In anticipation of the world's attention on London for the 2012 summer Olympics, a Dutchman is building an ark and filling it with pairs of stuffed and animatronic animals as an amusement-park witness to Christianity. Just how effective is this sort of showbiz evangelism?
Before the ascension in the book of Acts, Jesus gives his disciples this charge: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Is this ark the kind of witness Jesus had in mind?
Attracting attention to amusement park-styled references to Biblical stories has long been a staple for evangelicals. Another ark, this one taxpayer-supported, is being built in Kentucky. In Florida, Jesus now competes for tourist dollars with Shamu. What is so shocking about this to me is the confusion between the appropriation of Biblical references with the complete abandonment of the cruciform path of Jesus.
An ancient-looking boat on a barge filled with fake animals certainly is a curiosity, but what element of the Biblical story is the project employing to communicate the gospel? Informed commenters on this Wired news piece sense a triumphalist smugness that intimates a divine neglect or even enjoyment of the suffering and slaughter of all but a few. This inflames the latent, bitter suspicion of a rebellious world that has been abandoned by its creator and left to fend for itself.
But the witness of the ascended Jesus, together with the empowering Spirit, looks far different from a visit to a Hollywood set selling high-fructose treats to tourists with money to burn. The God who closed the door to the ark now stays outside the safety zone to absorb the judgment for those who fail the merit test. The power his followers will receive will not be used to avoid suffering, but rather to suffer for the welfare of whose who might, in another age, be drowned. It is the power displayed by this witness that will threaten the economics of the temple of Artemis, which entertained its ancient patrons with extravagant shows and a gift shop with trinkets for home.
It appears this modern-day Noah will live on his ark and care for his mechanical beasts and maybe catch an Olympic event or two. Curious visitors will pay their admission and some will worship, but the real heavy lifting of God's redemptive movement will be done by witnesses around the world who will be far from the London games.
They, like the disciples of old, will be loving and giving for their neighbors in quiet ways, empowered by God's Spirit in the hope of the resurrection. The witness of their sacrifice will not trigger suspicions that God is negligent, but rather evoke wonder by the sight of human flesh devoting itself sacrificially for the undeserving. You don't need to buy a ticket to see this attraction. Admission is free. You just need the eyes to see.
(Image from engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld courtesy of iStockphoto.)