Monday, August 27, 2007

Reverse Pharisaism and the Cult of the Cool

I just read A Gospel Rant on The Gospel-Driven Church blog. It's a reaction to a series of "Mac vs. PC" style YouTube videos pitting "Religious" against "Authentic." I don't have the same visceral reaction to the video, at least the introductory one that I've seen, and I think that an actually reasonable point is being made. But I also think that Jared Wilson's reaction is pretty understandable, and very powerful. A few quotes:
This pitting of "real" against "lame" ones is spiritually bankrupt dreck from the pit of hell. The guy on the right calls himself "authentic," and the people who made these clearly have no clue what "authentic" means. For them, as for most pomo em-church poseurs, it means "cool." Do you see what they're doing here? They are saying the "authentic" Christian is the cool one.

[W]hat they are really doing is mocking fellow believers. We are the cool ones, we are the ones who have it figured out.[...] This has got to stop. This cult of the cool in the church must stop. This fetishizing of hipness must stop. It is idolatry.

This is reverse pharisaism. It really is. "I thank you God that I'm not like that lame, religious retard over there." This is just symptomatic of the consumerist, self-centered, behavioristic, culture-driven lunacy passing for ministry today. It is an anti-gospel, and it is the spirit of the anti-christ at work.
Some of Wilson's rant makes it clear that he's the type of Reformed brother who sees any reference to this-world practical advice in a message from Scripture as "the same ol' works religion. [...] all about principles and steps and tips [...] just the same behavioristic gospel." One wonders what believers of this ilk do with the book of Proverbs. And as some of the commenters on the post have pointed out, what Jared has done is not completely dissimilar to what he is criticizing.

And yet.... there's some real truth there. I think some of us have gotten so critical of our forebears, of what we consider "traditional Christianity," that we've lost the respect we owe to any fellow member of the Body of Christ. We've adopted the hip posture of the media that permeate our lives. It seems obvious to us that true spirituality should be young and skinny. And not too different from the culture at large. At least, not different in any way that would make us look, well, weird. I think Jared is rightly, very rightly, protesting against that attitude.

Check it out.

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  1. Thanks for the link and comments.

    One thing. You wrote:
    Some of Wilson's rant makes it clear that he's the type of Reformed brother who sees any reference to this-world practical advice in a message from Scripture as "the same ol' works religion.

    This is not true. Anyone who hears me teach every week hears me give people "stuff to do." What I think is wrong -- and anti-gospel -- is when the message is about stuff to do and the gospel gets tacked on.
    To me, the bulk of the gospel message is proclaiming the work and glory of Christ. Then we are called to obey.

    I also like the phrase "Reformed brother." Another blog-friend of mine assumed I come from a Reformed tradition. I grew up Southern Baptist, believing Calvinism was a heresy, despite not knowing that it was.
    I am now a five-pointer, true, but I serve in a quote-unquote "seeker church."

    My beef is not with practical advice. It is with preaching practical advice as if it is the gospel.
    Hope that makes sense.

    Thanks again for the comments, and God's blessings to you.

  2. Hi, Jared. Thanks for coming over, and welcome!

    I hope you recognize that I meant "brother" quite as wholeheartedly as I meant "Reformed" (which is my polite way of saying Calvinistic). I know that my piece came off as equivocal, when in actuality I was very moved and very much in agreement with yours.

    I don't want to touch off a Calv/Arm debate (I'm thoroughly sick of them), but I think it may be worthwhile for you to hear how some of the language of Calvinists comes off to others. To us, it seems as if any exhortation to practical morality is responded to as if we were preaching salvation by works.

    I agree with you that the emphasis of the gospel message is what God has done for us through Jesus. I quite consciously use the word, "emphasis," however, rather than "bulk." It's arguable that the message of the Bible itself "is about stuff to do and the gospel gets tacked on." After all, the "bulk" of the Bible is Old Covenant, isn't it?

    Of course, I'm exaggerating to make a point. But we shouldn't assume that messages about ethics and morality automatically equate to teaching that ethics and morality will save us. Even Luther needed the Law to push him to his need for grace, right?

  3. I agree with you (I think). :-)

    I would say that I do think "bulk" is needed at this point, as a course corrective to what the bulk of the message in most evangelical churches is right now.

    I do think taking some time out from "stuff to do" can be advisable in getting disciples to pause and learn to be satisfied with the complete work of Christ. Trusting, of course, that a mature faith bears the fruit of good works.

    I am in the bizarre position of speaking each week to a group that needs both to learn how to rest in the fullness of the gospel rather than their own merit and also to give up the casual sins they don't even consider problems (sex before marriage, co-habitation with significant others, homosexuality, etc.).

    It's an interesting dilemma, wanting to preach gospel not moralism while trying to clearly call sinners to repentance of behaviors and attitudes, but it is a dilemma I believe the gospel is perfectly suited for, even when I am not.

    It's a great time to preach Jesus. It really is. I regret my sense of that opportunity did not come out more in the rant. I have expressed it clearly in previous posts, and I hope those who are clicking over to my site based on a link to the rant, will take the time to see more of the philosophical and ecclesiological context from which I'm writing.

    Blessings to you!

  4. Keith: well, who am I to say what another says is right or wrong? I read your post, Keith, then the comments. Then thought, well, maybe I'm not understanding what I'm reading here. So I decided to read the post you linked to Jared.
    He lost me when I read his interpretation of "astonished".
    That said, may I venture a dumb un-informed female's observation? I've been sanctified in Jesus by Jesus to do what? Well, James says my faith will produce works. But I know it is not those works which sanctify me--that's already a done deal--and not of anything I have done but what my Savior has done. However, where oh where does a baby in Christ go to learn all that the sanctification of Jesus entails if not a Bible-teaching church with a Bible-teaching preacher at the helm? Why in my thinking, we could take most of what the Apostle Paul wrote in regards to the behavior of the believer and toss it out if we are to believe that teaching the Gospel somehow cancels out teaching morality, too. If the Gospel is what I believe it to be--Jesus and He alone--then how can one escape the teachings of the sermon on the mount and this little point Jesus, Himself, introduced into the sermon: "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." ?? One cannot in my lowly opinion (and I mean that with all sincerity) separate Jesus from morality and morality from Jesus. Jesus is morality--the ultimate morality. He taught us to go the second mile, to go and sin no more, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and body. To love this way takes ALL of me consecrated to Him and ALL He taught. "be holy, be perfect."
    In the words of another more able writer than myself, Oswald Chambers said, "Moral truth is never reached by intellect, but only through conscience. Morality is not something with which we are gifted, we make morality; it is another word for character. Morality is not only correct conduct on the outside, but correct thinking within where only God can see. The religion of Jesus is morality transfigured by spirituality; we have to be moral right down to the depths of our motives."

    Jesus is not just a Savior Who sanctifies, but a Lord Who teaches us to live out that sanctification so all men may see Who He is.

    Keith, you know I know I can depend upon you to have mercy upon my words and my observations. I do not say I am right and anyone else is wrong. I say I see the preaching of a moral truth which Jesus Himself taught as a fair topic in any pulpit. The key is making sure folks listening know it is Jesus who determines what is pure and God Who judges the heart--not man. For what it is worth--selahV

  5. Hi, SelahV.

    I feel a little bad because I feel that I provoked a detour from the main point of Jared's post. I will agree wholeheartedly with any Calvinist that we cannot pull ourselves up with our own moral bootstraps. If we're being taught, "This is what we're supposed to do, now it's up to us to get out there and do it," then the teacher has done us a great disservice. Jesus didn't just teach morality; He sacrificed Himself to give us the ability and the desire to follow Him in that morality. And frankly, all the morality in the world won't get us anywhere without Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf. The two concepts are wedded together perfectly in Ephesians 2:8-10. But of course, I don't need to tell you that. ;-)

    The larger concept in Jared's post, the one that resonated with me, is his anger toward the attitude of some younger Christians that equates "authentic" Christianity with being "cool" and mocks fellow believers who are older or who are more traditional in the expression of their faith.

  6. Keith: in other words old fogies in the pew who don't dance to their music? :)

    I do agree we cannot preach morality apart from the Maker and Epitome of Morality--our Lord who enables us. And we DO a GREAT disservice to emphasize that as the legalistic thing that binds us to the Savior's side or brings greater favor in the Father's eyes. Our righteousness is as filthy rags after all. Sorry I missed the point. I thought I had it. Mercy again I plead. selahV

  7. I guess to stray the comments off from a theological/theoretical analysis, I thought I'd mention an experience I once had. This reminded me of a Reformed friend of mine who once had a small get together where they had small beer tastings, beer battered sausages, and some other things like beer ice cream...

    Apparently the exhausting emphasis on beer was a way of emphasizing how Reformed they were as opposed to some sort of "typical" Christian? As this person was telling me about it, they looked at me with a pause hoping to jump on something they THOUGHT I might say, with Romans 14 in their holster. Why? Because I go to a Southern Baptist church, so naturally I would be ignorant of these things and thump them with my blank So. Baptist Bible right? I saw no problem with what they did and this, thankfully, surprised them. Okay...except for the cheesyness of the party theme.

  8. Hi, s.b. Thanks for coming by, and nice comment!

    It seems to me that people who are anti-legalism (and I'm all for that) too often seem to swerve into embracing with a vengeance the activity that they want to argue that God allows. Just because God allows something doesn't mean we have to revel in it. Some things are bad, and some things are just bad taste (beer ice cream? Yuck!).

  9. Hi Keith,

    Great subject, and I mostly agree with you. I have been until now blissfully unaware that "hipness" as a cultural attitude has crept into the Body of Christ. I have seen in secular society any and all manner of boorishness excused as "keeping it real." Even so, Jesus died to save all people...the boorish and the old fogies alike, and if the Church has some of each in attendance, then we can be happy for the cross-cultural relevance.

    I, of course, was very young at the time, but didn't the same thing happen in the 1960's and early '70's when hippies in the Jesus Movement started going to church?

    Heads Up: I'm now going to beat one of my favorite drums. When people from outside church traditions begin professing Christ and come into a church, they ought to be welcomed with open arms, hearts, and minds as brothers and sisters in Christ. Some will come with behaviors we find distasteful. I think it is our responsibility to search our own hearts, as well as the scriptures, to determine if those behaviors are truly sinful or merely personally distasteful. If the church is engaged in systematic exegesis of the scriptures, all sin will eventually be dealt with. (even our own that we don't like to hear about) Some people will respond positively to the love of the saints and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and sadly, some will not. Even more sadly, some will be mistreated by mostly well-meaning folks who equate outward appearance with inward holiness. The beauty of systematic exegesis is that it treats all sin equally. Legalism is just as bad as drunkenness or sexual immorality. True behavior changes (as opposed to mere surface whitewash) come with spiritual growth, discipleship, and fellowship, and biblical model exists for confronting sin in the congregation. The danger comes from overly zealous application by legalists AND complete lack of application from fear of not being seeker friendly. Licentiousness disguised as "coolness" is an overreaction, and is just as bad as the Phariseeism at the other end of the pendulum. We all need a deeper walk with Christ, and a deeper understanding of His Word.

    As you know, I am a reasonably clean cut fellow who dresses modestly (my wife calls it "blandly") and likes to sing hymns. Even so, some of those who've only known me for the last ten years would be scandalized by the sound of some of the thoroughly biblical items in my music library. You also know that I would gladly surrender my seat in the pew to a newcomer in cut off jeans, sandals, and a t-shirt, and defend his continued attendance while so dressed. I don't abstain from beer for moral reasons, I abstain because I've never found any that I liked the taste of.

    This has somehow developed into a rant, so I'll stop now.

    Grace and Peace, Dave

  10. Hi, Dave,

    The "hipness" we're talking about here isn't quite the same thing as what was going on in the Jesus Movement. At that time, people were coming to the Lord from a hippie lifestyle and looking for a place where they could be accepted as believers, without having to jump through a bunch of cultural hoops that had nothing to do with the faith they'd embraced. They were outsiders looking for a place on the inside.

    Today's situation is different. By and large, the "hip" group are already insiders, many of whom grew up in the church, who look with disdain at more traditional expressions of spirituality. At its worst, it's merely a marketing tool making fun of older believers in an attempt to lure in younger people.