We all want to be cool whether it’s dressing up as a Jedi for the premiere a new Star Wars, debating the latest Indie film while wearing skinny jeans, or starting at point guard for the school basketball team because with coolness comes acceptance and belonging. As human beings we crave to be accepted and to belong to a group. That group may be as small as a third grade lunch table or as large as the American culture. Either way, we want to be “in” and not “out”.
The teenage years are the crucible of cool. Teens adjust their mannerisms, accentuate their appearance, acquire possessions, and arrange their lives in an attempt to be accepted. The stakes are high and winners get happiness and losers get misery.
Sometimes I wonder if we ever truly graduate from this.
A lot of Christians are concerned with making the faith “cool”. Not cool as in a church with a band that sounds like Coldplay and pastor who preaches from his iPad. Rather, the kind of cool that brings acceptance and belonging; that gets Christians a seat at the political table and earns the praises of communities, cultures, and cable network commentators. Many are warning that if we don’t shape up, we will be left behind – and it will be worse than anything Tim LaHaye wrote about. We will become irrelevant and unwanted; a dead faith surviving on the life-support of our traditions.
American Christianity is afraid of becoming like the kid who sits alone at school and receives the taunts of his classmates. We are told we must change or die the slow death of rejection. After all, there is nothing worse than holding a faith most of America considers foolish and harmful. Many Christians – some quiet well known – are filling up sermons, books, blogs, twitter feeds, and Facebook posts calling us to turn on our past, kick the dust off our shoes, and progress into a better faith that can survive the twenty-first century.
The problem with this desire to make Christianity fashionable is, well, Jesus. 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: no matter how many people we liberate from slavery, malnourished children we feed, free block parties we throw, pairs of Toms we wear, or art galleries we support, as long as we follow the Jesus of the Bible the world will never accept us.
Why? Because Jesus claims to be Lord of all. He says in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” All of humanity will be judged by him in Matthew 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” When Jesus makes these claims it immediately puts him into conflict with all the lords of the world from presidents and kings to sex and money.
How do you make Christianity cool? How can Christians who worship a counter-cultural Jesus be accepted and belong to the wider culture? Follow some of the advice out there and water him down.
Create a god who is more loving and affirming; that never judges or condemns. Tell a story where humanity is the hero, progressing to a more peaceful and enlightened future. Compile Scriptures that offend less and inspire more. Define sin as anything that doesn’t make us happy and whole. Recast the cross as the compelling end of a social revolutionary and the resurrection as the product of our collective hopes and dreams. Build marriage, gender, and sexuality on the shifting cultural consensus. Construct a faith where only actions matter, not beliefs. Craft a Jesus who is only one option among many.
This will create a Christianity that is cool and acceptable, but that is no more compelling than the United Nations or the Peace Corps. Just one more option for doing good in the world.
But if you’ve embraced the fact that being cool doesn’t mean being right, if you’ve realized that acceptance by the world is nothing compared to acceptance by the One who made the world then worship the God who is both loving and just; who has wrath and grace. Tell the story where Jesus is the hero rescuing sinners for the glory of God. Meditate on the Scriptures that both inspire and offend. Stand in awe of the cross where the Son took the punishment for our sins and the resurrection where he conquered death. Wage war on sin that is an offense against the character of God. Celebrate marriage, gender, and sexuality in the way God has given them for our good. Live out a faith strong in belief and action. Follow a Jesus who is not simply another Ghandi but the author of life and necessary for every person.
You may not be cool or accepted. They probably won’t give you your own talk show or invite you on theirs to talk about how much they love what you’re doing. As Paul said in 2 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 tearing it down and rebuilding it in your own image. So let us not labor to make the world love us and instead let us love the world, shrugging off any hatred it throws our way. We follow a rebel King. And in his mighty company there is singing, joy, and pleasures forevermore.