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influence Jesus Jesus Christ salvation soul-winning

The Infamy Of The Edsel

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07).  While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12. 

Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17). 

What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.

  • Jesus is the Perfect Man who offers something unique that cannot be outdone–salvation which is located in His body, the church (Eph. 1). This is what we have to offer this world, and this is what the world needs. 
  • Sometimes, we spend too much time in gimmickry, marketing hype, and mining for felt needs, and at the end of the day we wind up offering a cheap, poor, and disappointing product that dishonors and degrades His perfect name. May we ever respect the warning of Galatians 1:6-9. 
  • It is easy for us to lose sight of our mission and sense of direction, if Jesus is not the heart of our mission, purpose, plans, and activities. As disciples, He leads and we follow (Luke 9:23-26). 
  • We never want, as a church or as an individual, to sully His precious name by our association with it–whether by ungodliness, worldliness, legalism, mean-spirited, hateful behavior, doctrinal compromise, etc. I suppose that David’s name, as king of Israel, defamed God for a long time after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). We should disdain the very prospect of such.
  • It’s not too late to correct even infamous blunders. Ford is not defined by the Edsel. It went on to produce some automobiles that more than restored its good name. That can be true for churches and individuals. Jesus would not have gone to the trouble to admonish Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea if they were a lost cause. The same is true of Euodia, Syntyche, the man in 1 Corinthians 5, and others.  There cannot “un-be” an Edsel, but there can be a brighter future.

The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!

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Christian living church example influence

NOT WHAT HE MADE IT FOR

Neal Pollard

Karl Friedrich Benz invented the first true gasoline-powered automobile in Germany in 1885, a 3-wheeled, 4-cycle internal combustion engine (via lib.gov). The vehicle has come a long way since then.  To date, the fastest car on record (0-300 km) is the Hennessey Venom GT (13.63 seconds, guinnessworldrecords.com). The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport achieved the fastest recorded speed (267.857 mph) in 2010 (topgear.com).  Benz may not have foreseen how fast or sophisticated the automobile would become.  Given the speeds most cars can achieve, he may not have anticipated that people would get behind the wheel drunk or high, texting, severely sleep-deprived, or with car bombs.  We would not blame Benz, Ford, or the Dodge brothers for the way Timothy McVeigh misused that Ryder truck in 1995.  Who would dispute that the automobile, used properly, has made such a positive impact on the average person’s life for over a century?  But, when abused, it has contributed to profound heartache for millions of people.

Paul reveals the church as part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  That means God had the church in mind from the eternity before creation!  He sent His Son to shed His life’s blood in order to purchase the church (Acts 20:28).  Paul affirms that Jesus loves the church and died for it (Eph. 5:25). We read of the beginning of that church in Acts 2. God intended for the church to be the means through which He receives glory and honor (Eph. 3:21). Untold numbers of people over 20 centuries of time have been blessed because they were introduced to and became members of His church.  Through faithful, righteous members of His church, people have come to believe in, follow and fall in love with God.

That there are so many claiming to be members of His church who contradict His teachings, who have subjugated His will to the whims of the culture, or who have lived unwholesome, unholy lives to the detriment of its influence cannot be successfully disputed.  That there are so many who are members of it whose attitude, hypocrisy, selfishness, prejudice, and exclusivity have repelled those who are not members of it can also be easily, if anecdotally, established.  In a larger sense, those who kill and harm others in the name of the God of the Bible no more reflect the nature and character of that God than one who takes anything man made for good and misuse it.

What we can never do is mistake the abuse of the name of God, the Bible, or His church as the fault of God.  He left clear instructions, a pattern for people to follow.  If they do not follow it, they are to blame.  The challenge for you and me, today and every day, is to be the best ambassadors for Christ we can be (2 Cor. 5:20).  Let’s show the world the wisdom of God by helping the church be what He intended it to be!