The Irreconcilable Pursuit of Christ & Coolness (Part 2)

From VOICE, July/Aug 2015. Used with permission. Read Part 1.

The Bible & Coolness

How should we live as Christians in a culture that is driven by style and worships the cult of youth, popularity, and appearances? A culture where the greatest fear seems to be becoming old-fashioned, out of date, passé?

Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes echo through the generations. There is no new thing (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10); we only forget what has come before (Ecclesiastes 1:11). We are born rebels (Ephesians 2:1-3), yet each new generation that rebels believes its insurrection is novel. Seeking to set ourselves apart from the majority, to impress the world with our unique style and way of living, is part of our fallen human nature.

Here’s something else to consider. There’s a very good reason why churches and Christianity, and indeed Christians, tend not to be noted by the world for their trendiness. The problem with trying to make Christianity fashionable is Christ Himself. He said in John 15:18-19

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Jesus is warning us about a harsh reality: as long as we follow the Jesus of the Bible, the world will hate us no matter how cool we try to be … because we represent Him and He represents righteousness, accountability and judgment. Watch how any Christian, no matter how attractive or winsome or popular, is treated by the media when speaking out in the name of Christ. It gets ugly in a hurry.

Christ Himself very specifically and deliberately welcomed the least cool of His world. He consciously reached out to the most socially unappealing, to those with the least outward attractiveness and social status. Jesus was for misfits and outsiders, for those mocked, rejected or overlooked by others. He had total compassion on all those who were excluded or looked down on by society for being “uncool” or weird or odd; those who didn’t fit.

He didn’t exclude them and He doesn’t tolerate our exclusion of them today. The church exists for such as these: for the least, the unlovely, the social outcasts and outsiders all of whom God has called, according to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

I’m certainly not saying that Jesus loves you more if you’re some kind of nerd or weirdo. Nor am I advocating an unfashionable appearance. I don’t think we need to deliberately try to make ourselves or our church embarrassing or uncool, any more than we need to deliberately go out looking for suffering. What I am saying is that we’d better make sure our churches aren’t too cool and too sophisticated to include the weirdos, oddballs and socially awkward. And we had better make sure our churches follow God’s pattern for us regardless of whether the world approves or not.

As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” You can’t make Christianity cool without rebuilding it in your own image. Let’s not labor to make the world love us; instead let’s love them and shrug off any hatred they throw our way. Our faith sets us apart, and we should dare to be different as new creations in Christ.

Jesus told us we that we will face hardship and persecution for His name’s sake (Matthew 10:22-26, 34-39; Luke 21:16-17). Paul told Timothy that if you live a godly life, you will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter said that we should expect to encounter fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12) and rejoice when we do (1 Peter 4:13-14), then entrust ourselves to our faithful God (v.19).

James also addresses trials, writing that we should consider it joy when those hardships come (James 1:2-3). In Hebrews 13:13 we are instructed to go to Christ, outside the camp, bearing His reproach which is the exact opposite of seeking popularity! The Bible issues a clear and decisive call for mature and selfless sacrifice from those who know Christ as Savior, rejecting the love of the world.

Being a devoted follower of Jesus Christ has never been and will never be considered socially popular. But we don’t follow Christ to fit in with the “in crowd” or to find acceptance. We follow Christ because He died for our sins and as His redeemed people, He has commanded that we follow Him in obedience. We are to be in the world but not of the world (1 John 2:15). In the world there’s a wisdom that is foolishness to God; we are to seek the wisdom of God, which the world considers foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 3:18-21).

We need to acknowledge that the pursuit of Christ and coolness is irreconcilable. Detached individualism, alienation from authority and outward rebellion are sins that have no place in the Christian’s life because these are things opposed to Christ’s sovereign rule in our lives. They tend to cause self-centeredness and elitism (“I am superior to you because I am the arbiter of all things acceptably cool, things that are known only to me and my friends and obviously not to you”). Condescension is not Christian—humility is, along with a godly sense of community, respect, family and love.

Conclusion

The culture of the world is always changing. The cat’s pajamas. He’s a dreamboat. That’s just swell. Groovy. Far out. He’s the bomb. Phat. It’s so dope. The phrases of popular culture have a limited shelf life and the wrong words can mark you as a fossil from some forgotten decade.

Doesn’t that prove the point that we should resist being driven by ever changing fads and trends? One day you too will be an old-timer, hopelessly out of fashion, so why pretend otherwise? Why not obey the Bible’s commands to walk with wisdom and seek maturity, to be like Christ and not like whoever is the cultural icon of your day.

McCracken believes this mindset and lifestyle of “Wannabe-Cool Christianity” has become

far too accommodating and accepting of sin, something that should actually shock and disturb us. If it’s uncool to draw lines about what behavior is permissible and prudent for the Christian, then Christians should start getting used to the idea of being uncool.1

Amen to that.

Another series of warnings come from David Wells. In his book The Courage to Be Protestant, he writes:

The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.2

That’s a serious consideration!

And Wells asks these sobering questions.

What is the binding authority on the church? What determines how it thinks, what it wants, and how is it going to go about its business? Will it be Scripture alone, Scripture understood as God’s binding address, or will it be culture? Will it be what is current, edgy, and with-it? Or will it be God’s Word, which is always contemporary because its truth endures for all eternity?3

He asks—is it Sola Scriptura or Sola Cultura?

Wells is right when he asserts that a careful biblical theology must undergird the local church’s ministry if it will be rightly related to Christ. But many churches are neglecting the Bible and traditional doctrine. It’s not that these churches

want to deny it or reject it, but it is something of an embarrassment to them. At least in their own churches, they want to conceal it. They want it hidden, kept in the background, made to disappear from what they are doing. It is rather like a family secret. Family secrets are true, but they should be kept private. They should not be divulged.4

Then Wells observes:

Everywhere in the marketing approach [type of churches] theology and Bible knowledge are downplayed, and then we are dumbfounded when commitment evaporates and ignorance reigns! The gelding is castrated, as C.S. Lewis observed in another context, and yet we expect it to be fruitful.5

Let’s not be embarrassed of Christ and His Word, hiding His teachings lest we be exposed as His followers, trying to make Christ’s commandments acceptable to the skeptical world through a veil of coolness. Let’s resolve never to lose God’s blessing—to be “put out of business with God,” as Wells wrote—in the irreconcilable pursuit of both Christ and coolness.

Notes

1 McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, p. 200.

2 David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing, 2008), pp. 49-50.

3 Ibid., p. 4.

4 Ibid., p. 40.

5 Ibid., p. 45.

Les Lofquist Bio


Les Lofquist earned his BA at Grace College, and his MDiv at Grace Theological Seminary. Over his years of ministry, he has served as a missionary church planter, Bible college instructor, youth pastor and senior pastor. He has served as Executive Director of IFCA since 1999. He and his wife Miriam have been blessed with several children and grandchildren.

797 reads
6426 reads

There are 17 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

Am looking forward to (I hope) future installments and more discussion.  One question that comes to mind is what kind of "gut checks" we ought to use to establish whether we are trying too hard to be cool, and also what we might do to replace trying to be cool.  One thing that comes to mind for me is to think of how to do things well in a Biblical fashion.

Obviously I would open a whole can of worms about how to define that, but hey, let's go fishing, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I feel strange as I read this. I don't do anything to try to be "cool" or "hip" at church. 

  • We're in a small, very old building with stained glass windows. This is an old, country church.
  • We have pews that actually look like pews - this place cannot be mistaken for anything other than a church building.
  • We sing from a hymnal.
  • We do Scripture readings before the morning service. 
  • All the musical accompaniment we have is a piano and a temperamental organ.
  • Perhaps the "coolest" thing we have is a 55-in flatscreen in from of the platform where I use PowerPoint to accompany my preaching. I put the verses up there as we march through a passage, and throw in a few graphics and visual illustrations as I need to. Wow. 
  • I preach in an expository way, verse by verse, book by book. Poor Andy Stanley would be scandalized. We've been on the Gospel of John since January 2014, and am just about finished. We're starting Hebrews next. We're doing Lamentations in the afternoon, and will move to Esther after that. We just finished Ephesians for Sunday School, and am in Acts now. 

We don't do anything to be deliberately cool. Maybe we're not being "relevant" enough for some people, but it seems fine to me. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Very good and to the point!

"The Midrash Detective"

Doug Flynn's picture

reference to 2 Corinthians 4:13 should be to 1 Corinthians 4:13

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Doug Flynn wrote:

reference to 2 Corinthians 4:13 should be to 1 Corinthians 4:13

Fixed.  Thanks for pointing that out.

Dave Barnhart

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This one (in two parts) really resonated with me as well...  I do often see in churches generally an effort to disguise Christianity as a nifty new philosophy of life rather than an ancient way of life based on an ancient Book... a set of timeless answers to the unchanging realities of the human condition and the character of God.

But we live in a passionately "progressive" culture... so there is always this drive for something "newer and better" deeply driving us. We forget that all the really big questions have never changed--nor have all the best answers.

Lee's picture

Just an observation: I find myself routinely dealing with "cool" at every level; therefore, I tend to think that chasing cool is more narcissistic than rebellious.  Rebellion certainly comes into play, but only as a useful tool in the attempt to garner the desired attention from whatever target audience is involved.  As I said, just an observation.

Lee

Steve Newman's picture

in our town, we are the "uncool" church, and while I'm not proud of that, the issue is a lot more of a pride issue to me than it is of rebellion, though it can be that; or narcissism. We want to think we are special, that we have the "it factor" that others do not have. That we are recipients of the grace of God in a "special" way that others are not. Isn't it really a form of pride?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Steve Newman wrote:

in our town, we are the "uncool" church, and while I'm not proud of that, the issue is a lot more of a pride issue to me than it is of rebellion, though it can be that; or narcissism. We want to think we are special, that we have the "it factor" that others do not have. That we are recipients of the grace of God in a "special" way that others are not. Isn't it really a form of pride?

 

^^^^^^^^^^^THIS^^^^^^^^^^^^

Bert Perry's picture

Steve Newman wrote:

in our town, we are the "uncool" church, and while I'm not proud of that, the issue is a lot more of a pride issue to me than it is of rebellion, though it can be that; or narcissism. We want to think we are special, that we have the "it factor" that others do not have. That we are recipients of the grace of God in a "special" way that others are not. Isn't it really a form of pride?

Can be, but whether it's pride in the Biblical sense really depends on our response to God's grace?  None of us can get around the fact that for whatever reason, God showed us His grace.  We can either boast in Him, or we can think it's of ourselves, and that's all the difference.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Words like "coolness" and "trendiness" are just to vague.

I was probably one of the earliest adopters of a pastor having a computer (TRS-80 Model 3) back in June of 1982. It caused quite a stir in our large church (where I was an assistant Pastor) as a rumor that I had a  record of everyone's financial giving could seemingly not be quashed. (I actually used the high powered machine with 48 kb of memory and 2 floppies to maintain visitor records and print mailing labels of the same).

The first pastor with a:

  • IPhone
  • IPad (or preached from an IPad ... horrors!)
  • MacBook
  • Blog

Was trendy and cool. 

The first  church in a community with air conditioning and padded pews was trendy and cool. 

 

 

Dan Miller's picture

Jim, you don't get it because you're not cool enough. Sorry, but you took the uncool fork in the road at "TRS-80 Model 3."

I had one, too. And a tape recorder data storage system!

Ron Bean's picture

I agree with Jim that "cool" and "trendy" are vague terms.

I remember when microphones, over head projectors, screens, guitars (in any venue), refreshments, community groups, and preaching without a tie were condemned (and I mean condemned) as signs of worldliness. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I agree with Jim that "cool" and "trendy" are vague terms.

I remember when microphones, over head projectors, screens, guitars (in any venue), refreshments, community groups, and preaching without a tie were condemned (and I mean condemned) as signs of worldliness. 

I was led to Christ by a group that used all of these except for the microphone--and even that was used in some circumstances.  I'm glad they were so worldly.  I seem to remember as well Someone who did not wear a tie when He preached, given that it wouldn't be invented for over a millenium afterwards.  Twelve of his buddies did the same.  Was that a community group no less?  And it was awesome when they helped out at parties.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"Cool" for the purposes of the article is well defined in the piece. It's not one in place in definition form... but it's scattered throughout. You just have to make a few inferences.

... I really don't know how it could be overlooked.
 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

FYI- Nerds are the new cool. I'm so in now, without even trying.

There is a tension between being aware of popular culture for the purpose of understanding/communication with people, and using marketing tactics based on pop culture to draw people to church - which is by default NOT drawing them to Christ, and IMO is essentially bait-and-switch.

For instance, I saw a brochure for a men's Bible study using the logo from the TV show Mad Men, minus the cigarette.

What was the purpose of using that very iconic picture? Are they specifically trying to reach fans of the show? Since folks know the overarching plot and themes, what is it the church is trying to say about their men's Bible study? Is the Bible study using the plot and themes of the show as illustrations? Are they going to serve Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska? Will there be cocktails?

And why not use Captain Kirk, who has been totally awesome since 1966? "Be sure. Your sin. Will find you out."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

You need some elipses Biggrin

Captain Kirk, who has been totally awesome since 1966? "Be sure.... Your sin...... Will find you out."

I think you've articulated one of the important distinctions between freshness and the wrong kind of coolness...

There is a tension between being aware of popular culture for the purpose of understanding/communication with people, and using marketing tactics based on pop culture to draw people to church - which is by default NOT drawing them to Christ, and IMO is essentially bait-and-switch.

So it has a whole lot to do with "why" and not so much the "what" (though the "why" filters out a whole lot of the "what" too)

What we should reject is...

  • Trying to make what is profoundly and deeply unpopular appear to be something it isn't -- broadly appealing and accepted, especially by the top influencers of what is supposed to be seen as appealing and accepted and popular (the ones everybody looks to as the benchmarks of coolness)
     
  • Trying to actually win the acceptance of the culture's most popular figures
     
  • Trying to make Christianity appear to be an anti-traditional, anti-historical, anti-old subversively cool thing... when, compared to a culture that is obsessed with Now and New, our faith is really extremely backward-looking.
     
  • Trying to pull the lost from the "miry clay" by jumping in there with them... and being like them in every way except for referring vaguely to Jesus a lot.

So there's a huge difference between all of that and being driven to use new tools for practical reasons or updating our "packaging" a bit because we've gotten tired of the old, or because the old look suggests a lack of energy/lack of vitality/lack of passion.

So what is alive shows the signs of life, but that's something different from trying to fit into a vain culture by embracing vanity... and pretending to be just as vain as they are.

 

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.