This post comes to us from Bror Erickson:

Christians live in tension and paradox, reflecting the many different maxims of Christ. We are to be in the world but not of the world. We are to lose our lives for Christ so that our lives will be saved. Perhaps the apostle that most exemplified this paradox of Christian life was Paul, as he tried to be a Jew to the Jews and a gentile to the gentiles in his efforts to “by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:20-23). How he managed to do this is anyone’s guess. His success notwithstanding, I believe he found most of the people with whom he interacted to be the same as Christ found them to be when, commenting on the life of John the Baptist, he compared his generation to children in the marketplace who would neither dance for the flute nor mourn for a dirge.

Hipster Jesus

In the wake of yet another celebrity pastor scandal, question of Christianity and culture abound. Everyone likes to pile on and get their two cents in on the matter diagnosing what was wrong, but a recent article by Ben Sixsmith in the Spectator takes a wider-angle view:

I am not religious, so it is not my place to dictate to Christians what they should and should not believe. Still, if someone has a faith worth following, I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so. If they share 90 percent of my lifestyle and values, then there is nothing especially inspiring about them. Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me. That, sadly, appears to have been true of Lentz and his celebrity acquaintances.

I’m not always sure what to make of celebrity pastors myself. I find I’m often critical of them when they are on top, but introspective, demoralized, and saddened when they fall. Perhaps even defensive of them — and repentant of my own envy in their wake. Some I know through mutual friends. Some I do not know at all, but I hurt nonetheless. I wonder how many Satan took with them in their fall.

I may have disagreed with them theologically, but at least they and their followers were in the conversation. Are they in the conversation now? Has the church kicked these people so hard on the ground that it has lost the right to speak of forgiveness and redemption? Priscilla needed to correct Apollos on some points of doctrine, but it is not to say that everything Apollos had done had to be thrown out. Paul was able to build on the work Apollos had done in Ephesus before he arrived there.

For some, I suppose the celebrity itself is the scandal, but Sixsmith is scandalized by their cultural familiarity. I have to ask whether he feels uncomfortable enough yet?

Does Sixsmith really think that Christ came to make him feel uncomfortable? Does he not have a parent or mother-in-law to give him guilt trips? Or does he really need Jesus or Christians for that? To be sure, Ben admits to being a “very flawed human being.” And one has to wonder how autobiographical he is being when he rants about various attempts of Christian evangelism to be all things to all people. He surmises that “most people stick to mainstream culture because they can have all those things and pre-marital sex.” I get the impression that there is enough uneasiness in his life, but many Christians become so because they live in our culture and have the inexplicable assurance that comes from the forgiveness of sins. More to the point, though, what exactly is Ben looking for? What does he think would inspire him?

Cool thumbs up Jesus

Living in the post-Christian, post-Constantinian era we do, it should not be surprising to anyone that Christians will share 90 percent of a non-Christian’s lifestyle and values. Perhaps one might take a cue from Tom Holland’s book Dominion and ask, Who exactly is sharing whose lifestyle and values here? And is the reciprocity really as low as 90 percent?

The unfortunate thing for Christians isn’t that we share our values with many in a secular world. We are more than happy to share our values. What is unfortunate is that we also share 100 percent of the world’s vices in return, as the scandal du jour will show. We wish we could do better. However, what we really want to share is Christ and his forgiveness. If there is really a difference in lifestyle and values of 10 percent here between us and you, then it is the forgiveness of sins that accounts for it. That smallest of difference makes all the difference because it brings with it the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

To be fair, the wisdom of adulthood has made it clear that this forgiveness that I find so valuable is lacking in the preaching and practice of many churches, and consequentially in the experience of many Christians. But I did not have Ben Sixsmith’s Christian experience in my youth. I grew up in a rather staid church where forgiveness was central. We confessed ourselves sinners every Sunday and acknowledged that we had sinned in thought, word, and deed. The world might still exact its pound of flesh for our sins, but in church we received absolution in return. We heard God pronounce forgiveness through a spokesman every bit as flawed as us. It was not until adulthood though that I really learned to treasure what I had grown up with there.

I never thought church was cool or supposed to be cool, even if I still enjoyed it. I grew up in a liturgical church that followed seasons and holy days. I learned to sing in the choir, and often fell asleep during the sermon. Yet the Holy Spirit worked slowly and surely. I went to one Petra concert and was thankful for the experience. Yet I just never could get the hang of liking Christian rock or pop music. I was happy enough listening to the secular stuff, and truth be told really liked those hymns we sang in church.

Still, I cannot blame the evangelists of our day for attempting various appeals to pop culture. I don’t always understand the draw to those attempts myself. Sometimes they seem a little shallow to me, but then we all learned to swim at that end of the pool. I try to remember that Christ did not have a problem with those playing the flute or singing the dirge, but those who refused to dance or mourn.

If I will blame the celebrity pastors for anything it is that I too seldom hear Christ and him crucified being preached from those quarters, but rather a more worldly righteousness, a righteousness of the law that knows nothing of forgiveness. This too-often-preached righteousness is ironically the kind advocated by Sixsmith: be counter-culturally righteous according to the law and others will follow. I often encounter these Christians who’ve been taught to think it is up to them to live such a righteous life according to the law. They often seem to be a ball of nerves inside, or fake, insincere people trying to keep up appearances.

Christians will always feel the weight of the law from people who quote Gandhi: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” We know the truth of that much more than Gandhi himself could have imagined. We are not like Christ, try as we might, but where else is there to go? He alone has the words of eternal life. He alone with his death and resurrection has the forgiveness of sins we need. We never live up to the name “Christian.” Yet we live with Christ’s righteousness in the forgiveness of sins, understanding that this will be missed by the children of the marketplace who neither dance nor mourn. And we know we will suffer his ignominy, too. They called him Beelzebub for playing the flute, and the students are never above their master.