25 April 2011

A Double Repost? Why Not?

by Phil Johnson

Salad Days
I wanted to do a repost today, and this one struck me as fairly important and yet potentially fun. Yes, I know there's a repost within this repost, but these days I think it's important to keep trying to get people to realize that doctrinal statements really are more important than fashion statements.

(First posted Thursday, March 01, 2007)

by Phil Johnson

   have two things to say to those who think "relevance" is related primarily to matters of style, youthfulness, and external appearance:

First, what seems really hip today might just make you look like J. R. "Bob" Dobbs tomorrow. There were people on the fringes of evangelicalism pushing a superficial notion of "relevance" for several decades before the Emergers emerged with the idea, and the cooler those people seemed at their peak, the more ridiculous their style looks today. When a particular "style" is your main distinctive, you're guaranteed to be outmoded soon. More important, if "style" is your main contribution to the conversation, you're already irrelevant, whether you know it or not.

Second, to stress the point a little more, here's a repost from my original blog that seems apropos to the current discussion. It was a reply to an e-mail from a reader who was irritated with me:

To: "Savage Countenance"
From: "Phillip R. Johnson"
Subject: Re: Cr—t-r?!!

Dear "Savage Countenance,"

Many thanks for your message. You wrote:

> why would you question a brother
> who just wants to fit in with the
> people he's trying to reach?...you
> should quit trying so hard to be
> different and try harder to be
> genuine...i'm making this point
> b/c my eyebrow is pierced and i
> have a tatoo on the back of my
> neck...i wear combat boots...and
> i usually wear all black..i listen
> to Christian metal and industrial
> music—i've seen too many christians
> hide in a corner away from the world
> and wait for them to come to
> us...and it just doesn't work
> that way, you know?

OK, first of all let me say that the point I want to make here has very little to do with the question of whether body piercing and tattoos are always inherently sinful.

Don't misunderstand: I would indeed argue that if you pierce or tattoo yourself as an act of self-mutilation, narcissism, or rebellion, then the motivation for such "body modification" is clearly sinful and therefore something Christians ought to avoid.

But that's really beside the point at the moment. Because your whole argument is that you have tattooed yourself and put studs in your face in order to be more "genuine" and to have a better testimony for Christ.

And that's what I want to respond to: the notion that adopting the fads of a juvenile, egomaniacal, shallow, self-destructive, worldly culture "works" better as an evangelistic strategy than a lifestyle that gives more prominence to the principle of Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 2:9.

As you have described it above, body modification and combat boots are a significant and deliberate part—if not the very centerpiece—of your evangelistic strategy. You seem to imagine that if you try hard enough to fit into the punk culture, you might actually win people by convincing them that Jesus would fit nicely into their lifestyle, too.

But wouldn't you yourself actually agree that there is—somewhere—a limit to how far Christians can legitimately go in conforming to worldly culture? Surely you do not imagine that the apostle Paul's words about becoming all things to all men is a prescription for adopting every vulgar fashion of a philistine culture. Do you?

Can we agree, for example, that it wouldn't really be good or necessary to get a sex-change operation in order to reach the transgendered community? OK, you might dismiss that as something inherently sinful and wrong for that reason. Well, how about pulling a few teeth and adopting the trashy patois and tasteless lifestyle of Jerry Springer's guest list in order to have a more effective outreach to the underbelly of the cable-TV community? How serious are you about your strategy of accommodation and conformity?

And why is it mainly the lowbrow and fringe aspects of Western youth culture that this argument is invariably applied to? Why are so few Christian young persons keen to give up video games and take up chess in order to reach the geeks in the chess club? or give up heavy metal and learn the cello in order to have a ministry to the students who play in the orchestra?

There used to be a misguided youth on the Web who ran a website called "Backyard Wrestlers for Jesus." He was trying to tap into the backyard wresting culture as a mission field. So he set up a Web site showing kids how to build a backyard wrestling ring, how to do what The Rock and the Dudley Boys do without getting hurt, and how to talk smack without really talking dirty—so that kids who wrestle in their own backyards could improve their style. Along the way, he figured they would see that his Web site had something to do with Jesus, and they'd know Jesus is cool, and they'd like Jesus better because he's so cool.

I admire his desire to reach a troubled culture, but the methodology is all wrong and completely without any credible biblical warrant. I realize making Jesus seem cool is the dominant evangelistic strategy of this age, and everyone from Rick Warren to Brian McLaren is trying in whatever way they think best to make Christianity more hip and trendy.

But I still think it's a bad idea.

Incidentally, I grew up in the 1960s in a liberal church with a fairly sizable youth group where dances with live rock music were the bait used to draw us on a regular basis. So there's nothing particularly fresh or innovative about this philosophy. It didn't work in my generation, and it's not really working now. It's made the church more worldly; it hasn't made the world more spiritual.

In fact, I'd say that this strategy represents the wholesale abandonment of the church's responsibility to a sinful culture.

The most effective way to minister to any culture—and this goes for every culture, from highbrow society to white middle-class suburbia to the urban street gang—is to challenge and confront the culture instead of conforming to it. "Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean'" (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Yes, I know Jesus was a friend of sinners, and His enemies accused Him—wrongly—of participating in their excesses. The truth is that He became their friend without adopting their values. That's the example we should strive to follow, not the example of worldly culture itself.

Phil's signature


Steve Berven said...

It really is a dangerous path to travel, for while Jesus ate with sinners, he did NOT engage in the behavior of those same sinners.

It's too easy to use your "ministry environment" as a justification to cater to your own flesh. Well, I have to blend in, don't I? I suspect that people like this will tend to "find" those demographics which allow them to subtly keep indulging in their secret sins.

A recovering alcoholic may be the best equipped to minister to those still struggling, but he's not going to slap back a few brews in the name of "relevance" to those he's trying to redeem from the burden of alcoholism!

No, like you say here, we are called to stand apart from the world, to call them OUT of the sin which binds them.

The Damer said...

Phil-You are clearly off the rails here. Everyone knows the kids in the Chess club also play video games. Get with the times.

DJP said...

Still sands as a deft. substantive, on-target analysis.

And while —

And why is it mainly the lowbrow and fringe aspects of Western youth culture that this argument is invariably applied to? Why are so few Christian young persons keen to give up video games and take up chess in order to reach the geeks in the chess club? or give up heavy metal and learn the cello in order to have a ministry to the students who play in the orchestra?

— may not be the deepest part of it, it stuck in my mind, since you wrote it, as my favorite part.


Athanasius of Alexandria said...

A double repost? Isn't that going to open up a wormhole?

Anonymous said...

"I realize making Jesus seem cool is the dominant evangelistic strategy of this age, and everyone from Rick Warren to Brian McLaren is trying in whatever way they think best to make Christianity more hip and trendy."

I've also found that we can insert any number of words for "cool", to remake Jesus into the Jesus we really want. The word "loving" comes to mind.

greglong said...

OK, I think an internet wormhole HAS opened up. I was the one who posted that wormhole comment, and it attributed it to "Athanasius of Alexandria." I am not, nor have ever been, Athanasius of Alexander.

stratagem said...

What a great article! This says soooo much is so few words (and pictures). Today's fad is tomorrow's laughably retrograde fashion.

I love the irony of the person who emailed you that he's being more "genuine" by adopting dress and music that he may not like, just to reach the lost. I think he might want to look up the definition of "genuine."

NoLongerBlind said...

@greglong - could this be the first sighting of reincarnation on the Pyro meta....?

Or, perhaps a human transsubstantiation?

Brad Williams said...

Aw man, I guess I'll have to start playing my banjo just for fun then.

stratagem said...

Hey no dissing of banjo players now, I are one. However it did NOT start as part of an outreach to hillbillies...

Neil said...

I'm afraid you lost me when you dissed chess geeks. Hater.

Mike Westfall said...

A double re-post!

We're going to need a bigger boat.

semijohn said...

I remember a guy at a beachfront youth conference who headed one of our seminars (I was 14 at the time). He gave examples of where he was evangelizing people not quite like the pictured piercings guy, but learning to do different things to reach the people that liked those things. The example that stuck out was how he took up ping pong and played it for 3 hours a day to become good enough to evangelize higher level ping pong players. Not surprisingly, the guys in my youth group called him "ping pong man".

Todd said...

Have we not done the same thing with Christmas and Easter to make the church more appealing to the world. We adopt the worlds traditions and corrupt ourselves instead of holding fast to the Word as the true source of any Biblical change.

Julius Mickel said...

Good points Phil, simply SOLID!
In addition to the issues u have raised, such so-called relevant 'ministries' prevent the local church being a body of people from multiple generations, it only perpetuates the youthful rebellion against older saints.
On top of that it defends the young person who refuses to submit to or seek counsel from their parents, b-cuz of course their parents 'don't understand them'

Anonymous said...

This philosophy was tried on me, by my best friend from high school. After becoming a believer, he said, "Timothy, come outside and smoke a joint with me and I will trust in your Jesus."

According to emergents, I should have smoked the joint with him. I don't believe he would have trusted in Jesus had I done so. If my friend is of God's elect, he will come to Christ by God's prescribed means, teaching and preaching of God's word, not me smoking an illegal joint.

This line of think, as you have pointed out, is quite ridiculous. God has called us to be faithful to Him and His word, not trendy. Great post.

JackW said...

I wonder if Phil also believes in double prepostination?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"A Double Repost? Why Not?"

Why not indeed!

You need COURAGE to challenge and confront the culture.

Cowardice and sophistry to justify the moral cowardice that accommodates and conforms to culture is far easier.

Sir Aaron said...

I find that most unbelievers expect me to be different. They expect me not to curse or drink or do certain things that some people consider necessary to evangelize. If I do curse, they're the first ones to notice and say something (talk about being held accountable). So I find that contextualizing actually hurts my witness.

Now I do realize I'm not a legalist either, so I don't try to make people change things that don't have anything to do with the gospel.

Pam said...

Phil, since I was not a reader the first time around this "re-post" was new to me and you encouraged my soul. Thanks.
Sir Aaron-your comments are helpful too. Thanks.

donsands said...

I heard a sermon where the preacher said, "Jesus is such a friend to sinners, that if He came back today, He would want to wash your feet, to show His love and friendship."

There's a mind set that comes from those who have be hurt by some fundy church people, and so they go way to the other extreme, and the Holy Scripture doesn't seem to apply. Or at least the whole of God's truth.
Like Brian McLaren is a Matthew 25 Christain. And even Obama likes the Sermon on the Mount.

Cherry picking the truth that makes you feel good.

Brad Williams said...


Of course, I'm being almost serious. I'm going to play Tom Dooley right now in your honor, clawhammer style.

Matt said...

I think this is exactly what is happening with modern day Christian music. We have worked so hard for years to be relevant and adapt to whatever music the unsaved crowd likeks in order to reach people for Christ. (Rap, punk rock, acid, grunge, alternative, R&B, etc.)

Terri said...


Stefan said...

Four years on, and I still can't get over that album cover: "The Reverend in Rhythm."

If a picture can say a thousand words, that's worth a doctoral thesis.

contact said...

Spot on. If we constantly remember that we are in and not of this world, we will not need to battle trying to fit in.

Steve Berven said...

Yeah, what Sir Aaron said.

stratagem said...

Brad - Symbolic gesture accepted!

Anonymous said...

We need young men who are going to take the gospel to the army of boy scouts and thousands upon ten thousands of adults in the Intermountain Interstate 15 Corridor of America, who carry KJV Bibles, sing hymns, and wear suits to church every Sunday.

Jim Pemberton said...

If the issue is being "genuine", then it's not genuine to adopt a lifestyle that is not your own in order to be more appealing to others who live that lifestyle. (This is altogether different than being mindful of cultural sensibilities.) Rather, what I have seen as effective is when you don't conform, but show a better way. Interestingly, the foreign missionary approach works precisely because so many are willing to listen to someone who is different. When a foreigner walks into the room, does he not immediately garner much attention? This principle is akin to what Dr. Mohler discussed in his recent article.

Tyrone said...

It is only the gospel, the actual message of the cross, in its entirety that will quicken life into those who were once dead in their trespasses and sin and nothing else. we must forget the peripheral nonsense, we must follow in Paul's footsteps and apply his motto to our lives which is this; 1Co 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.