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Saturday, August 14, 2010 

A Great Article On The Perils of “Wannabe Cool” Christianity

Brett McCracken writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal warns of the perils of “wannabe cool” Christianity. He reports that as many as 70% of Protestants between the ages of 18-22 are “pouring out of their churches, never to return” because of trends that have Americanized Christianity’s congregations scrambling to stay ahead of the relevance curve and sustain the cool, hip, and relevant image that place gimmick above Gospel. He writes:

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn't megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.

Mr. McCracken goes on to list several of the techniques that pop evangelicalism seems to use in attempt to be cool such as using Stephen Colbert or Lady Gaga references in sermons, screening R rated movies (this is especially prevalent during the summer months! And with the lack of quality movies coming out of Hollywood, or Vancouver for that matter, some congregations even have resorted to sermon series on movies that are up to five and six years old… which could be relevant I guess if you just woke up from a coma!), holding worship services at hip nightclubs, or having worship experiences at an iCampus where the participation is of a virtual nature.

Mr. McCracken also hits the emergent church’s postmodern, lets “rebrand” the church as an attempt to remake Christianity cool pretty hard and states the emergent movement has fizzled out. McCracken’s notes that the emergent movement’s ideas and impulses to “rehabilitate” Christianity are still alive and well even if the movement has fizzled out. I would argue with Mr. McCracken that the emergent church has fizzled out and say that it’s leaders, McLaren, Sweet, Bell, Pagitt Jones, Kimball (who the LCMS has invited to teach church workers who focus on youth ministry) and others are actually bigger than ever. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the same practices (think Roman Catholic monastic practices from before the Protestant Reformation and desert father mysticism) encouraged and promoted by so many the emergent leaders are now being taught in evangelical and Anglican churches as well Lutheran churches in the LCMS! Just because the movement’s leaders keep moving the target doesn’t mean the movement’s dead or has fizzled out.

Mr. McCracken also points out that the most popular “and arguably the most unseemly” method of trying to stay “wannabe cool” is to just try to be as shocking as possible, with the most popular tactic being a focus on sex. Mr. McCracken is not exaggerating or using hyperbole to make his point! There is not a week that goes by where there isn’t a sermon series on sex supplanting the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Don’t believe me or Mr. McCracken? Well then, just Google the words sex and sermon series and watch how many hits pop up! If you are so inclined to indulge in an adult beverage, you might just want to pour yourself a stiff one… you’ll see what I mean, trust me.

Mr. McCracken supports his argument by quoting author David Wells from his book “The Courage To Be Protestant”:

"The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

"And the further irony, is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them."

Mr. McCracken concludes his article:

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that "cool Christianity" is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. It's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same.

So does Brett McCracken’s article word of warning of those of us who call ourselves confessing Lutherans? Oh heck yeah! As long as we keep looking to consultants and marketing gurus who tell us play secular music in our worship service so as to not scare away the unchurched seeker, put up billboards claiming to be from Satan that state he hates our goofy church, or fall victim to the “we need to talk about sex because nobody in the church ever talks about sex” bug that plague so many seeker sensitive churches in Americanized Christianity, then if we have any sense at all about us we had better hear Brett McCracken’s warning loud and clear.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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