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 A culture where the greatest fear seems to be becoming old-fashioned, out of date, passé?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.
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.
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.