This week as I have been studying the next section of the Gospel of John, it reminded me of a song by Steve Taylor, a Christian rock musician. The song, “Bannerman,” came out in 1993 during my sophomore year of college. You can watch a video of the song here.
In the song, Taylor writes an homage to a group of people who would travel to sporting events, usually NFL games, with banners. They would position themselves where the cameras were showing the game on live TV, holding up banners that simply said, “John 3:16”. My guess is that many of you have seen people do this, as you watch sporting events on TV.
What was unique about Taylor’s song is that it was not a satire. He had made a name for himself writing songs that satirized Christianity. When Taylor wrote satirical songs, he did not mean to do damage to Christianity, but instead he attempted to help Christians critique the ways we, thinking we are acting faithfully, can actually venture away from the mission and Kingdom of God. Taylor’s satirical work was similar Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:21-23, the parable about people who thought they were absolutely part of Jesus’ Kingdom, and they even had ministry cred they believed proved their claim. Jesus shocks them when he says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Taylor wrote satire, then, trying to help Christians follow Jesus authentically, just as Jesus calls us to.
“Bannerman” at first glance seems to be a classic Steve Taylor satire, poking fun at people who hold up John 3:16 signs at football games. But Taylor, in numerous interviews, said that the song was actually an homage, a song meant to show respect to the Bannermen for their often sacrificial efforts in frigid weather, efforts which likely resulted in people shaming them. Before you get upset at people shaming the Bannerman, how would you feel if you paid your hard-earned cash to go to an NFL game, only to have the guy in front of you hold up a huge banner, blocking your view at all the exciting moments of the game?
While we can certainly honor the Bannermen for their courage and commitment, I believe Taylor could have also written a satire about them. Why would I want to write satire about people sharing the Gospel? I would do so, because satire pokes fun at something, hoping to reveal its insufficiency.
Am I saying that the Bannermen, in their attempt to proclaim the Gospel, are insufficient in some way? Yes, I am. I hope their efforts helped some people to meet Jesus. I do not know if their efforts did or did not. What I am concerned about is the insufficiency of what they communicated when they held up those John 3:16 banners.
Am I saying the John 3:16 is insufficient? No…and yes, actually. No, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with John 3:16. Yes, because I think what you’ll see as we study this passage next week is that John 3:16 is not enough. To find out how, I invite you to check back in on Monday. In the meantime try to see if you can guess how ahead of time by reading John 3:1-21 for yourself.