A Lion Who Preached to the Lambs

Bob Briner's last book to motivate Christians to change the culture is a flawed but forceful effort

BY: Mark Joseph

 

Bob Briner isn't the first to call upon Christians to get out into the world. In the early 1980's the impatient, mustachioed son of the philosopher Francis Schaeffer, Franky, landed with a thud in the Christian world with his books "Addicted To Mediocrity," and "A Time For Anger," arguing that the lack of spine evangelical Christians had shown in their affect on American culture had rendered them 'evanjellyfish.'

Schaeffer II quickly burned out, consumed perhaps by his own righteous anger. It would be left to others, more temperamentally suited for the work to close the deal.

Enter Briner, a 57-year old television executive who in 1993 published his first book "Roaring Lambs," with a message that was essentially Franky Schaeffer with a smile. If Schaeffer was Nixonian, Briner was Ronald Reagan--the sunny optimist who focused his firepower on getting young Christians to retake the country's cultural institutions, promising these would change if they only would show up. Briner didn't deny that the culture's output was dark, but noted that darkness was merely an absence of light.

Seven years later, Briner is gone, felled by cancer last year. His last work, "Final Roar," not quite completed when he passed away, hit stores this month, over a year after his death. (Briner was a good friend, and we shared both the same publisher and editor)

Briner wanted a different title: "Christians Have Failed America and Some of Us Are Sorry," but his editor wisely retitled it for wider appeal. In the opening lines, Briner throws bombs no less incendiary than Schaeffer's, but with a dash of humility: "Rarely. in the annals of human history have so many with so much to give to their society.given so little and done it so maladroitly as have American Christians over the past 50 years. I feel the need to apologize. I'm sorry."

Later, Briner flashes his anger: "Christians write and publish.sing and produce.. broadcast radio and television programs .. paint and sculpt.carry on often brilliant intellectual discourses.operate educational institutions.produce and distribute a growing number of newspapers-all for other Christians.I personally view this as shameful." Turning his attention to education, Briner praises those who remain in "secular" education with a mind to changing it. "Christian" education, he allows, is important if it is truly training up fighters, which he regarded as a big "if": "In many ways their impact dissipates and fades into the woodwork. American Christians in general and graduates of Christian colleges in particular, have a debilitating irrational and unwarranted inferiority complex."

Briner is at his best when he is urging Christians to throw themselves into the media culture. His take on politics is more problematic. His reaction to the excessive involvement of ministers in politics fails to recognize the inspiration politics has been for young people looking for a venue to express their faith. Briner particularly has it out for leaders like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Much of the criticism is legitimate, but it can be confusing, as when he follows praise for William Wilberforce, whose faith-based convictions stirred him to oppose slavery in Great Britain, with the caution: "To think that we can change the course of history through Christian political activity is sheer folly."

Wilberforce did change history through political activity, and Briner's dislike of Falwell and company, seems to blind him to the good work people of faith in politics can do. He seems to fall for the old line that morality can't be legislated. The reality is that all legislation involves the imposition of someone's morality.

When Briner writes, "nowhere does Scripture instruct God's people to influence governmental policy," he seems to leave Christians who are drawn to public service behind--essentially contradicting his central message that believers should affect the work in which they find themselves.

He doesn't like preaching to the choir-nor singing to it. In his latter chapters, Briner gets in a few licks against the current boom of "Praise and Worship" music which he can barely conceal his contempt for: "Will all this musical devotion to God in church gatherings lead to devotion out in the workplace on the campuses and in our marriages? Or will it simply be a subgame within a subculture that savvy businesspeople capitalize on and exploit for profit all under the convenient guise of praise and worship to God?"

Briner clearly suspects the latter.

Considering the fact that Briner hadn't completed this work, editing it was a Herculian task, but there are several missteps which Briner, always committed to excellence in everything he did, wouldn't have suffered gladly. There are signs of sloppiness throughout--misspellings of names like Jerry Falwell, Stephen Prendergast and Fieldstead & Company among others. But the biggest oversight was the publisher's failure to update the concluding lines--culled from a talk Briner gave in 1994, urging the Gospel Music Association to package itself better in prime time--a dischordant note, since most of the book is spent urging GMA artists to get out of the subculture and sing for non-Christians. A little research would have turned up quotes like this one from a speech Briner gave in 1998: "CCM is intramurals. The real game is out there."

Still, "Final Roar" is Briner's final, shining moment and he delivers the goods masterfully-and forcefully. At least one celebrity blurb on the back of "Final Roar" emphasizes Briner's personal kindness in a syrupy commendation. This kind of fond reminiscence is accurate-Briner was indeed gentle and kind. But it is puts Briner danger of becoming in death is something he never was in life: A man with gentle ideas.

Those most threatened by his message, who years ago bought into the un-Christian idea that they should only speak to each other instead of to the broader community, like to change the subject from the fact that they are living professional lives in direct contradiction to Briner's message. In fact, Briner's gentleness masked a profound disgust, something he spoke often about to his friends. It was that perfect combination of gentle and tough that allowed for a great moment in this book--when he playfully begs his daughter to stop watching Ally McBeal. "How about it, Lyn?" Briner needles.

"Final Roar," is Briner's last plea for Christians to rejoin the real world and bring their faith with them. Will people of faith return to the center of the naked public square and make their case? "How about it?" he seems to ask his readers.

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