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The iPhone 5: spiritual lessons

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The iPhone 5 on display after its introduction during Apple Inc.’s iPhone media event in San Francisco, California September 12, 2012 (Credit: Reuters / Beck Diefenbach)

The iPhone 5 was unveiled yesterday.  It comes with a larger display and is 20 percent lighter than the previous iPhone 4S.  Analysts expect Apple to sell 10 million to 12 million of the new smartphones in September, and to distribute it to 100 countries by year’s end.

Why do we care?  Samsung sells nearly twice as many smartphones as Apple does.  Android offers a more popular mobile operating system than Apple provides.  Yet an Apple “unveiling” makes global headlines on a scale unmatched by any other manufacturer.  Time magazine covered the event live, and every news outlet I checked this morning is carrying a story on the launch.

What can Christians learn from the iconic company’s success?

Analysts say that Apple’s branding explains their enduring popularity.  The company targets a specific kind of user and plans everything from design to packaging to marketing with that person in mind.  Its products are associated by consumers with innovation and excellence, two characteristics that are vital in today’s market.

Do Americans view Christian churches in the same way?  Are “innovation” and “excellence” typically associated with our programs and people?

Richard Dawkins, the well-known British atheist, claims that religion is now “irrelevant” in his country.  Many observers would make the same assertion about American Christianity.  A recent Barna survey discovered the #1 reason young adults leave the church: they perceive it to be overprotective, refusing to engage the larger culture.  They also view the church as antagonistic to science, naïve regarding sexuality, narrow-minded in relating to other religions, and unfriendly to those who doubt.  Are they right?

Jesus’ enemies made many allegations against him, but irrelevance was not one of them.  The religious authorities of his day arranged his execution precisely because they feared his message and his movement.  He ordered us to assault the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18), to take his message to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), to penetrate every dimension of our culture with his salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).  Isolationist Christianity is a contradiction in terms.

Innovation follows Paul’s example as he became “all things to all men” to bring as many as possible to his Lord (1 Corinthians 9:22).  Excellence glorifies the God who is perfect (Matthew 5:48).  The donor whose scholarship enabled me to attend college told me, “The Holy Spirit has a strange affinity for the trained mind.”  Our King deserves our best.  What will he receive from you today?