“For to you it has been granted, for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29a (NASB)
You will forgive my tardiness, but only a few days ago did I come across an article published earlier this month on the website Vice.com entitled: Meet the Woke Young People Trying to Make Christianity Cool Again. It profiles four ‘woke’ young people and their efforts to, as the article states, get Christianity “back in step” on issues such as the environment, racial inequality, and LGBTQ rights.
Notwithstanding the content of the article itself, the title alone seems sufficient to give any true Christian pause. I say true Christian because any person who professes to have been born again, and has lived for any length of time the kind of sacrificial life to which followers of Jesus Christ are called, knows from personal experience, as well as from what the Bible itself teaches, that the last thing Christianity is, is “cool” (Jn. 1:12-13; Lk. 6:27-38; 9:23; Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Tim. 4:8-10; 1 Pet. 2:11; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
But not only are these four individuals so woke as to want to make Christianity cool, they want to make Christianity cool again.
Since when has Christianity ever been cool, let alone cool again?
In contemplating such a misguided notion, I was reminded of some of the early church fathers; men like Ignatius of Antioch who, having been charged with the crime of atheism (denial of the Roman gods), said these words shortly before being martyred for being so “cool”:
“May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me. I pray that they would be found eager to rush at me, and I will also entice them to devour me speedily and not deal with me as some, whom out of fear they have not touched. If they are unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me; I know what is to my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. Let no one, of things visible or invisible, prevent me from attaining to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocation of bones; let cutting off of limbs; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the evil torments of the devil come upon me; only let me attain to Jesus Christ.”
There is also Justin Martyr who, like Ignatius, was so “cool” that in the year 165 A.D., he was beheaded for it (hence his surname). Before his death, Martyr penned these words:
“And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”
And then there is Tertullian, a controversial figure to some, but who, in speaking against the Roman authorities who were regularly putting Christians to death for being “cool”, boldly commented:
“When Christians are brought before you simply because of their name, is there ever found a criminal of any sort? It is always with your people that the prisons are streaming, the mines are sighing, and the wild beasts are fed. It is from you that the exhibitors of gladiator shows always get their herds of criminals to feed up for the occasion. You will find no Christian there except for simply being one. Or, if one is there as something else, he is a Christian no longer.”
I’ve written previously of my concern that ‘woke theology’ is detrimental to the evangelical church.
This erosion of biblical orthodoxy is, in my opinion, most evident in the casual indifference being displayed by many professing Christians today – millennial Christians in particular – to what orthodox Christianity, that is, the biblical gospel, is and its purpose in our lives, particularly when held against other worldviews. It is a concern that is echoed in the words of the late author and Bible expositor Jerry Bridges who, in his book The Gospel For Real Life, lamented that:
“Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.”
Sadly, Bridges’ estimation is an accurate one.
But what makes Bridges right is not merely what he said, but that what he said is what the Word of God teaches.
At the heart of the Christian message is that humanity is innately sinful and in desperate need of spiritual redemption. It is a universal condition that is remedied only through faith in Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial death on a cross satisfied the wrath of a righteous God against unrighteous sinners like you and me (Jn. 3:16; Acts 4:12; 1 Jn. 2:2).
But that message is being lost under the allurement of another “gospel”, one that preaches that humanity is inherently capable of redeeming itself through socio-political activism – climate change, racial reconciliation, LGBTQ rights – apart from the atonement of Christ which, alone, is sufficient to address mankind’s most fundamental need: to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
To suggest, as the headline of the Vice.com article does, that Christianity must somehow be made palatable as to be acceptable (cool) to the masses, is to completely misunderstand Christianity. It is with that thought in mind that the words of pastor and theologian John MacArthur prove helpful:
“The gospel is good news for fallen humanity regarding how sins are atone for, how sinners are forgiven, and how believers are made right with God. That may not sound very elegant or fashionable. It is certainly not a message suited to appeal to the frivolous fads or cultural concerns of the present age. But our Lord did not commission His disciples to proclaim a pliable message that would need to be overhauled every generation. And the mission of the church is not to win the world’s admiration.” – The Gospel According to Paul, Hardcover version, p. 76
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
‘Woke Christianity’ is not biblical Christianity. It is an ideology that promotes the mirage of social, political, and cultural egalitarianism under the premise that the purpose of the gospel is to bring mankind into a kind of nirvanic state of oneness with the earth and with each other. It is, as the Reformer Martin Luther described as a “theology of glory” as opposed to a “theology of the cross”. The Rev. Dr. Carl R. Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, expands on this thought from Luther, explaining that:
“[The] theologians of glory,”…are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The “theologians of the cross,” however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.”
The image above is one with which you may or may not be familiar.
It shows a group of Middle Eastern Christians being escorted along a tranquil and picturesque shoreline on their way to be beheaded for being “cool”. It is a stark and humbling reminder of what still can happen to individuals who, even at the threat of death, would dare to confess the One who died His own “cool” death on a cross more than 2,000 years ago.
Christianity does not exist to push any socio-political agenda (Jn. 18:36; 2 Pet. 3:13). When the Bible speaks about what woke Christians refer to as “social justice”, it doesn’t use adjectives like ‘social’ as qualifiers. In biblical terms, there is only justice and injustice. Period. To apply God’s standard of righteousness equitably to all who bear His image is justice. To not do so is injustice.
It is that simple, really.
The way of Christ is the way of the cross, not the way of the cool (Mk. 15:19-20).
The Middle-Eastern brothers pictured above weren’t beheaded because of their position on climate change or LGBTQ rights or racial injustice. Their lives were brought to a brutally murderous end because of their belief in the only begotten Son of God, who willingly condescended to a world that is innately opposed to His standard of righteousness.
To you who may consider yourselves among the generation of ‘woke’ young Christians who desire to make Christianity cool again, as if following Jesus were a fad that comes and goes as the culture shifts, I challenge you to look beyond the comfort zone of your peer group and remember that Christ did not die for your social justice agenda. He died so that sinners like you and I would not have to spend an eternity in hell for the damnable offenses we’ve committed against Him (1 Tim. 1:15a).
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” – Matt. 1:21 (NASB)