The Dangerous Pursuit of "Cool" (Part 2)
There is an alternative to being cool...the cultivation of authentic taste.

Read part 1 of Brett McCracken's post.

Perhaps pastors and church leaders should focus their energies more on understanding and valuing culture for itself instead of always trying to use it to bolster their church's insider credibility, suggests James Harleman, a pastor at Seattle's Mars Hill Church:

Instead of trying to be cool, we should seek out and support the places in culture that we believe are hitting the nail on the head. We need to re-train our minds in how we engage culture. Why do we listen to the music that we do? Why do we like the films that we like? Rather than force ourselves to like what is cool, we should seek to understand better why we like what we like. Be authentic to what you like.

The problem with the wannabe cool, "inner ringer" mindset is that it blinds us to our true desires and true enjoyments, replacing them with an overarching desire—pervasive and deeply ingrained in humanity—to want to be in the know. But being "in the know" is never as fulfilling or respectable as being in tune with what we're truly passionate about.

Pastors and Christian leaders need to focus on cultivating taste rather than trying to be relevant or cool. They should take a look at culture and figure out what it is they already like, becoming aware of what moves them, engages them, and why. Only after you've developed a sense of aesthetic appreciation and personal taste will you be able to escape the temptation to simply do or like the things the "cool kids" are doing and liking.

In his book, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste, author Frank Burch Brown argues that cultivating taste is an essential aspect of Christian formation—that "certain dimensions of theological and spiritual maturity… cannot be attained apart from cultivated aesthetic imagination and mature taste that rejoices in crossing the boundaries of the predictable and of conventional delights."

Being cool is not a bad thing. Living authentically, loving things genuinely and passionately… this often ends up looking pretty cool. It's only when one strives to be cool, when the end goal is cool as such, that there's a problem.

If Christians are to be cool, it will not be because of focus groups, market research or strategic trend-spotting. It will not be a result of any cool handbooks or hip "how-tos." Rather, it will be a result of a diligent cultivation of aesthetic taste and personal cultural appreciation, learning to love things not because they are cool, but because they are good.

September 09, 2010

Displaying 1–9 of 9 comments


September 27, 2010  4:56pm

This article is a great issue for christian leaders to reflect on, especially those of us feeling a calling to Youth Ministry. At times it seems there is an immense amount of pressure for Youth Pastors to be relevant and stay young and "cool" in their vocation. Many times it seems that this can be harmful in one's own pursuit because it often can mean stepping out of the position of "leader" and stepping into position as "peer" which can have negative effects if one is not careful in the way he or she approaches this. It is a topic that should be revisited often, but not only by Youth Pastors but any church leaders, Senior Pastors as well!

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September 10, 2010  8:05pm

@Sheer, I get it, but what papers demonstrate the research that show that, in the words of the author, "many evangelical leaders/pastors" are trying to be cool for the sake of cool? Where's the data coming from other than pastoral observations of human beings who have a plethora of pride issues? On what basis does he claim that it coheres in something called "hipsters" and that said "hipsterism" is of such scale or power that it's actually time to sound the alarm? Honestly, I've read his material, his shallow descriptions, his major leaps from superficial externals to definitive declarations about the hearts and motives of people, and, if anything, I only think he's succeeded in describing commercialized evangelicalism as a whole, not hipsters per se, and even then he's still making data claims and claims about the hearts and minds of people that he hasn't shown support for. You can sit in a pretty library in the UK with books touched by C.S. Lewis and/or Stott or whatever/wherever, but he isn't making a case. At the end of the day, if your writing (online and text) claims that "Relevant Magazine" is part of hipster sub-culture, then you really are only talking about some evangelical ghetto at best. Methodology matters.

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September 10, 2010  6:54pm

One wonders if the author has done any serious historical/theological work with the idea of Christ and Culture or is just shooting from the hip.

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September 10, 2010  9:56am

personal anecdotes/experience do not a trend make.

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September 10, 2010  8:04am

Sorry, I forgot to add this in my first comment. Citations and proof would also go a long way in setting you above and apart the people who claim that all Christians everywhere are jerks because two or three Christians once did something offensive.

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September 10, 2010  7:58am

With respect to the author, if his posts here are any indication of what his new book is like, I'll pass on it. In the comments, Sheerahkahn already pointed out that you lack citations, examples, and personal experience from your article. (Maybe that's because of space restraints, in which case I wish the blog would have given you more room to write.) That being said, your message has merit. We shouldn't do things just for the sake of being cool. Your argument here, though, would be strengthened by examples and proof that such a thing is as widespread as you claim it is.

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September 09, 2010  10:49am

The problem with this "cool" thing is what is rewarded in too many churches. It's a self-perpetuating security system. It's a security system for those "in the know" and it protects the "vision" (whatever that is). This is when cool becomes an end in itself. And "cool" to whom? With the security system it means cool to the groupies. Cool to Christ looks like love and probably a cross which we willingly bear.

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September 09, 2010  9:51am

". . . learning to love things because they are good." I do think this is the crux of the matter. However, I hope we mean loving things because they are "good" in more than the aesthetic or technical sense, but ultimately mainly in the spiritual sense. This can only be cultivated by a wholehearted seeking after God and what moves *His* heart. Let's first and foremost be students of that (i.e., true disciples of Christ), not of the fallen cultures in which we live. True spiritual fruitfulness in ministry can only be the result of this abiding in Christ (John 15). The Christians throughout the ages who have had the greatest impact for the gospel were overwhelmingly those who abandoned this world system and its values to live the commandments of Christ in a radical way. They, in turn, produced a distinctly Christian culture (within various cultures of the world) that attracts those in the world through the overwhelming beauty of the love of Christ lived out to the full in a human life.

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September 09, 2010  9:14am

t will be a result of a diligent cultivation of aesthetic taste and personal cultural appreciation, learning to love things not because they are cool, but because they are good. Again, the writer assumes that this isn't the case for people on the basis of surface features/accidents of fashion, etc. It's a long way from the personal appearance choices of a person to their soul. I'm surrounded by people who would fit the superficial description of the writer and I've yet to see that it's driven by some need for the "inner ring". It's actually who these people are, not some slavish need to "be in the know". It's where these people actually live and many of them are well over the age of 30. The question remains and has yet to be answered: On what basis does the writer claim this is happening? Where are the "many" leaders/pastors who are aping the culture for some silly need to be cool?

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