Hidden Messages of American Christianity: “We’re Cool, Too!”

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This is the fifth in a series of posts covering the hidden messages that sneak into American churches’ proclamation of the Gospel. For more background, please refer to this post.

High school is the grand social experiment wherein hormonally-driven young people seek to establish a place in the social pecking order. Any keen observer of the high-school scene will easily note the depths to which some teens will sink in order to be perceived as cool or attuned to the latest vibe. CluelessNo one wants to be left out.

Everyone knew (or some of us may have been) that kid who spent every waking hour trying to fit in. The tragi-comedy of the teen years is observing the desperate lengths to which some kids go to keep from being deemed irrelevant to the greater theatrical production. If all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, no one wants to be the understudy.

Hopefully we all move on and grow into maturity. Even then, a high school reunion will expose that handful of people who are still trapped in the “Please look at me! I’m cool, too!” phase.

We can excuse our teenagers for this desire, but we can’t excuse adults who never get over it.

Large swaths of the American Church can’t get over it. There is a desperate longing to be perceived as smart, “hip,” and worldly wise. Step into a few churches today and note that they not only serve you a latte you can take into the worship service, but the coffee is pitched as being free trade, so no one can accuse the church of not being cool enough to be sensitive to economic and environmental issues.

Like the teenager screaming, “Please look at me! I’m cool, too,” American Christians have become obsessed with not being left out of the “be there or be square” party everyone’s attending.

If you’re an American, you had to have been squatting in the bowels of Carlsbad Caverns for the last year to have missed the fact that THE MOVIE is debuting this weekend. All of us having sucked long on the marketing teat behind THE MOVIE, I need not mention its name. You and probably everyone you know are aware of THE MOVIE. Many of us are planning on seeing THE MOVIE either Friday or Saturday for fear we won’t be able to discuss it on Sunday before and after our church services.

After all, we let Hollywood know that we demand more movies like this, movies that cater to us, because hey, we’re cool, right? We have money as well. And we don’t ever want to be left out of what’s cool for fear the world will think less of us. What good is a Church that avoids the world’s party?

In far too many churches in America today, the message on Sunday is that Christianity is cool and hip. It’s a faith that makes cultural demands that need to be met by the world’s power brokers. It cries out for Christian-themed amusement parks, Bibles with dimpled steel covers, and stuffed Aslan dolls that better darned sure look exactly like Aslan (or else we won’t buy it.) It’s a new and improved Christianity that walks with a swagger and demands to be on student council so that popularity is assured. Sure, we may talk about a savior who was killed by crucifixion, or we may espouse ideals of dying to self and to the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look cool doing it. Or so the conflicted message goes.

For a lot of churches and the Christians who populate them, the greatest fear is to jammed into a locker and have the door slammed on us. Once you’ve been assaulted in that manner by the school’s alpha jock, you’re relegated to loser status forever.

I seem to remember this Bible passage, though:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
—Romans 8:35-36 ESV

Regarded as sheep to be slaughtered? Highly, highly uncool.

Or how about this:

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!
—Luke 6:22 ESV

You’ll never be class president if you’re reviled. They’ll vote for that Pedro guy instead.

This one stings a little:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
—Philippians 1:21 ESV

It’s hard to be a debutante when you’re dead, isn’t it?

Or…

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
—1 John 2:15-17 ESV

I guess the prom is out then, huh?

Or…

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
—Luke 9:23-26 ESV

But the popular kids like me now!

We’ve got to stop this high school behavior in the American Church. We’re so wrapped up in our image that our main message of the Gospel is threatened with becoming the real hidden message. We’re glorying in worldly acclaim, but that acclaim is worthless. We’re excited about the power we supposedly wield politically, culturally, and so on, but it’s all a façade. We’re high school kids caught up in the social milieu, desperately trying to be cool and popular.

Th result of our dalliances is that we’ve made Christianity nothing more than a check mark on a To-Do list somewhere next to “Get a date for Homecoming” and “Buy more Clearisil.” The transforming power of the Gospel has been replaced by a message that’s a salve for getting dumped before prom night, or strength for revenge against the stuck-up girl who made us look bad in gym class a month ago. Dying to self, loving Christ and others, making disciples, being salt and light—that’s the heart of the Gospel, not all that kiddie stuff.

High school isn’t the real world, folks. “Please look at me! I’m cool, too!” is like…so yesterday. It’s time we American Christians grew up and acted like adults.

{Image of the movie poster from Clueless Paramount Pictures.}

10 thoughts on “Hidden Messages of American Christianity: “We’re Cool, Too!”

  1. Bonnie

    I must be seriously uncool, because I had no idea what “THE MOVIE” was. I did figure it out, though, so maybe I’ll get “cool points” for my deductive skills.

  2. redbeard

    And here I thought THE MOVIE was the one with the initials HP. 😉

    Truly, I am planning on seeing THE MOVIE – not because I want to be cool, but because I enjoy (still) reading Narnia.

  3. As a student minister I find what you’re talking about in this post to be EXTREMELY convicting. I try so hard to fit in and be cool with the students that I often forget they don’t need another buddy, they need a leader, a mentor, an adult. Great post.

  4. Dire Dan: “American Christians have become obsessed with not being left out of the ‘be there or be square’ party everyone’s attending.”

    Honestly, Dan, it’s getting to the point where I don’t know what you’re talking about anymore. Are things this bad in Ohio? Maybe you should pack up and move here to Land-In-Between. By the way, winter here has started out with a bang, and the temperatures have been gelid this week; so I guess it makes us pretty cool.

  5. Oengus,

    I’m similarly amazed that the churches in your part of the country are immune to all this. I see it everywhere I go.

    I walked into a Family Christian Stores outlet yesterday and could only take about fifteen minutes of cultural accomodation before I had to leave. (VeggieTales nativity set with a carrot for the baby Jesus? Are you joking me?) The hipness and cultural awareness factor in that store was overwhelming. All of it screamed, Look how cool Christianity can be. The world has nothing on us!

    Walden Media—not a Christian organization the last time I checked—is distributing curriculum to churches for use in both adult and child Christian education concerning the themes in the upcoming Narnia film. I have no axe to grind against the movie, but the implications of an arm of Disney getting their marketing materials into our pulpits are staggering to me.

    Have you seen none of this where you are? No churches basing a preaching series around “Desperate Housewives” or other TV shows? There are certainly a lot doing just that. And as for the examples I used in this post, I know of a couple churches that made a big deal about switching their cup of joe from Starbucks (or something similar) to genuine free trade, “no rainforests harmed in the making of this coffee” coffee.

    If you aren’t seeing this now, wait a few years. It’s filtering in from the coasts like you would not believe.

  6. Janet & Seth

    Dan- Thank you thank you thank you! I apologize in advance at the vehemence I have. ( Just a bit emotional about this issue!)

    I am sickened by the prostitution I experience in “Christian” environments- expecially Sunday mornings. If I am suffered to watch yet another film clip, music video or see yet another “Lion” poster/insert/bulletpoint on the announcements at the “information” table I will seriously hurl spew at my pastor. It disgusts me that there were pastor “conferences” marketing this crap from Disney— giving out free stuff to our pastors who lap it up like starved 4 year olds presented with a HUGE, FREE, Box of Candy. Where is the discernment from our leadership? I understand a certain level of excitement, but a steady diet of soda and chips will not a healthy person make! Janet

  7. joshua walker

    Dan,
    I really resonate with much of what you say in your post. However, it seems that in the midst of your criticism you may be cutting out some wheat along with the tares. For example, Walden Media is not a Christian organization, but its founder is a Christian who is dedicated to making films with a more wholesome, educational side to them. Have you read what they are committed to or are you simply attacking them without informing yourself? It is not Hollywood responding to our demands, but rather it is a Christian who stepped forward and laid a huge amount of cash on the line to try and produce stuff that was more in line with his own morality. Disney only came on to provide distribution on a larger scale. I have little tolerance for Disney.

    That said, I agree with you that the use of churches as marketing tools is disgusting.

    The other comment that bothers me a bit is the one regarding “free trade coffee” being an attempt to be cool and cater to the world. That may be true for some people…but I know some dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are genuinely convicted regarding their role in the world who see things like that as important. Don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, some of these moves are motivated out of genuine concern and conviction rather than simply a desire to be cool. What about “love hopes all things” Dan? It seems that you attribute only the most negative of motivations to these things. When you stand in judgment of people’s motivations you put yourself in a dangerous place that not even the Apostle Paul would place himself (1 Cor. 4:3-5). The Lord alone is Judge of men’s motives.

    Dan, I appreciate so much of what you have to say but I have never responded to a post. However, I could not keep from responding to this post because of these things. I still agree with the basic premise; it just seems that you overstated some of your specific examples in a way that saddened me.

  8. LoverofTorah

    I really liked what you had to say and totally agree with you.
    The reasons you gave..and many more..are the reasons why my family left the ‘church system’ and are so glad we did.
    Churchianity is to blame.

    Didn’t even know what movie you were talking about until reading the comments…thought you were talking about Passion of the Christ…another movie…that has suckered alot of christians to feel that unless they see it they really are not faithful and ‘passionate’ for the Lord.

    All of this….imo….is b/c of a lack of knowledge of the Word..a lack of understanding holiness and obedience of which the Torah is our guide.
    Torah is not about salvation…but about how to walk in obedience to show our love to Messiah Yeshua.

    There is a growing movement of believers that are returning to the ancient paths of old…learning to walk as Yeshua walked…and are finding true freedom in being Yahweh’s called out people.
    Don’t want to look like the world, don’t want to sound like the world, or act like the world.
    I love that I am called out…a peculiar people…that I follow Yahweh’s commands…that I celebrate Sabbath, keep kosher, do mikvah’s , pray with my head covered….all of these and many more- distinguish that I belong to Yahweh…I am His child…and I am not of this world.
    The church doesn’t look any different from the world … or acts any different.
    Shalom

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