreciates and considers faith solely as a beneficiary practice. He falls into the humanistic trap (which sadly is very rampant even among us, Christians): that religion/faith is about MY benefit. Still, I agree with his pragmatism. Pastors should contextualize their teachings, so that they may be relevant for the flock. But at least in the same measure, they must stress God's supremacy and His perfect (yet acceptable) will for our lives. Once you realize that God is almighty and that He works for the benefit of His children, you really don't need to worry whether a particular verse "makes sense" according to the humanistic standards. Whenever I seek God's will, I don't analyze it through my limited intelligence to see whether it makes sense or not. On the contrary, I want to make sure that my rationalizing is on the same wavelength with His. So no Mehta, you will never be able to experience the intellectual freedom in Christ unless you step from your boat and walk in faith.

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