Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Emergent “Seeker Sensitive Fluff”

I was scanning a popular emergent church youth leader’s blog recently when I came across a series of interesting videos. In case you don’t catch the parody, let me explain. There is a fairly popular ad campaign from Apple Computers where two actors represent the two rival computers types. The Apple, “Mac”, is portrayed by a young and contemporary actor, and is shown to be laid back and to have it all together. Mac’s rival, “PC”, is played by an older actor who is playing a very uptight, high maintenance and is shown to be deficient in all ways when compared to Mac.

Now, having the template in mind, we can look at the Christian parody of it. In the video series, the two character types are relatively the same, but instead of portraying rivals in the computer industry, they portray two different types of Christians in modern western society. The first character is a traditional protestant (I assume) named “Christian”. The second character is the contemporary believer, “Christ-Follower”, who is set up to be a character who is cool and, basically, the opposite of irrelevant “Christian”.

You can watch the two videos for yourself, but here is a brief synopsis of them:

Video 1: This is the first of the series where we are initially introduced to Christian and Christ-Follower. Christian has his stack of books and other materials that is capped off with his Bible, and it is noted that it is a King James Version. After divulging the contents of his stack of materials, Christian asks if Christ-Follower wants to see his bumper stickers. When given the go-ahead, Christian opens his suit coat to show various bumper stickers stating that he ran out of room on his car. The ending of the parody shows Christian copying everything that Christ-Follower says culminating with Christ-Follower saying, “I’m a big dork.” And then Christian repeats, “I’m a big dork…oh….”

Video 2: This video is sixth (and final, I believe) video in the same series. It shows Christian and Christ-Follower meeting with a therapist in some sort of a counseling session. The session opens with Christian talking about how he feels inadequate and has to hide inside of his church. The therapist then encourages them to give each other a compliment. Christ-Follower makes a genuine comment about how Christian is good at exegesis and that he dresses nicely. Christian grudgingly says that Christ-Follower is better at reaching “today’s generation”, but then he comments that it is done with “seeker sensitive fluff” and it is a “total waste of time” under his breath. The video ends with the therapist stating, “Maybe you should come in… twice a week.”

In the first video, I found it interesting that the books and materials that were mocked included “rule books, ethics manuals, and a morality play or two just for good measure” as well as Christians’ Bible. How did they mock his Bible? For starters, when displaying his Bible, Christian looks like a buffoon when he swings his bible around like a sword, and this is both mocking the type of believers that Christian represents as well as the fact that it seems to be demeaning the Bible and the power of the Word itself. I realize that might be a bit nit-picky, but…come on.

Also, I would like to know what rule books and ethics manuals the creators were referring to and, obviously, looking down upon. If this parody was to be an equal comparison (even with the above mentioned concerns) between modern Christ-Follower and Christian, I think that Christ-Follower should have had the following books in his hands:

  • A New Kind of Christian (Brian McLaren)
  • Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)
  • Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell)
  • A Generous Orthodoxy (Brian McLaren)
  • The Message (Eugene H. Peterson)
You see, the truth is that those in the Christ-Follower (Emergent) movement don’t want to get rid of rule books and ethics codes, they want their rule books and ethics codes to replace the old ones. When you disregard authors like Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Rile, Owen, Spurgeon, Edwards, and others and substitute them with the flavor of the month contemporary writings that are only “relevant” for a short time, you’re in danger of separating yourself from actually following Christ in favor of following a contemporary fad.

As far as the second video, I actually thought that it was funny. I understand that it was set up in such a way as to mock people like me who do classify a lot of what goes on now-a-days as “seeker sensitive fluff and a total waste of time.” But as far as the main thrust of my thoughts regarding this video, I’ll let another blogger’s comments set the stage.

The full brunt of his critique is best understood when all of the videos in this series are viewed. But, in case you don’t want to subject yourself to that, the basic thing to know is that in the other videos you see Christian listening to his “jPod” (an iPod filled only with explicitly Christian music and other media), carrying his HSHD (Holy Spirit Hard Drive) so that he can get a jump start of the “Holy Ghost, or Spirit, or something” when he gets bored in church, and we see him proudly displaying his WWJD bracelet. All of these things are to show that Christian is woefully out of touch with contemporary society and, rather foolish looking in his attempts to copy culture. After seeing these things, this blogger named Guy writes:

"Does it strike anyone else as awkwardly ironic that there is a Christian mimic of a popular sales campaign that is mocking the type of person who gets excited about Christian mimics of popular sales campaigns?"1
In his comment, Guy identifies himself as an emergent type of individual, but wants to be real about who and what they are about. I find this comment as an accurate critique of the videos as well as somewhat ironic. How long will it be before videos like this, books like “Blue Like Jazz” and “A New Kind of Christian”, and other contemporary things are as foolish and out of date as Christian wearing his WWJD bracelet.

What could be more relevant to any hearing audience than the truth that God has revealed about how to be made right with Him, be forgiven of our sin, and avoid His terrible wrath and judgment? And in order to do that, we must proclaim the gospel in an undistorted and unapologetic manner.

1 http://www.ysmarko.com/?p=1042


gmw said...

Thanks for the quotation and the link, EJ. You're certainly on target with the critique that emergent folk (as with us all) simply replace one "canon" of "rule books" with another that they prefer.

Having read several of Peterson's books, in addition to The Message paraphrase, and had some exposure to McLaren and Bell, my sense is that they, like you and I, would desire that the contemporary church had a deeper engagement with the ancient church and the great thinkers of the Church. Folks that you and I would lift up as exemplars of faith--John Calvin probably for us both and, for me at least, John Wesley as well--clearly model that kind of engagement with the great Christians that preceded them in their ministry.

Thanks again for the quote.

Captain Slappy said...

I think the point of this video may be missed. I feel that these videos were made to make faith easier to obtain. Lots of people who come to seeker churchs, have been to church and seen "Church Normal" (ie Chirstian Guy). They want something real and deeper. They don't want people who play fake, which I have seen in other churches, but are real people. This is why the Chirst-Follower guy is dressed as himself.

The "Christian Guy" is not really whats being mocked. The mocking of the Prideful "Chirstian" is key becuase he is not what real faith is about. He wears his offering evelope where people can see it. He dresses in his suit and tie to show his status. It comes across as, "Look, I am better than you because I am in a suit". The whole point of seeker churches is to dispell the myth that only perfect people can come to church.

There is also a difference between the seeker churches, and the Emergent churches. Seeker churches make the church service more casual and upbeat, while being very Bible based.
Emermergent churchs will have less direction and a general, open theology.

These are all just my views mind you, but I am an Advisor at a seeker church. We are 100% Bible based, and Baptist, but we are dealing with the people that are turned off by this "Chirstian Guy" in the video everyday.

EJ said...

Thanks Cap’n;

Two points – the easier first. The tension that you bring out that you deal with in your church (the fakery of some Christians) is a real issue, no matter what church you go to.

One of my points in the article was to say that this vid was an unfair comparison between Christian and Christ-Follower. No matter how you parse it, it is the Christian guy who is being mocked. Now, a guy who wears bumper stickers in his suit coat, who “displays” his offering envelope, and cannot restrain his frustration and disgust with a person (i.e. lacks fruit of the Spirit) does have some issues. But it is as unfair to characterize “old-fashioned” Christians like that as it is to classify every church that has a drum set or guitars for praise team and a pastor who wears khaki’s and a polo shirt by saying something like this:

“These guys don’t think the Bible is sufficient because they try to “improve” on how to minister the gospel by having rockin’ worship and using movie clips in sermons. They are more concerned with feelings…getting people to have an emotional reaction instead of giving them the gospel and teaching them the scriptures. They want to throw off history and what we’ve learned in the past 2000 years of Christianity in favor of marketing techniques and building a big church. And these guys think that they’re so holy because they don’t wear a suit, they’re above that kind of display. They have no reverence for God based strictly upon how they conduct worship and with the reverence that they gather together…don’t’ you dress up to go to a wedding? Wouldn’t you dress up if you had a meeting with the President? Why not with God“ and on and on and on….

Of course those statements above do not characterize all churches with rockin’ music or with a pastor who doesn’t “suit up”. And I am sure that there are a lot…a lot…a lot, of more traditional type churches that are so fake because, most likely, many of the congregants are not saved! So is the answer to change everything about how we gather together…or is it to ensure that our church…and those members and leaders are saved and display the joy of the Lord that is not fake. It is as easy to be fake in a “seeker” church as it is to be fake in an “older” style church. It’s not the style, it’s the substance.

My disputes are rarely with style. If your substance is on target, there is much leeway with style. But if your substance is off, no amount of stylization will help or make it palatable. (also – the vid was made by an emergent church…)

Now the hard part…two, actually.

First - Where in the Bible does it imply that we create a church environment for seekers? Church is for those who are saved, primarily. Seeker churches, as I see it, miss the point of church. It is to build up the believer. Do we seek the lost? Yes, but that is not the point of the gathering of the believers…it is what we need to do Monday-Saturday and then bring them to a church. And a reason for the music/layout/etc shouldn’t be to attract and keep seekers…because if someone is staying at church, it should be for the gospel, not for the worship – whether it is with the guitar or a really talented organ player.

Second – who said that faith is easy or that we should “make faith easier to obtain”? Faith is a gift from God, not a human virtue or ability (Eph 2:8,9). Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt 10:38;16:24) and that the way to salvation was narrow and that the gate is narrow (Matt 7:13,14). True faith is hard. Is it a gift from God? Yes. Is it a no-brainer when the truth has been revealed to you by the Holy Spirit? Yes. But, is it easy to obtain or easy to continue to do? No! Christ said to Nicodemus (John 3) that no one knows where the Spirit goes or comes from – in other words we cannot get it…it must be given, and we cannot control that. And for the “easiness” of the Christian life (i.e. continuing/living faith) – Romans 7, Galatians 5,6 and other passages talk about the warfare and the striving against the flesh that we must do. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Php 2:12).

I appreciate your desire to wrestle with these issues as well as to be faithful to Christ and His Word.

Ps – What are the spiritual qualifications for an “advisor”? Not that titles are the end-all and be-all, but how much does your church (or my church) match the biblical model of leadership and organization as opposed to matching a 20th century Western Corporation or NPO? Food for thought.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson