I’ve prayed about this message for a long time. Now that I’m convinced it’s biblical, I think it’s time to start getting the word out. This post will be significantly longer than all of the others because I believe it’s worth its length—I hope, at the least, it makes for an interesting read. As always, I accept questions, concerns, and death threats at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Houston, We Have a Problem. (Apollo 13, 1995)
To every last one of you: Get out of your church pew and rent a decent movie for a change. And I don’t mean Courageous or Toy Story. I mean something that actually won a few awards—something with real life in it, with a little raunchiness and a little flavor. Good Will Hunting drops the F-bomb more than a retard’s grades in a college classroom; I highly recommend it.
Or, if you’re in the mood for some theater-going, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about as intensely real as it gets, even though it has some problems with plot and character development. It’s in theaters as of last weekend (January 21st, 2012). Just imagine: you’ll actually watch a movie that normal people watch. Don’t panic. You can do it.
If you have fewer than ten secular songs on your iPod, I demand that you schedule an appointment with me. Or feel free to go it on your own, but I have a few suggestions: John Mayer for the lyrics, Coldplay for the feel, and Frank Sinatra for the classics. Ever heard of them? You’ll recognize them soon.
Do you know where ‘like omg’ came from? Everybody says it, right? Here’s the what: It came from the ‘ValSpeak’ of the stereotypical Valley Girl, a rich slut living in Southern California with big boobs and short jean shorts who giggles like her boyfriend is tickling her all day long. That’s right, church mice: every time you say ‘omg’ you’re referencing someone a little cheaper than a hooker, because she performs the same services to the same people without the cash reward.
No, you cannot go wash your mouth with soap. And you certainly can not go ‘repent from your sins.’ Get used to it.
No, I’m Sorry, but…I Was Told…Uhh…My Stapler… (Office Space, 1999)
Scott, why the rant? Because I want my friends to go look at the world they live in. Two points: a personal anecdote (or several, crammed into one), and a historical perspective.
First point. Since arriving in Austin, I have seen very good evangelism, and I have seen very bad evangelism. I have seen men and women that God has raised up to spread His word boldly. I have been blessed enough to see their daily habits, their routines, their tastes—their personal culture. I have been blessed enough to share my life with them.
Invariably, the men and women that see consistent, God-glorifying fruit in the mission field are the men and women who have seen all the Rocky movies, who know what I mean when I say ‘D’oh’ loudly, and can debate with me on whether or not J.K. Rowling meant Harry Potter to be an allegorical tale to Christ.
Invariably, the men and women who shut themselves in the church and find cultural satisfaction in four hours of Chris Tomlin music, and throw a party when one of their friends becomes a believer, soon find that that one salvation is the highlight of their evangelistic careers. Failure becomes an unspoken word. To ward it off, they give up. They go back to their Chris Tomlin music and they try to figure out what went wrong, pondering the mystery of why the Lord ‘called so few.’
This is the daily routine of a highly respected individual whom God has used prolifically: wake up, read scripture, do work until lunch, read the news over a sandwich, pray, do more work until 5-ish, eat dinner, pray, watch Family Guy or some such, do whatever, pray, and watch South Park or a movie until he falls asleep. He has no qualms about alcohol, although he knows his limits. His speech is not sanitized; I have heard him cuss, although never when he was angry. Cuss words, to him, are usually for comedic effect.
I know a ton of Christians who would look at that schedule and bleat si-i-i-i-n. They would base their opinions on verses in the Bible which read similarly to the following: fix your eyes upon Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith…etcetera. I’ll hit that soon, promise. It would take up too much space to put here.
And now, Point B—the history. At what point did Christianity spread fastest? Its early stages, of course; the first century. Why? Were they more spiritually proficient than we are? They were all new believers with no godly advice from godly superiors—besides the disciples, there were no godly superiors. We, because of the presence of excellent examples, have the potential to grow into the roles God has called us to with more tools at our disposal. No, they were not better Christians than us.
Were their leaders more spiritually proficient? Perhaps; but remember that Peter denied Jesus three times. I doubt there was anything different in their leaders from our leaders today. Speaking logically, has God’s religion been designed to perform at a sub-par level once its leaders have lost the experience of personal contact with the person of Christ? Of course not. What else could the Holy Spirit be for, if it isn’t, in part, to offer us the presence of Christ within ourselves?
So what’s left? I might offer a solution—these early Christians had been saved directly from their cultures. They knew intimately the kinds of people around them. They knew their favorite hobbies, their favorite sports, their favorite philosophies, their favorite dances, their favorite paintings, their favorite stories, their favorite speeches, their favorite everything.
In modern terms, they would know their favorite books, movies, TV shows, authors, philosophers, political pundits, and they would especially know the disdain which the common non-Christian American holds toward freeze-dried, sanitized church culture. It is a disdain which I shared for nearly eighteen years, and have sat through, gritting my teeth, since I was saved two years ago. (And the truth rears its ugly head…sorry friends.)
Speaking of historical examples, one might consider the case of Billy Graham. After Graham became a Christian at the age of 16, he was denied membership from his local church’s youth group because he was ‘too worldly.’ Hmm. He later went on to attend several Bible Colleges and was almost expelled from one, although I could not find the cause of his near dismissal from a source that I trusted.
In his later career, he appeared on more secular TV shows and radio programs than sacred, becoming an icon within America’s pop culture as well as its fundamental Christian subculture. Of course, he is also famous for his strict spiritual discipline in matters relating to personal sin; nothing can replace the God-given armor of the Christian soldier.
But perhaps it was his tight spiritual discipline which allowed him to blend the secular and the sacred with such potency.
“I Want the Truth.” “You Can’t Handle the Truth!!” (A Few Good Men, 1992.)
Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. I can almost hear the church mice squeaking now—they’ll want my head for this one. How dare I tell their kin to get their butts into the world and out of the bubble. I think first on the list of grievances would be that little verse in Hebrews: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:2)
A logical objection to the doctrine that I have presented would run as follows: The Bible, in this passage, asks for the complete attention of our hearts and minds. To expose our hearts to the philosophies in which secular culture is saturated would be anathema to a paradigm centered upon the death of Christ. Therefore, the secular world must be rejected from the life of a godly believer.
Response: Christ’s first miracle was performed at a party in Cana, in which he turned water into wine (John 2:1-10). The wine of that time, despite considerable debate, was alcoholic; if any doubt remains within the reader, I would ask why the people of the party seemed surprised that the party’s host would delay the advent of the ‘good wine,’ unless it was for the reason that late in the party his guests would be drunk enough not to recognize poor booze from quality. Therefore, we know Christ attended secular social functions, and clearly nothing is inherently evil about alcohol or secular society, assuming neither are abused.
So, if we continue in the interpretation of the above verse in the same manner in which we have started, Jesus has violated an axiom which He now expects us to maintain religiously. He has not rejected a secular party or alcohol, two longtime fixtures of secular culture. That doesn’t like Christ to me–my image of God follows His own rules.
A more suitable interpretation of Hebrews 12:2 might run as follows: As you live, set your hearts fully upon Christ, that your faith may enable you to persevere through the difficulties of living in a dark world. I believe this more fully suits the context of martyrdom (Hebrews 11), the idea of ‘running’ as symbolizing living a normal life changed by the Gospel rather than abstaining totally from all things of the secular realm (Hebrews 12:1), and the encouragements to endure found after the passage (Hebrews 12:3).
It is also interesting to note that Jesus was not martyred for any external, sacred action, such as praying or reading Scripture too much, but for His identity as the Son of God and His belief in that fact. Consequently, if we are to be found worthy of martyrdom, it will not be because we are too good at going to church or not cussing in our speech or filtering our music to get out all the ‘ouchies.’ I think Satan smiles when we sanitize ourselves, because every act of sanitization takes us further from connecting with God’s nonbelieving elect.
Rather, it will be our beliefs and our identities as children of God that pose the biggest threat to our enemy. Suddenly enjoying Michael Jackson’s music doesn’t seem so life-ending, eh? It never mattered what you listened to anyway—what matters is the attitude of your heart.
Another objection that I predict will rain hard and steady: The ideas of the secular world can be boiled down to selfishness, arrogance, rampant lust, and the like. What do we stand to gain from dipping ourselves into a vat of worthlessness? Isn’t the risk more than the reward, acknowledging the possibility that one of these ideals slips into our hearts unnoticed and causes us to sin?
Response: First, I would offer that if a sheep of the fold is going to be led astray by an ideal he finds in the secular world, then his hold on the Kingdom is so small as to not be worth preserving. It is better, although the Lord knows I never wish it, that he leaves to discover exactly why the Kingdom was ever beautiful at all. Upon his return, I believe his hold will be firmer than his peers ever dreamed possible.
The philosophies of the secular world have a beautiful appearance upon first glance, but inside they’re rotten. I don’t believe anyone who has truly savored the love of our Lord will ever be fooled by any form of atheism, Buddhism, Islam, or any other such concoction. To examine the extreme, the only non-Christian religion which I have never seen disproven (or even significantly challenged) is a form of atheism which I refer to as objectivist determinism, the beliefs of which are too complex to examine here.
But even this, the strongest of non-Christian philosophies, could never buy a member of God’s elect: in order to accept these beliefs, one must forget love ever existed. One must kiss any goodness in the world goodbye. And one must recognize that the definition of the word ‘good,’ rather than meaning ‘God’ or anything else uplifting, means ‘that which advances my life’s goals and provides me with happiness.’ A member of God’s elect will kill himself sooner than live a philosophy so maniacally selfish; just trust me about that.
Second point: Trust. We have to trust. What else can faith be, but a good percentage of trust? What we’re doing is going into the world with the confidence that God will keep His light burning brightly in our hearts, and the knowledge that, just as our faith was never our own but His produced inside of us, our purity is never our own but a miracle of His design brought about by His love for us. If you don’t believe God can keep you pure through a showing of Star Trek (the latest one), what makes you think you’ll be kept pure in a prayer meeting?
It is not our surroundings that make us sin, although they can contribute; rather, it is our own evil desire (James 1:14). Our own evil desire can strike at any location—rest assured of that. But surely we’ll be kept safer when we seek to do God’s will in a way that better glorifies Him.
There certainly is risk in exposing ourselves to secularism. But is that risk greater than the potential rewards? I believe the reward of understanding our culture is a greater ability to connect with those of His harvest which have not been brought home yet. It is significant that the risk, although present, is also mitigated by God’s sovereign control over our hearts; therefore, we have a fantastic reward of thousands of souls being saved countered by a risk that, when examined through the lens of trust, ceases to exist. So yes, I believe the reward completely and exponentially outweighs the risk.
Here I would also like to point out that we must exercise spiritual discipline in proportion to the calling which we’ve been given. When Jesus called us into the world, He did not call us to sin in any way, at any time, for any reason at all. Christ’s hatred for sin is only outdone by His love for us. Therefore, you must know your limits, and you must know them well. Personally, I’ve struggled with lust for years; I will probably be forced to fast-forward or turn away from every sex scene in every movie I watch for the rest of my life. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t watch movies with sex scenes. It only means I have to fast-forward through a minute or two of them.
Final challenge: God told us to be good stewards of what we’ve been given. If I spend my time in secular pursuits rather than seeking Him, how am I being a good steward of my time?
Response: First point. Jesus called a few of His disciples (and just a few, which is interesting) to be His fishermen. Fishermen of that time didn’t just throw their nets into the water. They knew elaborate details on where the fish liked to sleep, what they liked to eat, where their migration patterns would take them around the year—they made a study of the job they’d been given. In the same way, to those of us who are called to be the Lord’s fishermen today, I believe a study of secular culture is not merely appropriate, but required.
Second point. Shortly after I became a Christian, I realized something. After the fifth hour of Chris Tomlin, my worship gets a little tired. A little empty. It all starts becoming the same thing. All the words stick together and I can’t remember what aspect of God I’m worshiping anymore, maybe His faithfulness, maybe His truthfulness, well they’re both infinite and they’re both cool anyway so I guess I’ll just keep singing.
And then I turned on Miles Davis, and I was blown away. What an incredible style that God gave to the world. And then I flipped to some Queen, and I felt my face slowly melt from those gorgeous harmonies from that flamboyantly gay Freddie Mercury—what a stud. And I worshiped God, because I knew that even here, He had a purpose. Although this music was anything but Christian, I could see how it could be used for Christianity. How the Gospel could come through loud and clear, from Elton John singing about how torn he was between his wife and his gay lover. (“And I think it’s gonna be a long long time, ‘till touch down brings me round again to find, I’m not the man they think I am at all, oh no no no…”)
What if worship wasn’t about its medium outside of the Holy Spirit? What if, rather than requiring music written explicitly to the Lord, all the music He made could be used for His glory? What if, rather than stunting our spiritual growth, these art forms allowed us to perceive different parts of His character, and better align ourselves with His work in reaching out to those who need Him?
Louis, I Think This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship. (Casablanca, 1942)
You made it to the end! I’m sorry that was so long. That’s my spiel, for now. That’s the message which the Lord has been carefully building in me for the last two years. He’s still building it. I know now only a fraction of what I need to know, and there’s always a chance all of that fraction could be completely and utterly wrong.
But hey, if I’m wrong, I’ll tell the Lord I went down swingin’.
God, please convict us. Please teach us Your way—the art of evangelism, the art of understanding our friends, the beloved ones which You’ve given us to spread Your glory. Lead us to the things which You can use for Your ministry through us, and enable us to keep ourselves under such discipline as will keep us safe. We rely on You for everything, Lord; unless You build these qualities within us, as sure as we are dust, they will never be built. We offer our lives to You, God—be glorified.