All the young dudes hunkered in a pack at the back of the Taco Bell, the mecca of cheap food for young dudes everywhere. Like most 19-year-olds, they took big bites and talked a little too loud for a small restaurant.
Enter two young women.
They were the classic pair one finds in many romantic comedies today. The one was a natural beauty, raven-haired and fresh-faced, like something out of Ivory Soap ad but with a green sensibility, just add Timberlands. The kind of girl one can take home to mom and on a camping expedition. One of those girls who may actually be prettier without makeup.
Where the natural beauty was curvy, her friend was all sharp angles. The friend did all the talking, and showed a great deal of smarts, as seems to be the case in this stereotype. The friend also chatted up the guy behind register and was generally pleasant. She dressed in a kind of geek chic that tried just a bit too hard.
As for the young dudes, they stymied their conversation and just stared. And, obviously, not at the friend. Nor in the volatile language that erupted shortly after they gathered their composure did the young dudes have anything to say amongst themselves about the friend. In fact, one could argue that a scientific breakthrough of enormous importance occurred in that Taco Bell, because, for a moment, a human being became absolutely invisible.
Now, in a burst of illustrative metaphor, I ask the simple question: Which of the two young women best exemplifies what Christianity should be in the eyes of the world?
As I see it, if you picked the friend, you’d be dead wrong.
That’s not what most people think, is it?
But I believe that the way the Church of Jesus Christ should appear to the world is as a winsome beauty. The Bride of Christ is meant to be beautiful. The Bride of Christ is supposed to be attractive. People should look at the Church and think, Wow!
Yet somewhere along the way, we Christians, especially in America, developed a kind of self-inflicted persecution complex where we aspired to stop being the natural beauty we were meant to be, instead cultivating the attitude and lifestyle of the plain Jane friend. We tried—badly—to be a fashion plate, made every makeup mistake known to Man, and developed an attitude. In short, we grew to epitomize the friend character perfected in films by Rosie O’Donnell.
Should we be surprised then that no one wants to take us to the prom?
The early Church, in stark contrast, exhibited natural beauty through their love, community, and witness. That beauty attracted thousands. Whenever people saw the Church, they craned their necks to look because the beauty snatched their breath away.
So it should be with today’s Church. Instead, we’re whiny, loud, divisive, and sitting in the bleachers complaining how no one wants to dance with us.
The error that too many Christians commit is to equate the world’s lack of interest with the nature of Christianity. But neither Christianity nor Christ Himself are ugly.
We must realize that the reason none of the young dudes in Taco Bell left with the natural beauty is that she demands more. So while neither she nor her friend walk out of that restaurant on someone’s arm, it’s for a different reason than appearance in the beauty’s case. Pursuing the beauty isn’t going to be easy. None of the dudes even tries. They look, but ultimately, they can’t follow through.
The way of Christ is beautiful, but it demands everything. Thousands flocked around Jesus, but only a few could handle true discipleship. As the Scriptures say:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
It wasn’t because Jesus wasn’t attractive in a figurative sense. The hungry, the hustlers, and hookers longed to be near Him. Even kings and regional rulers desired to meet Him. No, it was the message, the demand, that turned people off in the end. The natural beauty has high standards.
We must be beautiful in all the ways that make the Church attractive to lost people and those in a world of hurt. We must also keep the message of the cross central. It’s that message that proves impossible to many a young dude. It should never be purposeful attempt to look like a frump. We must let the cross be the deciding factor in whether some follow and some do not, never by compromising our attractiveness.
For 2009, I think the word that the Church needs to hear concerns regaining our natural beauty, especially in America. We’ve tramped around like plain Jane, thinking this is our lot and the way to attract people to Jesus. If anything, we’ve made that belief an impediment to others coming to Christ. Instead, we must shine and make no apologies for being naturally beautiful.
For more on how we Christians can cultivate our natural attraction to the lost, read Part 2.
25 thoughts on “The Rules of Attraction (Spiritual Edition), Part 1”
You write such awesome posts.
Is this something to do with you being a mac expert?
Seriously though… that was amazing. As usual.
I used to be a Mac expert. Unfortunately, I languished for years without a Mac capable of running OS X, so now my expertise has been lost to obsolescence. Maybe one day I’ll get back, but I need to become a Unix quru first, I think, and Unix has never made much sense to me.
Dan, this is an excellent correction to my thinking. Write on, brother!
Yeah, as it developed in my head I saw the worthiness of it. While the heart of the Gospel is the cross, we short-sell all the attractive aspects of the faith. We’ve become the punchline in the joke that ends, “If that’s the Good News, I hate to hear the Bad News!” But the Good News IS Good News, so why do we sell it as Bad? I mean, that guy who sold all he had to buy the pearl of great price obviously found something attractive in that pearl, right?
I have to admit that when I first started reading this I really didn’t like it. It’s pretty ingrained in me that good looks don’t matter. But then I remember that good looks and beauty are not the same thing. Sure someone who is a beauty will have some kind of physical attractiveness (beauty takes work, just like it takes work for the man to win her.) but it’s more about attitude than it is about looks. Some of the most seductive women from the past were relatively plain looking, but had such a powerful character than they were able to drive men mad (Cleopatra comes to mind here.).
The attractiveness of the Gospel. I like it. It’s definitely a way of looking at it that we seem to have forgotten.
Sadly, we’ve been sold a lie on good looks. Truth is, good looks DO matter. They don’t matter to God, in the end, but everything here on Planet Earth functions on good looks. Studies have even shown that it’s the less attractive people who get the most pink slips.
Yes, the Gospel is attractive. Look at all the people who responded positively to Christ’s message? Did all stick around? No. But in under 300 years the Church went from a few hundred at Pentecost to as much as 25 million adherents. Attraction figures in there somewhere.
It’s true. Good looks do matter, our society is even moving more and more in that direction. I’ve noticed that even Girls now care more about good looks than they used to (you notice these things when you’re fat hehehe)
I think a big part of what made Christianity so attractive was the yearning that Christians had for God. It astounded and shocked people. And while it led to some people mocking Christians, it lead to many more being drawn to it by the sheer passion that Christians possessed, a passion that reflected the Christ they worshiped. A passion that seems to be lacking from a lot of our Christianity for some reason. (I wish there was a better word to use than Passion, because I know that we generally think of passion as fleeting and this is not, but I can’t think of one right now.)
Thanks for a excellent post.
I agree with much of what you said. I would caution, however, fom thinking of the early church as some pristine church that didn’t exhibit the problems that we have in today’s church.
Many of the letters in the New Testament point out that they had a lot of the same problems that we have.
There was, and never will be a perfect church on earth as long as sinners are involved.
But I do agree, that we can do a better job not trying to be something we are not and trying to be what we ought be…Christ professing, Christ proclaiming, and Christ centered. We ought hand over the Word and sacraments (eat my body and drink my blood) to a sin sick world, freely and without cost to the sinner.
Christ then, can grab hold of hearts and minds, one at a time, and change the world and the church as He sees fit.
This can apply to evangelism well. The Gospel doesn’t need makeup put on it to make it “look better” to the world. The world’s way of political correctness is to spin bad things to make them seem ok or good. The Gospel is naturally beautiful to begin with – no makeup, no gimmicks needed.
Good imagery in this post! It is the Church that is the Bride, and Babylon that is the harlot. Christ was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his Bride.
Good thoughts Dan. You didn’t negate the “friend” but just pointed out what we as a community of faith should look like to the world.
I’ve been beating thoughts in my mind also. I’ve written today the start of some posts on “how much is enough” as I watch some churches try the makeup and extravagances that many have. I still question my thoughts at times.
..and thanks to you, I now grocery shop on the “Bell Pepper Index” scale!
I can see your point and I don’t really disagree with you but perhaps I would temper what you said a little. The gospel, pure and simple is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t need frills added to it. When we start adding things to it to try to add to it’s attractiveness it starts to resemble a gaudy harlot. I don’t think that you were saying that we needed add to it but I think that some people that already think along these lines would find justification for their thoughts in what you’ve written.
Also, to some, the pure gospel is offensive. 1 Cor says: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Jesus repelled people all the time. A true and healthy church would be very attractive to some and very offensive to others. I also don’t think that you were denying this. Jesus said, “blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name on account of the Son of Man” and “woe to you when all men speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets”.
The question that remains is what is it about us that is attractive and what is offensive? Are they the right things? I think that the N.A. church has it all backwards. I suspect that we agree on this.
Here is link that you might enjoy! After reading this I have been doing a lot of thinking about how the reality should look.
You’ve really got me thinking on this one, Dan. I think you’re exactly right–the church ought to be winsome and lovely. But I offer a caveat: most of the world will find her offensive and unattractive anyway. Lost humanity, if you will, is all too often like men attracted to quick, easy, skanky woman, and intimidated and offended by the beautiful one.
I am enjoying your posts. I was always worried that if we made Christianity too “attractive”, that we were watering it down, or compromising or something. But you have worded it so well.
I’m not so sure I agree with the statement that Christianity demands everything. Religions and ideologies demand everything. The “Christian life” is not hard to live, it’s impossible! But because we have a Saviour, who has given us His Spirit, and His Grace, we can rest in Him because that is where our righteousness is. We can do it only if we abide in Him. I think that’s why He said “come unto Me” and “My burden is light”.
I always thought they called it “hard teaching” because they didn’t get it. This happens today. When some people hear about the Grace of Jesus, they think it’s too good to be true. In other words, too easy, and after all, it should be hard, it should be full of suffering,,,,just like religion. So they attack it (and I’m talking about fellow Christians here!).
Christianity requires your life. Without dying to self, there is no rebirth. That means everything is demanded.
Hmmm….yes but our “rebirth” is not of ourselves, our own self-effort. I used to think it was, but I failed miserably. It’s only since I’ve started to understand more about our reliance on Jesus and our total righteousness in Him, that I have been able to start to let go of striving.
I know what you are saying, but it’s what He does in us, not what we do ourselves, that’s all.
We are to be a great beauty to the world and that beauty only comes from the love in us. I believe that we are really no where close to the kind of love that Jesus wants us to be and show to a dieing world. We must ask that Christ change us from the inside out so we have the love that reflects the true beauty of Christ.
I found your site from Peter’s site Rediscovering the Church.
Amen to that! It’s got to be about heart transformation, not behaviour modification. You can get the latter from the world. Only He can really change us.
Thanks for stopping by, Sherri. I hope you keep reading. Check out the Best of Cerulean Sanctum links in the sidebar.
I would like to comment on this blog.
I think the analogy is a bit off, and here is why: The beauty of the church was not like the outwardly attractive woman, but the inwardly attractive woman. You see Jesus spoke about “what makes the temple holy”… it was not the gold (outward beauty) but the temple which the gold is used (inward beauty).
The two taco bell guys are the unbelievers, but the Church, if the women, should not be designed to appeal to the ways of the unbeliever, but should be true to itself, which would mean that when we speak of modern churches with their appeal to the masses (big giant cathedrials, mega churches, tv networks, et cetera), what then is it that makes them either valuable or not valuable?
Is it the good looks of the woman? Or the good attiude of the other woman?
The good looks of the first woman is like the beautiful designs of the physical structures of the churches of America.
The good qualities of the other women are the other churches, of any kind, which teach good sound biblical doctrine.
Where the outwardly attractive friend/church will get ignorant guys that feed on junk (spiritual and physical) to notice her, it takes one who is willing to look past the outwardly to see what they value.
Is it more junk? or more than junk?
I think the other woman, although may not be as outwardly attractive as the first, is inwardly more valuable. That value however can be found in people with or without outward good looks.
Therefore the Church should be like the second woman, because ultimately attractive looks fail, but the conversational intelligence of the first woman (the word if you will) will always endure.