pssst – Christian shirts don't work

At the Revelation Generation music festival, I stopped by one of those Christian t-shirts tables.  Yeah, not sure I’m going to be able to stop once I start.  

First, I believe in righteous anger but I cannot tolerate the argument that this is a form of it.  Please comment/email me/contact me if you are the guy/girl who came to know Christ from reading someone’s Christian t-shirt.  I’m still looking for that story, “I was walking through the mall and this shirt read, “You think it’s hot here?  God.” and I asked the guy, “Dude, what must I do to be saved?”.  

Second, they only rally Christian  (Todd Hiestand has an interesting post regarding preaching) and offend the skeptical, the hurting, the marginalized and the normal.  

Third, though they’ve been out for years and years, the”attitude” shirts are too much of an imitation.  In a world without consequences, I would open up my own Holyster store so I could create these type Christian shirts.  They’d pretty much be the same type of shirts as we have now, but I’d market them like Abercrombie.  I’d employ Amy Grant’s strategy of “being sexy for Jesus” (Rolling Stone, June, 6, 1985) and have good-looking models with six pack abs holding their shirts that read, “Virginity is HOT”.  Maybe I’d even produce a teen coming to age movie, entitled, “He’s All That”.  I’d have the ‘t’s look like crosses.  Unsuspecting audiences would come expecting American Pie and we’d hit em up with uhhh … well … I’d have to pray about it but it would be a solid bait and switch which some consider to be great evangelism.  

Fourth, they’re usually lame.  

I present to you exhibit A:

You might ask, “What does this even mean?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked.  Please read the back of my shirt that has some Scripture and an explanation how porn “poses” as love but it isn’t really.  You see?  Now go and sin no more”.  Is that how you would actually speak to someone?  If so, you might want to rethink some of your social skills.

Here’s one that I thought was pretty good ….

until I read the back:

Should have just left the back blank.  The front actually has the potential to start meaningful conversation.  

Then there’s the pro-life shirts.  First, please know that I have very strong views against abortion.   However, if you have ever spoken to someone you love and respect (even if they are a stranger), some rhetoric, regardless of how clever it may be, is not helpful.

For example:

Could you imagine a pro-choicer having a shirt that says, “It’s a fetus – get over it!”???  I’d go nuts.  

What if someone walked around with an anti-capital punishment t-shirt that had a picture of a woman strapped to the electric chair with the fifth commandment over top of it, “Thou Shalt Not Kill!”.  I may not go nuts but I think that shirt would be distasteful.

I want to be careful and not say, “We shouldn’t wear these shirts” because those type of statements, among many things, sound legalistic to me.  Perhaps we can put some different thought into what we wear (and don’t wear).



  1. Haha great post dude. I could not agree with you more about these kinds of shirts. They all look like “Jesus is my Home-boy” shirts to me. Your commentary makes me think of that Derek Webb song “T-Shirts (What We Should Be Known For).” I say we ask ourselves as we look into the closet, “what would Jesus wear” (or WWJW?) Maybe he would just wear some old navy polos being that he was nothing special to look at.

    I don’t mean to harsh on Old Navy wearers. I wear old navy too.

  2. Ah yes I remember my first Christian shirt, It was God’s Gym shirt a take off of the Gold’s Gym. I was at a Christian festival and a young 15 years of age. At the time I thought it was really cool. The only thing the shirt did was make some guy $10 richer. I would like to think that Jesus would repeat the scene with the money changers and the temple if He was the festival. It is sin that some people try to pass off ministry/outreach as a way of making a buck.

    When every I see place like the t shirt vendor. I think of my favorite clip for Space Balls ( Merchandising for Jesus is a multi million year business. Maybe one day Christians will stop spending there money on Christian crap and put it work for things that really advance the Kingdom of God. Until then I wait for my Jesus flamethrower.

  3. Tim,
    I totally am on-board with what you are saying. I too am looking for the story that “I came to be a Christian because of a t-shirt someone was wearing.” Even so…if that happened, can we really say the ends justify the means? Someone became a Christian because of my “Abortion is Murder” shirt so I am in the right for continuing to wear it. I find that very un-Christlike. Strangely, most of the people who wear such shirts get extremely angry when there are Pro-Choice posters at rallies, or they get upset when people wear “Separation of Church and State” shirts that promote the removal of the 10 Commandments from courtrooms. It seems hypocritical. Now sin is sin, and we should point it out. But we can do it with the love of Jesus.

    Also, let’s call these t-shirts what they are. There is a huge market for these shirts so much of these are marketing schemes. Why else make them? You have to think others will buy them, right? Christianity and marketing can be diametrically opposed.

    Let’s find a better way to make these points. What about having relationships with people and spreading Christ’s message through love? But that takes too long…who has that kind of time?

  4. Oh yes, I agree, the ends do not justify the means.
    The thought behind the post was that there is this assumption that “we can make a difference” or “take a stand” by wearing t-shirts that “speak out against ….” and “bring glory to God …”.
    That’s what doesn’t work.

    In addition, it seems odd to me that this mindset typically comes from the Boomer Generation who generally when they were growing up, there was such a Christian presence in their neighborhoods, schools, etc. They used to wear Christian t-shirts, bumper stickers, and hold anti-abortion rallies prior to ’73? Of course not. So why do we think that we regain a “Christian presence” with these types of antics.

    How does a spiritual community take itself seriously with these kinds of things? Could you imagine a Muslim wearing a “McMuhammed” shirt with some ridiculous slogan next to it? Remember the Dutch cartoons?

    Completely agree that the direction is in more of the relationships that we keep in and out of the church, our world, etc.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. i remember my first living epistles t-shirt. it was a volleyball theme: pass, set, spike or something like that. i used to enjoy getting the catalog (pre-internet days…) i think that the best t-shirts though are the buddy jesus ones of george carlin in Dogma… this discussion reminds me of the bumper sticker ‘mean people suck’ which is a mean thing to say… speaking of bumper stickers, i also cringe when i see others who bumper sticker their whole car with anti-this and anti-that, though i notice a stronger pattern for folks with a more progressive inclination than those with a more conservative one… good post Tim, ban the t-shirts, can you organize a t-shirt burning event at your church?

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