The Church Basement Roadshow just might be coming your way. Part revival, part book tour, and part fashion show – ok, it doesn't bill itself as a fashion show, but the guys wear odd clothes – The Church Basement Roadshow promises to combine "old time revival flair with a 21st century gospel" (for full press release, click here). It's the latest big thing to come from the emergent church folks.
[I blogged about emergent a handful of times, particularly a few years ago. Those posts can be found here.]
I admit to being simultaneously baffled and awed by this show, featuring "three of the most outspoken emergent church leaders and authors" – Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Mark Scandrette. I'm baffled by the rather odd early-20th century cultural motif they've chosen, but at least it's a change of pace from the skinny-white-guys-with-Apple-iBooks cultural motif that has characterized emergent in recent years. The YouTube promo videos – one showing grainy images of Tony singing a twangy Roadshow theme song – are just odd. For fans of Tony, Doug and Mark, these are surely interesting and engaging. But for me, anyway, this is all a bit strange.
But I'm awed, too. First, I'm awed by anybody who can do something that looks fairly ridiculous to your average bystander and pull it off with some sense of integrity and earnestness. Adopting fictional personas, wearing early 20th century clothes, touring the country in a biodiesel RV, and producing a Christian marketing/evangelizing road show is so weird that it just might be genius. Or lunacy. I'm not sure.
And I'm impressed, too, by the entrepreneurial spirit of these guys. Yes, this show is part revival, but it is also part book tour. There's a $10 cover charge for each show. There are various institutional sponsors undoubtedly providing financial and/or in-kind support. And surely while you're at the show you'll be encouraged to purchase a few books. As a former sales representative for Augsburg Fortress Publishers – and as one who took a bookstore display on the road to synod assemblies and church conventions – I'm impressed by their imaginative marketing.
But I remain more baffled than awed. A pay-to-enter "revival" is much less a revival than a marketing enterprise calling consumers rather than converts, pocketbooks rather than pious souls. And the cultural trappings of the early 20th century – from the grainy video to the twangy music and accents to the clothes and facial hair – simply contribute to my fear that this roadshow might be long on production value and short on substance.
I hope I'm wrong. As I've written in the past, I'm intrigued by the emergent project, but I remain unconvinced of its methodology. I wish I could attend the Roadshow's stop in my neck of the woods – at American University on July 31. But alas, that's the night before I leave for an 11 day trip to El Salvador. I'll miss it. But if any of you are able to catch the Roadshow, please leave me a note and let me know what you think.