Sunday, May 21, 2006

“Christian” T-Shirts

When you play in a Christian band you have the distinct privilege of experiencing one of the finest slices of what Christian culture has to offer: Christian music festivals. The season of festivals is almost upon us, thus I have been reflecting upon it today.

Most of these events are distinctly defined by the following: Desperately hot and humid summer days baking in the sun watching your favorite artists, bumping into sweaty junior high kids who haven’t showered in three days that smell like an onion patch, and waking up at 6:30am because your tent has already heated up to 95 degrees by that time of day. Beyond all of these great elements for the attendees, one of the highlights of the summer festival scene for me as sideman in Matthew West's band is the sampling of amazing Christian T-shirts. You have your classic one’s like, God’s Gym (Gold’s Gym), A Bread Crumb and Fish (Abercrombie and Fitch), and the list goes painfully on and on.

I was at the Nashville zoo yesterday with my family when I was visually assaulted with what I deem to the “best” of all the Christian T-shirts I have ever seen. It is the one that reads, “I am the Christian the Devil warned you about!” I think my good buddy, Eric James Hansen summed it up best concerning this type of apparel when he said the following, “The only thing those T-shirts accomplish is non-verbally saying to an unbelieving world, ‘I’m a Christian and YOUR NOT.’”

Now I’m sure that the man at the zoo wearing this shirt has a profound affection for Jesus, he probably serves wholeheartedly at his church and sacrificially loves his family as any man of God should, but I have to rhetorically ask, if the Great Commission should be one of the main filters though which we look at the world, how does that T-shirt effectively make it through? Does a dying, and unbelieving world look at that slogan and say to themselves, “Wow, that whole Jesus thing seems like something I really want to get on board with!”

I would suggest that it does the exact opposite. It goes well with a church marquee recently that I saw not far from my house that read, “How do you like your eternity, smoking or non-smoking?” That's not exactly the winsome approach that I feel the humility of the cross calls us to. The gospel embodies enough offensiveness in itself, it doesn’t need our help in that area.

I’m not trying to be overly harsh or unfairly critical. I know that the spirit of the person who wears this type of shirt usually is one that embodies a genuine passion for the victory found in Christ, but I deeply desire us as believers to examine what we are communicating to those around us who don’t share our worldview.

Probably the worst t-shirt that I have ever seen was the one that read, “Do the Jew”, modeled after the Mountain Dew slogan, “Do the Dew”. This shirt is so over-the-top offensive that it goes beyond the scope of this article to try and articulate. No lie, this shirt exists.

My bandmate and bass player, James Gregory recalled seeing someone once wearing a T-shirt that said, “They will know we are Christian’s by our T-shirts”. Unfortunately at times I think this shirt might be right.


Lew said...

I was at a Justin McRoberts and Caedmon's Call concert a few years back when I saw those, "They will know we are Christians by our shirts," t-shirt. The meaning is so interesting. It's very inward focused and accomplishes the goal of mocking the whole idea of Christian paraphanelia, yet I get the impression that people wear them because they are funny and don't get the idea that the witness of wearing a Christian t-shirt does next to nothing for an unbelieving world.

Although this is truly the ultimate Christian t-shirt

Scott Sterner said...

The prophet Zach speaks again. Man I am loving the way you've been getting after it with your latest posts! Preach on!

Anonymous said...

Great post. However, the ads on the right hand side of this page serve as an ironic revelation of why these t-shirts have become so popular. We live in a society that can't break free from some marketer's clever scheme to sell us something, and even a blog which critcizes "Christian" t-shirts can't break free from selling them at the same time.

AJ said...

Good call. Surely you've heard that sarcastic Derek Webb song, "They Will Know Us By the T-Shirts That We Wear?"

I've been thinking about writing a post on this topic for months. Now I can just link to this one.

Doug E. said...

You've hit the nail on the head.

Great post,


jodie said...

Another problem with these t-shirts is that even the "nicer" slogans are only effective if you are walking with Christ while wearing them. Or for that matter, having the fish symbol on your car as you cut people off and run them off the road. I have never looked at it quite like you did until today and it definetly gives me new perspective. I only hope people wear them responsibly.

D. Taylor benton said...

next question....what do we do with the bumperstickers? they are just if not more deadly and rediculous than the shirts i see floating around

D. Taylor benton said...

next question....what do we do with the bumperstickers? they are just if not more deadly and rediculous than the shirts i see floating around

Ryan Hill said...

I really enjoyed your post and thought you articulated something that many of us have felt for a while. Thanks for the great post!

Matthew Westerholm said...

How about

"I shouldn't need this shirt to let you know I'm a Christian."

mondo said...

Ive always liked


"watha gonna do when He comes for you!"

Good thoughts!

Anonymous said...

I've never been a big fan of Christian T-shirts in general.. because of the widespread hypocrisy of the church...

but then our youth group printed black t-shirts with white lettering.. that just said,

It's not about me. (front)

It's all about God. (back)

It has sparked so many conversations about true Christianity that our campus group is printing their own version.

However, I still have a problem with T-shirts that mimic the world. how can we show that we are different from the world if all we do is copy them??

-Naomi from PA

John B. said...

I'm a first-time visitor from Ariel's blog; I'm glad I visited.

Your post reminds me of a T-shirt I saw in my first year of teaching at a Baptist-affiliated university a little over 10 years ago: several students had t-shirts that read "The University of Heaven." One of the School of Religion faculty members said to me, "I always want to ask them: 'Where do they think they'll go after they graduate?'"

Anonymous said...

These shirts, and those dumb, dumb signs outside churches that are SUPPOSED to bring the unbeliever in. Gimme a break. Great observations.

Anonymous said...


Popped in via Ariel. Well said.

As I commented on AJ's blog, I always feel chagrined when our eternal salvation and Christ's sacrifice is "dumbed down" to some sort of advertising slogan.

Keep the faith.


Unknown said...

Hey there, I am yet another visitor from Ariel's blog. That was a great post... I used to always feel kind of guilty for not wearing those gung-ho t-shirts. I don't anymore :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How about this one I just made up, "The only reason I love Jesus is because God made me do it!?!" Hey I love this cheesy stuff. My second wife always said, "God has a sense of humor, look at me!"

Besides who do you think created Madison Avenue Advertisers? (Mad-at-Son) On one side of your blog you have the Anti, and on the other side you have the Anti-dote.

I like how you think even if others missed it. (Or am I just deceiving myself ...)

Unknown said...

Wow, that's a really insightful post. However, I was wondering... do you think that there are Christian T-shirts that are possibly non-offensive or even pro-active? I saw a shirt that I really liked, and it said, "Arrest me, I prayed at school today". I really your opinion on some shirts being offensive, but I think that some could honestly do maybe a bit of good or serve as conversation starters. But great thoughts, God's with you.

Anonymous said...

We here at JesusBranded agree with what you have to say about corny Christian Clothing. We've designed our t-shirts with that exact thought in mind-to not show the world that we're "THAT" kind of Christian.

That's the main reason why we aren't in Christian bookstores because of the bad rap you get when you think of getting t-shirts there. So please, give us a try and tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you.

Technology Director

Anonymous said...

'I saw a shirt that I really liked, and it said, "Arrest me, I prayed at school today"'-Timothy

Okay okay so this is really late I know, but I saw this through a google search and I have to respond just in case you happen to ever read this again Timothy.

The problem with that t-shirt is that it displays the incredible ignorance and persecution complex exhibited by far too many Christians nowadays.

It is NOT and has NEVER been illegal to pray in school. You can NEVER be arrested for praying in school. You can pray in school WHENEVER you want, provided it does not disturb the class session.

All the law says is that a teacher or school official cannot FORCE you to pray, or to put aside time for prayer.

This is a good thing- think about how you'd feel if a Muslim teacher tried to force you to pray a Muslim prayer? I bet you wouldn't like it, huh?

I am a Christian and I firmly support separation between church and state, and I am very much against school-mandated prayer. That being said, I prayed in public school all the time.

Anonymous said...

...this theory could also apply to blog posts, CD covers....any kind of advertising of the faith. I agree there are truly tasteless tees out there but hey, there are plenty of good ones too. Go look in your dresser drawers or your closet. Whats wrong with saying "Hey I am a Christian!" Its scriptural to not be ashamed of the name of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Funny how we think. Being proud to be a Pink Floyd fan is cool and somewhat stylish but Tagging Jesus is borish and rude somehow. When I was a new Christain I wore stuff to help me keep on track. Life long Christians will never 'get it' but folks who struggle in the real world know that the road is hard and to find or see a link be it a shirt, a billboard or a lone cross somewhere is the difference of slipping or going forward. I agree that some are over the top but then all of us can be in some way like writer of this blog how bold to take this wide swipe at this subject... anyway Do whatever it takes to land the message first in the heart then take it to the world.

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