With apologies to John Schlitt of Petra, there is no such thing as a cool Christian. For many Christians, especially young Christians, that’s a claim that’s not easily swallowed. Most people long for acceptance from others and, for generations now, Christians in America have been told that their faith and broad cultural acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive. Which is an odd claim considering that Jesus told his followers that people would not like us exactly because we are his followers. That’s a lesson that I learned the hard way.
When I was a relatively new Christian, I believed that I could be different, that non-Christians would view me differently. I mean, among other things, I was a theatre artist, knew all about craft beer, went to cool concerts, and had many lgbt friends. In my naivety, I thought that I could serve as a non-threatening bridge between Christianity and the marginalized of society. I believed that the externals of who I was and how I acted meant more than what I believed. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.
At a theatre event, I was dismayed to discover that simply accepting God’s parameters of sexuality as correct made me anathema. Individuals whom I considered friends cussed me out and labeled me a hateful bigot for simply expressing my belief that homosexuality was outside of God’s design for sex. Never mind that they had shared beers with me, performed in shows with me, and had even been to my house; my actions didn’t matter in light of my beliefs.
I left that event confused and hurt. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit had placed me in a church that stressed that a Christian’s identity is to be found only in Christ Jesus. As I continued to grow in grace, I began to let go of my desire to be both a conservative Christian and accepted by society at large. Unfortunately, as I began to learn what it means to place my full identity in Christ Jesus, I watched many friends, trapped by the allure of acceptance, abandon their faith and run full-sprint into the arms of progressive Christianity, or, more honestly, a straight denial of the God of the Bible.
Several years later, our society has reached a point where it’s next to impossible for Christians to convince themselves that the world is going to be ok with who we are and our beliefs. That realization, however, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to accept.
Even now, I recoil at the accusations of bigot, hatemonger, and even racist that are hurled in my direction. And although I’ve learned that it ultimately doesn’t matter, I still occasionally feel the unhelpful need to explain myself, to prove that I’m not like those other Christians. There are times when I find myself mounting our society’s temple steps in order to proclaim my righteous tolerance. “Look, everyone, I’m different than those Christians.”
Of course, in the perspective of those who are rooted in the Serpent’s twisting of God’s words, I am exactly like those Christians. Thankfully, outside of moments of sinful pride, that frees me to fall into the arms of my Savior and live a life that is characterized by my identity in Christ Jesus.
In the freedom found in Christ, the primary concern for Christians should shift from winning cultural arguments to, instead, sharing the good news that salvation from sin is offered through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This summer, in the teen class that I teach at my church, we’re discussing hot-button issues. In the very first class of the series, I went through an abbreviated Biblical Theology – God’s story as revealed in the whole Bible. I told the class that every issue that we discuss this summer will have its ultimate answer in who God is, what is man’s relationship to God, and what restores that relationship. Every week, I continue to stress that whenever discussing the hot-button issues with others, our main priority should be to move the conversation to the gospel.
I understand that for some of the teens, they were hoping to learn arguments that will shut down the opposition and earn them the respect of their peers. I understand that, because there are times when I long for that. I can empathize with the need to be accepted and considered cool. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that need transform into full-bore rejection of Jesus. Remember, the cool kids will never ask you to sit at their table until you become just like them.
Winning an argument is less important than the salvation of sinners. Likewise, demonstrating that you are different from those Christians pales in comparison to the importance of sharing the gospel. There is no cultural argument that Christians can win that will earn the esteem of the world. If, regardless of how kind and gracious we act, we’re going to be called bigots and worse, we should strive to earn the slings and arrows of the world because of our gospel witness. Ultimately, what the world needs is to recognize their need for the salvation offered in Jesus, not that their cultural arguments and positions are wrong. When they disagree with us about things like abortion and homosexuality, they’re actually disagreeing with us about who God is and the only way to restore relationship with Him. That’s a disagreement that will never earn Christians the label of cool, no matter how it’s dressed up.