I'm sure it's just me, but I've never seen anyone wearing a Christian T-shirt in the street. Go to a Christian festival, and they're everywhere; go into town on a Saturday afternoon... not so much. That's not a criticism of the wonderful people who manufacture the shirts of course; but if we're honest, sometimes few of us have the bottle to go outside in a Coke-themed 'Jesus Christ – He's the real thing' T-shirt. Unless of course we're on our way to church. By car.
This is a shame for many reasons – mainly evangelistic ones. But also, the diminished presence of these shirts in Britain's open spaces is sad news for fans of puns everywhere. Because no-one quite does a pun like Christian T-shirt designers. Here are just a few of the best examples from around the world – available, no doubt, from a Christian festival near you...
This shirt has its finger on the pulse of our social media dominated world. It's a clever play on words AND includes a subtle call to conversion, all at the same time! See also the similarly themed 'God wants YouTobe saved' shirt, and the now out-dated 'Jesus died for MySpace in heaven'.
'Jesus – sweet saviour'
You can imagine people walking past this classic shirt, and being subliminally converted to Christianity without ever realising they weren't just looking at a big fan of Reese's Peanut Butter cups. This is just one of a long line of shirts which subvert well-known branding with a Christian message. What better way to seamlessly engage with a consumer culture?
'Army of the Lord'
Worryingly, there are at least a dozen variants of this shirt available, all drawing on 2 Timothy 2 v 3 (which, out of context, can be used to support a sort of militarised version of Christianity). I'm not sure what kind of message people take from seeing a Christian emblazoned with a message like that, but I'm guessing it's not half as positive as the wearer might imagine. Waveable placard sold separately.
'FBI – Firm Believer in Jesus'
Everyone loves an FBI T-shirt. So what could be a better basis for a bit of faith declaration than this shirt, which is not so much a pun as an ironically criminal acronym misappropriation. It's also available as a hat, a watch, a tie, a wallet and a pillow. And if you buy all of those, you'll probably start to get monitored by the actual FBI.
'Need an Ark? I Noah guy!'
As relentlessly popular as it is inexplicably popular, this pun is available in countless designs – none of which make up for the linguistic atrocity it commits. Presumably it's meant to convey the idea that Christians are actually supercool people and have a great sense of humour. It does not do this.
'Jesus is our greatest HOPE'
This one's more of a visual pun – a play on the familiar graphic design that saw Barack Obama successfully campaign his way into the White House. An immaculately groomed Jesus appears to be rocking highlights in his hair, and also seems to have been startled by something. Maybe it was Sarah Palin?
'Let's "Taco" 'bout Jesus'
If you say it enough times, this one sort of works. As long as you get that it's a taco. And because that's not immediately clear, it means people are going to be staring at your chest in confusion. That may not be ok for you.
'This fish won't fry'
This is the modern day version of fire and brimstone preaching, and again, not something you often see people wearing down to Tesco. The implication – that while the wearer might avoid eternal conscious torment, the reader might not – is further driven home in the alternate version, which adds: 'Will you?' Surely this is a foolproof blueprint for the future of evangelism?
'My Lifeguard walks on water'
This ingenious subversion of the classic lifeguard T-shirt contains the potential for horrific tragedy – if the wearer is mistaken for an actual lifeguard in a moment when one is desperately needed. Thankfully, very few people would wear this to an actual beach.
This falls into the 'so bad it's good' category. The combination of comic-sans-esque font and awesome clip art turn this humble T-shirt into one of this season's must-haves. Not entirely sure those nails would hold a man up, but then clip art doesn't always give you much in the way of options.
If only we were less embarrassed by our Christian T-shirts. Surely if designs like these were regularly displayed in our streets and neighbourhoods, revival would not be far away. I realise too that with this short rundown, I've barely scratched the surface of the incredible global catalogue in this area. If you've got better examples, please tweet them to me. Divine puns like these deserve a wider audience.
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and an author, screenwriter and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders