Christianity Shouldn't Be 'Cool'

Why making faith the next big thing misses the mark.

I remember my first Critical Mass Bike Ride. I had been invited by an acquaintance, and I showed up on my old mountain bike with a rusty chain. It was an intimidating environment—about a dozen crust punk and deliberately nerdy kids riding these road bikes with no brakes. I had no idea what this culture was all about.

After several months of going to Critical Mass and getting on some friends’ fixed gear bikes, I built my own—largely unaware of the cultural phenomenon that was beginning to brew across the world.

“Cool” is such a interesting idea—an idea that is always changing.

Oscar Wilde said it well with this statement about fashion: "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

But even when “cool” is exposed as unstable—whether by the quantitative data of science or the rhetoric of literature—we are still bound by its lure.

In August of 2010, Brett McCracken released his book Hipster Christianity. It’s an insightful and academic work that traces the history of “cool” and how it has intersected with the Church. As a pastor of one of the churches unwillingly mentioned in his work, it got me thinking about the implications of his research.

There are two iterations of the idea of cool. In bike culture, there are people who genuinely enjoy riding fixed gear bikes; then there is a second group who enjoy the idea of and association with fixed gear culture. The same is true for the Church. There are communities who pursue being simply and honestly themselves—and churches who try with all they are to be “cool.”

While “cool” will always go out of style, being authentically yourself is what both God and the world are looking for.

In John 4, Jesus is talking to the woman at the well. In this, Jesus is breaking all kinds of social norms as to what is acceptable for someone of His nationality, gender and social status. He is taking a risk in how others will perceive His “coolness.” And in the conversation, Jesus says something poignant about the idea of cool.

“That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship” (The Message).

Jesus' words, social science, literature and thousands of years of recorded human history lead us to one conclusion about “cool”: It can never be the foundation of anything lasting.

While the temporary nature of “cool” is good for some quick cash, it’s rubbish for building anything sustainable.

When local church communities build upon what’s “cool,” we perpetuate the plague of transience in our society. We encourage people to constantly view things through the eyes of the consumer and make decisions based on cultural trends. As long as we pursue trends for the sake of trends, we will reinforce the developed tendency of Westerners to be in a constant state of detachment from the people around them in their pursuit of the ever-changing palate of consumable goods, thoughts and attitudes.

In the end, church-hopping hasn’t been the only detrimental effect of “cool” on the Church. Many of the two dozen people who were at Critical Mass when I first arrived had a statement somewhere on their bike, bag or body: “One Less Car.” But when the ride went from 24 to 400, most of them stopped showing up, and after the bubble, many gave up on riding their bikes.

Just like fixed gear culture, many churches have been unable to effect lasting change in the culture at large. Some Christian movements see a temporary increase in number—mostly by attracting Christians from the church down the street by offering the latest version of what’s cool—but it’s simply a lateral shift in organizational attendance.

I will admit that some of my own personal decisions have been in reaction to cultural influences. But over the last several years, I have learned something important. If I and my community are going to grow in wisdom and maturity, it will not come from hopping from one church to another based on style and preference. It will come only from growing alongside the people I call my church family.

And let’s remember here that the Church is meant to stand forever.

When many people think about considering whether or not they will be part of a community, they use words like “cool” or “fun” or “like” or “agree” or “challenge” or some other word that reflects a consumer mentality. There’s nothing wrong with liking things. We’re meant to like life. But there’s no doubt that the things we think are “cool” will one day be “uncool,” or there will be days when we don’t “like” something or when we won’t “agree” with the people around us. There has to be something deeper—something that reflects the depth of what it truly means to be connected. And when we move away from the futility of cool, we begin making our decisions based on a question much more sacrificial :

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Am I willing to stay committed to this when I do not like it?

That’s the question we have to begin asking ourselves if the Church is going to be what it is intended to be: a collection of people encouraging, challenging and equipping one another to recognize and continually live in God’s presence.

The Church has the one thing that can truly allow people to be themselves before God in their worship and in life: Jesus. And when we move from our obsession with contextualization and cultural relevance, we will be able to step into that authentic life: A group of people who are so freed from the pretense of “cool” that they can be more open about their weaknesses than ever and simultaneously be completely free from shame and guilt.

Let’s lay down the insecurity of cool and embrace a much more lasting commitment: unconditional love.

This article is adapted from an article that originally appeared on colenesmith.com.

Top Comments

Donald Maull

1

Donald Maull commented…

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus calls us to be 'as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves', our call isn't to reject 'cool' or even to necessarily resist trying to use it to reach the world (as if we could ever fully distance ourselves from the concept anyway) but not to let it compromise our integrity and remain as 'innocent as doves'.

89,598

FemmeFuel commented…

Wow. Thanks for this insight, Cole, Dan Lugo and Andy Gill.

I just read that church attendance is on the decline across the board. If all we're doing is sheep-stealing, the "modern church" must be doing something wrong. We're so busy trying to attract people to come to a building, that we forget the Great Commission ("Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."). Maybe we need to go to where people are hurting (hospitals, prisons, shelters) and forget our traditional notions of church-building. ("Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a
doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but
sinners.") Obviously, we are to fellowship with one another, as the Bible commands, but not as some Christian-hipster-social club. We need to be working hand-in-hand in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Great article.

--JM
http://femmefuel.com/

54 Comments

Joseph Strodel

1

Joseph Strodel commented…

YOU ARE ANTI-AMERICAN

Koketso Makhele

5

Koketso Makhele replied to Joseph Strodel's comment

so Christianity is just about America???? Wow

Jasmine Ruigrok

4

Jasmine Ruigrok commented…

My dilemma is feeling the need to leave a church for the very reason that it pushes and strives for the "cool" in every area as opposed to authenticity. I think sometimes moving away from the futility of "cool" does necessitate making an actual church move.

Donald Maull

1

Donald Maull commented…

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus calls us to be 'as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves', our call isn't to reject 'cool' or even to necessarily resist trying to use it to reach the world (as if we could ever fully distance ourselves from the concept anyway) but not to let it compromise our integrity and remain as 'innocent as doves'.

Kenya Smith

4

Kenya Smith commented…

I agree with what the article is saying about trying to make Christianity cool. As we realize that we shouldn't make Christianity cool, we should be careful when we look at other churches and Christians who have the "cool look" because, as humans, we have a tendency to judge a book by its cover and say, "Well, they are not Christ-centered because look at them! People are wearing jeans and T-Shirts and dressing like hipsters and singing Hillsong, and blah blah blah! " Right now, I'm in college, and I go to a church that has the cool atmosphere, worship songs (Hillsong, Bethel, etc.), and people. It's a multi-cultural church and it's pretty big for a church. However, the coolest thing about this church is that they are Christ-centered, and the pastors and leaders of that church make sure that it is Christ who is receiving all of the attention. Before I attended that church, I attended a church that was a more traditional church. However, I didn't care too much for the church, not because of the hymns or the songs or because it was traditional, but it was the behavior of some the members. It look like your everyday, Christ-centered church, but it was more focused on the members that it was on Jesus. Some people think a church is Christ-centered if it's not "modern" or "relevant", that is not always the case. We shouldn't complain about what a Church should look like or what type of songs are played during worship, we should focus on "Who is at the center of everything that goes on in the church or in Christianity?" Is it Christ, or is it us? The Body of Christ is composed of people from different racial backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, political views, and other factors. Some Christians like a traditional church that sings hymns, while other Christians like a more relevant church that sings Hillsong or Kirk Franklin. However, at the end of the day, it's Jesus that'll matter, not how we worship Him or what model of church we attend. Jesus should be our focus, not how we like things to be. If we focus on Jesus and His word, we would be more unified as believers. There will be times when we will offend one another because of how we worship, what type of church we go to, or what you wear during church, but we will come to the realization that we all worship the One who extremely loved us, died for us on the cross, and conquered death by resurrecting, so that we can have life and one day live with Him in heaven. God bless.

Stefan Stackhouse

44

Stefan Stackhouse commented…

Maybe it is just me - or is it the Holy Spirit in me? - but I've always perceived a certain cold-heartedness underlying the whole "cool" thing. I don't want to have a cold, hard heart, but rather a warm and soft one like Jesus. If that means that I'm not "cool", then so be it.

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