Friday, 28 November 2014


Their faces peer at us from the shelf of every Christian bookshop. The names differ, but the photograph is always the same.

The close-up image clearly reveals every scar and pockmark of the skin. A shock of almost skinhead hair frames steely eyes that glare at us with more than a suggestion of malice, the lips almost but not quite forming into a snarl.

It is the image of the hard man. It communicates to us a sense of menace and it is intended to.

And yet we remember that this is a Christian bookshop and so we know that all is not what it seems. We know that once we get past that forbidding front cover the book itself is actually going to communicate to us the heart-warming story of a once-terrible sinner now saved by grace.

For this is the autobiography of the once-hard man whose life used to be embodied by that menacing photo but is no more. For now he is a new creature in Christ, with his dark past forgiven and forgotten, and with a new life of service to the King stretching out ahead of him.

So why the menacing stare?

Why the so obvious attempt in that photograph to communicate to us the former life of violence and thuggery?

I mean, would you ever expect to see a woman who has been wonderfully saved out of drug addiction who chooses to pose on the front cover of her autobiography brandishing a needle and a quantity of heroin?

Or have you ever encountered a man miraculously rescued from the vicelike grip of alcoholism whose autobiography shows him yet clutching a tin of lager and grinning cheerfully at the camera in a way that says "Cheers!"

No, and neither have I.

Were we ever to see it, I am certain that we would be appalled at the sight of a person who claims to be a follower of Christ so casually highlighting, even glorifying, their former sin in this way. We would be disgusted and rightly so.

Those drugs symbolise the ruinous path of sin that Christ has delivered that woman from. That beer can speaks of servitude to a terrible slave master who would have killed that man and seen him despatched to a lost eternity were it not for the gracious intervention of God in his life.

Far from an exaltation of the tools of their former trade, we would instead expect these men and women who have been rescued from these evils to be the sternest possible judges of any attempt to glamourise these products and to have not the slightest desire to advertise their past sins in this way.

So why is it then, that we do not take the same attitude to that surly individual who peers at us so menacingly in the Christian bookshop? Is this really an appropriate way to sell a story of God's deliverance and grace?

How many lives are lost every year through the sickening acts of violence that this image reminds us of? How many innocents are maimed and crippled on our streets each day by such mindless aggression, how many children are tonight wincing at every raised voice in a house that is filled with fear & threat?

Do we really wish to glamourise this?

 So why, when a man has been saved out of such a life of thuggery, is he content to pose as a still unreformed brute? Perhaps more importantly, why do we who buy these books find that image so glamorous when really we ought to find it repellent?

That menacing picture constitutes a romanticising of past misdeeds, and really ought to be as offensive to us as a former drug addict waving her needles at us.

Therefore might I suggest, dear Christian publisher, that in the future we would all be more edified by a photo of the man as he is now?

I, for one would rather see his features, once contorted with demonic rage, now clearly radiating the love and the joy of Christ. I would much prefer to see in what were once soulless eyes the peace of a man who has found forgiveness and the hope of a new life in Christ.

Would not a representation of the once-thug now "clothed and in his right mind" be a more fitting tribute to the Gospel of God's grace than the menacing shadow of that which he once was but is no more?

Just saying...