“We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
These words of John Lennon, published on this day in 1966, have become a famous—or infamous—part of cultural history.
Here’s the larger context: Lennon told an interviewer for the London Evening Standard that “Christianity will go.” He added: “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
His words sparked a furor in the United States. Radio stations invited listeners to bring their Beatles records to pickup points where they would be burned.
Lennon later apologized at a press conference in Chicago: “I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion. I was not saying we are greater or better. I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky.”
However, Lennon began his most famous song, “Imagine,” with the lyrics, “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.” Later he asked us to imagine that there’s “no religion, too.”
Why parents are selling their children
In a world like ours, it’s easy to wonder if God is real or relevant.
Search and rescue efforts are intensifying this morning after a series of tornadoes ripped through Alabama yesterday, killing at least twenty-three people in one county. At least a dozen tornadoes touched down in Alabama and Georgia Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
Two people were killed and seven more injured when the son of a New Orleans police officer drove his vehicle into a busy New Orleans thoroughfare Saturday night. Police are awaiting the results of a blood alcohol test.
More than 110 million people across the US are bracing for snowstorms. New York City and Boston are expected to get six to eight inches of snow.
And CNN reports that twenty thousand children in Ghana have been sold by their parents into slavery. They work on Lake Volta in the fishing industry. Authorities say extreme poverty forces parents to sell a child to traffickers to provide money for their other children to eat.
A “rapid and shocking” decline in church attendance
Five centuries before Christ, Greek philosopher Anaximander is said to have constructed the first map. It pictures the world in thirds—Europe, Asia, and what he called “Libya” (Africa). In the very center of the map stands Miletus, the city in western Turkey where he lived.
Why did Anaximander position himself in the center of the world? His decision was less reflective of ego than of experience. Look around yourself. Everywhere you turn, you’re in the middle of the world you can see.
This fact is both geographical and psychological. We measure the world by what we experience of the world. John Lennon later explained his belief that Christianity “will vanish and shrink”: “From what I’ve read, or observed, Christianity just seems to be shrinking, to be losing contact.”
The United Kingdom of 1966 was indeed experiencing a significant decline in church attendance and cultural relevance. And church attendance has fallen further in the decades since. According to a recent survey, more than half the British population now say they have no religion.
However, it’s always too soon to give up on God.
More people worship Jesus in China than in America
Our secular culture separates God from the “real world.” Our materialistic society measures truth by what we can measure. Taken together, the cultural trends of our day could lead Americans to believe Lennon was right.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Christianity in Africa across the last century has grown from less than 10 percent of the population to nearly five hundred million today. Our faith has grown at twice the rate of the population growth in Asia.
More people worship Jesus in China today than in America. A dear friend who serves in the Middle East tells me that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last fifteen years than in the previous fifteen centuries.
“Power belongs to God”
Just because we cannot see God at work does not mean that he is not at work.
Pharaoh trusted the magicians and idols of his cultural religion more than the unseen God of Moses until the one true Lord destroyed his nation. Darius insisted that the nation pray to him until Daniel’s prayer to the unseen God spared Daniel in the lions’ den. Saul of Tarsus persecuted Christians until he met their risen Lord on the road to Damascus.
David testified: “Power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11). The psalmist added: “Great is our Lord and mighty in power” (Psalm 147:5 NIV). Jesus assured us that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
The greatest gift we can give
Do you believe that God can do all he has ever done? That he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)? If you’re lacking faith in his omnipotence, would you pray for the faith you need (Mark 9:24)?
Now, would you ask your Father to make your faith relevant to your culture? Would you pray for him to lead you, empower you, and use you to make a difference in someone’s life for the glory of God?
John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980. I’ve seen the spot where he was shot in the archway of the New York City residence where his widow still lives. One instant after his death, he no longer wondered if the God of Scripture is real (Hebrews 9:27).
Introducing people to Jesus before they meet him in eternity is the greatest gift we can give them.