The Dangerous Case of the Cool Christian
“Cool” is a cultural construct—and a relatively amorphous one at that. The reason my mom will not let my dad where white socks with sandals is because the requirements of “cool” fluctuate rapidly over time (though perhaps socks with sandals were never cool to begin with). Different cultures and subcultures always have some coolness standard; and though ever changing, society determines what is cool and what is not.
The “Cool Christian” is not a new phenomenon. Though he or she can come in all shapes and sizes the Cool Christian is always relevant one. Relevant is something that is “appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.” This modern and relevant Christian: knows the world, talks like the world, and immeres himself in the latest trends of the world. He wears the latest non mainstream clothing with his signature haircut—which, if he so desires, can be paired with chic dark rimmed glasses and a meticulously manicured beard. Generally talented and good looking, the Cool Christian is admired not only within the doors of the church but also among the general culture. Being cool requires it.
Interestingly enough most of our churches celebrate the Cool Christian. After all, he is given an incredible platform to reach the irreligious masses! There is even a push in our world for the church itself to become cool-er and more relevant. They tell us that “the church needs to get with the times!” Modernize, adapt, and engage. How will we reach the culture if we live like we are in the dark ages? How can we appeal to the lost when we look and live like the Amish?
Paul himself famously proclaimed that to the Greeks he became Greek that he might win some. Acts 17 is a great example of Paul doing exactly this, where he addresses the Greeks in the Areopagus at Athens. Unlike many other messages in Acts, this one is different. Paul does not quote from the Hebrew law or the prophets as he normally would have. What he does do is he appeals to the Athenians’ religious nature, and even quotes one of the Greek poets to hammer his point home. Surely Paul was relevant.
However, there is a difference between being like your audience and being informed about your audience. I make this distinction because Paul was not at all similar to the Greeks he was evangelizing. To them, this Jewish man who was leading some Judaic cult—blabbering about idols—would have been the definition of strange. Not relevant. They did not see him and enthusiastically exclaim, "Wow, this guy is really cool--let's find out what he has to say!" They rather said: "What is this babbler trying to say?" To these culturally relevant Greeks, Paul was seen as weird; and they mocked him. The world always had a difficult time accepting the Apostle Paul.
My question is this: can Christians, in their “coolness” and familiarity with their culture--lose their distinctiveness? Can our speech, dress, interests, activities, lifestyles—be so similar to the world that our offensive message is lost? I think yes. And I think that this is a very real danger to both the modern Christian and the modern church.
In Os Guinness’ book entitled The Last Christian on Earth, Guinness looks to uncover an evil plot to undermine the Western Church. He writes: “The more the Church becomes one with the modern world, the more it becomes compromised, and the deeper the grave it digs for itself.”
That is a loaded statement. Maybe you have seen it happen in real time. Lines that were once drawn are now crossed in the name of relevance. The old traditions and disciplines that were once treasured are passed over in the name of cool. Maybe somewhere in that process we will find that our Christian life looks oddly like--anyone else’s life; and that our formerly precious faith has been slowly negotiated away.
In a nation where Christianity is so commonplace, it can be easy to forget that the Christian life is a radical thing. It demands radical beliefs, radical habits, and a radical distinction from the always worldly mainstream. James says it strongly, “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:44). The call of Christ has always existed in direct opposition to the world; the two are incompatible. Christianity therefore will never be considered “cool” in the world’s eyes, and Christians must grow wary when they find that they are admired by their worldly counterparts.
My intention in this post is not to attack Cool Christians. I believe you can be a good Christian and have a beard—even dark rimmed glasses. Clothing style is not the problem. My point is simply to remind all of us about the battle we are in as Christians. We live in times where the world is increasingly hostile to propositional truth; a world that makes its hatred for Christ more and more visible. If we find ourselves being accepted by this world, or even worse—being celebrated by this world—something needs to be desperately reevaluated.
“It is a very ill omen to hear the world clap its hands and shout ‘well done’ to the Christian man” –C.H. Spurgeon
Guinness, Os. The Last Christian on Earth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2014. Kindle Edition.