I cancelled my subscription to Relevant Magazine this week, a magazine I’ve received for many years now. This truly is not a post to bash Relevant–I think they have a very focused mission, are very good at what they do, and I know are helping a lot of people. I’m really just writing this to help put some of my thoughts and convictions on paper as a way of trying to figure out some important internal priorities, and hopefully it will stir up some readers’ thoughts as well.
This blog post isn’t about Relevant, it’s about how some Christians try so hard to be cool, and how I realized this really began affecting my walk with Jesus. I began realizing when I read Relevant (the articles, the celebrities, the Christian celebrities, the graphics, all the ads for the next cool conference, every seminary and Bible college under the sun buying ad-space to try to look cool…), it didn’t want to make me more like Jesus, it made me want to be cool. I don’t think this affects everyone, and I fully acknowledge this may just be a reflection of the fact that I’m 31 now, am a father of two and yes, drive a minivan.
What is “being cool?” It’s pretty hard to define, but I think it could best be defined as “being in such a way that other people like you and/or want to be like you.” Being cool drastically varies from subculture to subculture. What’s cool in an inner-city neighborhood is going to look very different than it would on a college campus or in the music scene or at your workplace or in the church, but the concept is the same. Usually being cool revolves around the stuff you own, the stuff you wear, and the way you carry yourself.
I’m certainly not advocating that being cool is a sin and that we need to walk around with our fingers in our noses in order to avoid it at all costs. I just wonder how many times our motives get tangled up without even realizing it. Doing things to be cool, rather than doing what Jesus tells us.
This certainly applies to the most obvious things such as getting involved in underage drinking, drug use or alcohol abuse, in order to be accepted by the popular crowd. As it would engaging in premarital sex in order to be accepted by the person we are attracted to (but not married to), or in entertainment choices that blatantly glorify sin and cloud our eyes and ears with smut and gunk. But what about the much more subtle ways our longing to be cool affects our obedience to Christ? How many times have I not shared Christ with someone, or even revealed I am a follower of Christ, because I didn’t want them to think I was a dork? Unfortunately, plenty.
The root of all this is caring about being accepted by man more than caring about being accepted by God. Caring more about what man thinks of us than about what God thinks of us. Scripture hits this nail on the head in several places, Galatians 1:10 being one of them: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
There’s certainly a balance to all of this, and the pendulum tends to swing widely in both directions until we hopefully find that balance. You may have heard the phrase, “be in the world, but not of the world.” This isn’t actually a verse in the Bible, but comes from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17:16-18, 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. In writing toward the side of the pendulum that tends to look at this world as an unspiritual place we must reject and flee (listening to only Christian music, only watching Christian movies, etc.), David Mathis of DesiringGod.org gives a helpful rephrasing of the popular “in, but not of the world” slogan. Staying much closer to what Jesus actually said, Mathis offers “Not of, but sent into” (emphasis added) the world as the phrase that should guide the Christian’s relationship with the world.
I think this phrase is also very helpful on the other side of the pendulum (the one in which I am writing about), which is the side that is so drawn to being cool within the world, that our “sent” mission for Christ can easily disappear. If I wear skinny jeans and listen to hip bands and wear cool glasses and drink craft beer, I’m going to reach a lot of people for Jesus because my non-Christian friends will see you don’t have to be a dork in order to be a Christian.
I honestly used to think this. And I think if many Christians were honest, especially those under the age of 40, they probably think this too.
I think often we are just covering up our cowardice and insecurity with our coolness. I’m afraid of rejection; I think almost all of us are. So instead of taking risks and actually telling my friends about Jesus, I let my skinny jeans do the talking.
Look, it’s not a sin to have skinny jeans. But we should stop and assess what it visibly looks like we are drawing non-Christians into. If everyone at your church wears the same jeans, has the same hair, the same facial hair, the same glasses, the same scarfs, the same shoes, the same everything, what does that say about what it looks like to follow Jesus? This is one of the biggest drawbacks of culturally-homogenous churches. Have you ever been to a church planters’ conference? It’s kind of scary! (insert one of a million jokes here about how everyone dresses the same and has the same facial hair…)
Our homogeneity is a huge gospel stumbling block for those who don’t fit the cultural “coolness” that has morphed itself onto our specific church community.
Don’t try to be like your favorite Christian celebrity, or any celebrity for that matter. In fact, if we could purge ourselves of the concept of “celebrity,” I know we would all be better for it.
The Bible tells us this about Jesus in Isaiah 53:2, He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Jesus definitely wasn’t trying to be cool.
He was being faithful.
He was sent into the world. Yes relating to the world in a way where he had great relationships with non-believers, but definitely on mission. Not caring about what the world thought of him, only caring about what his Father thought. What was it that attracted people to Jesus? Was it the brand of his sandals or the way he wore his robe?
It was his love. And he tells us to love the way he loved.
If you wear skinny jeans (and everyone in your church does too), are you able to love someone who doesn’t? Or a better question: will they let you love them? (They probably won’t make it past your lobby, and if they do, they probably won’t be back)
Let the world judge us by our love. And if we are too cool for them to find our love, or our drive for cool has put a blanket over Jesus, the source of our love, it probably is time to stick our fingers up our nose. Because I don’t know anybody who thinks that is cool.
Then let the world see and hear how beautiful this is.
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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