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On worship as entertainment and ‘Evangelicoolism’

March 2018 | by Stephen Kneale

As one animated sitcom in America wryly pointed out, Christian rock music doesn’t make Christianity better, it just makes rock and roll worse.

It’s a fair summary of pretty much anything we try to do as Christians in the name of marrying Christianity to whatever passes as ‘wicked’ or ‘wizard’ among the youth these days.

Trying to make Evangelicalism cool is something of a hiding to nothing. As Dick Lucas once averred, ‘Christians are weird, so don’t be weirder than you have to be’.

Given the inherent peculiarity of being a Christian, whilst we shouldn’t be stranger than the gospel inevitably makes us, it does rather suggest anything we try to make cool will be tinged with a fairly large side-order of weirdness.

Emulating the world

There is a reason Cliff Richard went from guaranteed hitmaker to ‘naff-o-rama’ almost overnight.

Funnily enough, having been blackballed from mainline radio play for being too lame (for which read Christian), he enjoyed a modicum of success and critical acclaim using the pseudonym Black Knight. That was until Black Knight was outed as Cliff Richard — everyone was terribly embarrassed they ever liked it, because Richard is so Christian naff.

In the end, he was reduced to singing when Wimbledon was rained off (I presume that’s why they installed the roof) and releasing overtly Christian material like the Millennium Prayer, at least guaranteeing an airing on Songs of Praise and a regular spot on the shelves of, the now redundant, Wesley Owen.

Of course, there are plenty of Christian artists, writers, singers, bands and what have you who are excellent at what they do. But rarely are they trying to make Christianity cool. Instead, they happen to be artists who are Christian. But it is especially insipid when the church seeks to emulate the world in trying to be cool. We are just so very bad at it.

Mission by coolness

The reality is that there is very little the church can offer in terms of entertainment that cannot be delivered slicker, better and more appealingly by the world.

If we are trying to do mission by coolness, it pays to remember that the devil does tend to have the best tunes. If we are banking on drawing people in by entertainment, we are on a hiding to nothing.

From its earliest days, Christianity has not been cool. There was nothing cool about the cross, it was shameful. Jesus’ followers weren’t exactly considered cool from day one and such has it ever been.

In fact, the Alexamenos Graffito specifically mocks a chap (Alexamenos) for being a Christian. It read ‘Alexamenos worships his god’ over a picture of a donkey-headed man on a cross. A clear mockery of both Christ and his followers.

Alexamenos Graffito which mocks a Christian named Alexamanos

Fundamental insecurity

What Christianity has to offer is not acceptance, coolness and cultural reverence. Everybody knows we’re much too weird for that. Jesus never said, ‘Come to me all who are weary and I will make you cool’.

Instead, we are holding out for the eternal life, rest, joy and peace that Jesus offers. Whilst we may be weird, we have peace. And who cares about being cool when you’ve got peace?

Those chasing after coolness do so because they’re desperate to be affirmed in their coolness. It smacks of a fundamental insecurity. The peace that passes understanding rather undermines the very reason to chase after coolness. We might be weird, but Jesus gives us peace about it and that peace is attended with the promise of eternal life.

Chasing coolness is self-defeating

That is why Evangelicoolism is so self-defeating. Leaving aside the fact that we will never be cool, chasing coolness rather suggests that we aren’t at peace with our identity in Christ. It implies we are trying to seek the peace that only Jesus grants in cultural affirmation.

Those who are at peace in Christ have no need to be affirmed as cool by the world. Only those desperate for affirmation and glory from men need to chase the god of being cool. John 12:42ff tells us where that sort of thinking leads.

While we oughtn’t to be any more lame than we have to be, the lamest thing of all is when the naff still believe they might be cool. Christian, you are not cool. But that is simply the way it must be.

When drowning at sea, who would you rather turned up? A hipster with a man bun who doesn’t want to get his hair wet, or a couple of chaps head-to-toe in waterproofs and safety gear? There comes a time when the cool cannot help and the mocked and derided saddos turn out to be the only ones prepared for disaster.

Nobody waves away a lifeboat because the crew were wearing sad high-vis jackets, because, when your life is on the line, suddenly cultural capital doesn’t count for much.

The seriousness of the gospel

If we spend our time trying to be seen as cool, we undercut the seriousness of the situation. People are dying in their sin and facing a lost eternity.

When face-to-face with that reality, do you want some preening artiste telling you Jesus is quite the dude, or would you prefer someone who begs to be taken seriously due to the seriousness of your lost estate?

That is even before we come to terms with the reality that being a Christian will not increase your coolness, but seriously impede it. It seems worth reflecting on how few people take kindly to cool bands and famous actors lecturing them.

So please, let us come to terms with our lameness; Christianity is not cool. But the peace of Christ will allow us to embrace our lameness with joy. Perhaps the Lord is keeping us lame, because it is that much harder to share the gospel with a lost world and maintain an air of coolness. After all, the world doesn’t need a cool role model, it needs a Saviour.

Stephen Kneale is pastor of at Oldham Bethel Church in Greater Manchester. This article first appeared on stephenkneale.com and is republished by kind permission.