Way back in 2006, Mark Driscoll was interviewed prior to speaking at the Desiring God conference that year.  One of the interview clips can be found here, but I’ll quote the salient part:

When [missionary] Hudson Taylor shows up in China, and dresses in Chinese dress, and learns Chinese language, and eats Chinese food, and gets a Chinese haircut, everybody says, “There’s a good Christian.” When we do that in punk rock culture, people think it’s capitulation. I think there’s hypocrisy there. That’s why we’re not reaching Americans. We have a double-standard that we get stuck on the style and we forget the substance of the Gospel.

A missionary family (we’ll call the couple George and Mary — names changed for safety/anonymity sake) was recently at my church.  The people group to whom they minister are very disinterested in reading.  So much so that it is not uncommon for houses in that part of the world to lack indoor plumbing but have satellite television.  Another example — to be considered a best-seller, a book has to sell only a few thousand copies.

While their ultimate goal is translating the Bible — this people group does not have the Scriptures in their language — George and Mary realize that in the short-term, they need to set a primary focus on spreading the Word through other media (though, even this is not simple, due to laws in their region).  As George was describing the unique challenges that they face, he noted that their desire was to be — parents, cover your children’s ears — relevant.

A horrified gasp went up from the congregation when he used such a dirty word.  Actually, I’m kidding.  His choice of that word summed up what they were trying to do, given the culture of the people with whom they are dealing.  His point was that their message to those people is not “get your act together, get interested in reading, and then we’ll deem you worthy of telling you about Jesus”.

I doubt that anyone would fail to laud George and Mary’s efforts.  So why, exactly, does any mention of relevance in our culture get poo-poo-ed on so quickly and thoroughly by so many?

Are people in our culture less unsaved?  I keep seeing an image of Westerners showing up at the pearly gates, and St Peter does his best Maxwell Smart* impression, saying, “Missed it by that much.”

* (the Don Adams version — I’m old)

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87 Comments(+Add)

1   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Brendt, The quote you used fails on so many levels. Just like our culture, Chinese culture is made up of many sub-groups. For example, members of Chinese gangs would probably be readilty apparent to the mainstream Chinese citizen by what they wear or the body markings they have as would Chinese prostitutes. So that quote is way off base and such a red herring in my opinion. Subcultures exit within any culture and the physical differences in dress, language and actions are often readilty apparent. So that quote does not help the author’s argument in any shape form or fashion to me.

But the question at hand is should one adapt to the outside appearance of a subculture in order to be accepted and relevant? It’s a real dilemma to me. I believe that Scripture teaches we should dress modestly, but what consitutes modesty is a very personal and relative view.

Without going into great detail, as a foundational statement I do not that it proper for a Christian to adopt the more “dark / wordly / sensual” trappings of a sub-culture just in order to fit in and be “relevant” in the hopes of obtaining acceptance. First, these subculture memembers are not fools and can see through such charades. 2nd. Actions speak louder than words and I think that a Christian seeking to minister to subcultures who shows CONSISTANT loving concern and acceptance of these subculture members, but who remains true to his own outward appearance has just as much change to reach these people as the one who adopts their mode of dress just to “fit in”.

If a Christian just happens to be a biker and likes the biker look then I can accept that. I would, however, take exception to biker looks that glorify violence and death. I would not think that appropriate for a Christian biker. But the picture gets greyer for a woman as the typical “biker chick look” probably falls well outside the boundaries of “modest dress” for most people. so out of deference to being a stumbling block to men, the Christian biker woman should maybe take a closer look at her outward appearance.

2   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Also, people on the average dress to make a statement. They either dress to “fit in” or to “stand-out” or to “rebel” against the preceived “establishment”. Question: given the Scriptural adminition for modest dress, living a quiet orderly life, respect for authority, etc. is it acceptable for a Christian to dress with the premediated purpose of rebellion against the preceived societal norm?

3   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Conversely, If the preceived societal norm is flagrantly sensual attire is it the Christian’s responsibility to dress against this norm and to “stand out” in this manner?

4   Pastorboy    http://crninfo.wordpress.com
January 28th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Amen John Hughes.

So many want to be emergent/ missional in acting, thinking, talking, looking like the world. These efforts are false and disengenuos at best, and recognized as such.

I believe in being Missional, in the John 20:21 way-21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

We need to represent Jesus, His message, his mission to the world. He did not become a Samaritan to speak with a Samaritan, he simply went to them. He didn’t change who He was or he appearance, he became man. As Christ is formed in us, we do the same.

5   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

PB I basically agree. But I personally have to recognize that the definition of “modest apparel” is, on certain levels, a personal preference and does vary from culture to culture. What I think I can be legitimately dogmatic about is every Christian’s choice of apparel should be an informed and self intro-spective decision. What I mean by that is every Christian should ask themselves why they wear what they do. For example, the Christian woman should ask herself am I wearing this revealing blouse because I like it or because I want to call attention to my breasts. And I’m being totally serious.

On the other hand I believe in balance in all things and there are some men out there that are turned on by the sight of an ankle. I don’t think a woman should be held captive by such abberations.

It’s not an easy question.*

6   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
January 28th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I would think if someone wanted to rebel against the perceived societal norm now, wearing a suit and a tie would be the way to go…

Seriously, I don’t see that Christians dressing a certain way is a huge problem that is causing all sorts of issues that some people are making it out to be. Occasionally, there are issues where I’ve seen girls in church, and I ask myself how their parents ever let them out of the house that way. But I do not think that those girls would say they are dressing that way to be a missionary to cheerleaders.

I mean, is there really a huge issue in the Church with people dressing immodestly and using the excuse that they’re being missional? I can’t say that I’ve really seen that. It just seems like people creating a strawman they easily take down.

7   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I have SO got to create a Silva Award for focusing on a small part of a writing and completely failing to address the actual point.

(Though to be honest, John, you’ve got a long way to go. The jedi-master after whom the award would be named can focus on one or two words.)

8   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Put another way, I made the mistake of using an illustration on this blog — I keep forgetting that some commenters get distracted by that.

Remove the first paragraph and the Driscoll quote and my point remains the same.

9   M.G.    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Re:4

PB,

(Just assuming here) but why is it when you dress up in mom jeans, beat-up tennis shoes, and a baseball cap, you’re just going out into the world, culture-less, like some Platonic ideal of a missionary?

But when someone younger than you has spiky hair, black-rimmed glasses, and tight jeans, they’re “acting like the world?”

In other words, why are white, midwestern, suburban, middle-class ideals exempted from what is considered worldy and what is not worldly?

Do you really believe that you’re dress isn’t worldly, judging by the same standards you judge so-called emergents?

10   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Brent,

An argument is made from the sum of its parts.

Every trip around the world begins with one step.

etc., etc., :-)

11   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Brent,

Why make a quote if it’s not key to your argument? Not quite getting that. :-(

12   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
January 28th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

mom jeans…

:-) I chuckled…

13   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

by and large i find the first five comments to be largely irrelevant, judgmental of motives, and void of any salient points.

of course their is a double standard – call it hypocrisy if you like. but keep in mind that when hudson taylor did it was far from acceptable behavior.

true, there were plenty of open-minded christians that saw the trappings of dress as irrelevant… but he also experienced amazing opposition from those that thought he was compromising… opposition from those who equated christianity with western culture.

there is, after all, a reason that there is a sexual postion named after missionaries…

it would appear that not enough has changed since the days when taylor’s faith was judged by what he chose to wear.

14   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:13 pm

[Jesus] didn’t change who He was or he appearance, he became man. – pastorboy

this is quite possible the best example of a self contradicting sentence i have seen in a long long time.

the second member of the godhead did not change who he was, or his appearance… he simple became a man?

pastorboy, in your effort to argue against taylor and driscoll and anyone else who has changed clothes to remove a cultural stumbling block… in your effort to oppose them you have sited the greatest example of one who did that very thing to reach us – YOU and me.

15   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

john,

the point is, you went long on the issue of modesty and why it’s fine to dress one way but not the other – when that was not the point of the post.

16   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

John (#11) : Brent, Why make a quote if it’s not key to your argument?

Not sure who this “Brent” guy is, but I’ll field the question for him. ;-)

It’s called an “illustration”. In other forms, it might be called a “parable”. The “key to [Jesus'] argument” in the parable of the lost coin is not to keep your house dusted regularly.

17   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

i find it ironic that those deeming a sub-cultural dress as “worldly” appeal to the perceived societal norms for validation.

18   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

at the risk of following the already introduced tangent:
a missionary friend works among a tribal group in which the men wear nothing but a chord and a gourd.

when he finally knew a man well enough to ask he inquired why they dress that way.

the answer was; “If we did not wear the gourd, we would be naked.” in other words, they wore tho gourd to be modest.

19   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Brendt: His point was that their message to those people is not “get your act together, get interested in reading, and then we’ll deem you worthy of telling you about Jesus” I doubt that anyone would fail to laud George and Mary’s efforts. So why, exactly, does any mention of relevance in our culture get poo-poo-ed on so quickly and thoroughly by so many?.

This is a false dilemma. For the sake of argument the problem is not having a sub-culture cleaning up its act before the church witnesses to it, but should the church take on the outward appearance of the sub-culture as a part of that mission effort?

It would be wrong for a Christian organization to witness to a sub-culture for the puropse of getting them to adopt to our outward standards. The goal should be to bring them to Christ.

But this argument against the so-called traditional Church’s outcry against “relevance” is just a much a straw man on the part of emergents. Give me some specific offenders please. Though I am sure if you look hard enough you could find some. I have been a part of what could be described as “conservative” churches for my entire life (from Baptist, Charismatic, Bible Church, Calvary Chapel) and I have NEVER, EVER heard anyone suggest that any sub-culture was un-redeemable because of their outward appearance. Indeed, during our witnessing training sessions we have gone to great lenghts to stress one must look beyond such things and look to the heart.

Again: ““get your act together, get interested in reading, and then we’ll deem you worthy of telling you about Jesus” – is such a gross caricature of the “conservative” Christian culture that I have been a part of as to be unrecognizable.

No one in my “circles” would argue it would be wrong for someone called to live with and witness to the homeless to dress down while so doing. They would have a problem with dressing like a hooker to minister to hookers. There are degrees. There are legitimate and variying circumstances and situations, but your example above is a caricature.

20   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Brendt sorry about the name thing,

21   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Neil,

“dress modestly” has to mean something. Perphaps Chris L could put it into 1st Century Jewish context for us. ;-)

22   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

John (#19), you’re STILL hung up on the quote. There is nothing (and by “nothing”, I mean “NOTHING”) after the Driscoll quote that says anything (and by “anything”, I mean “ANYTHING”) about “outward appearance”. And yet you’re still harping on this non-issue (or to be charitable, this infinitesimal portion of the issue).

23   Eric    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Hello Brendt,

As to your question:

“So why, exactly, does any mention of relevance in our culture get poo-poo-ed on so quickly and thoroughly by so many?”

In my opinion, there are two primary reasons. First, the word “relevance” or “relevant” is many times used as a quick and easy way to excuse unbiblical various behaviors. Second, when using the word “relevance” or “relevant”, may often create an implication of the “irrelevance” of pure gospel presentation or of the actions of other Christians.

To me, those two observable facts explain much of the blow back when such words are used.

There are certainly times where those words are used without those connotations, but they are also quite prevalent at times. I will certainly give you that the blow back against the use of those words in a number of cases is misplaced. As with many things, the pendulum swings too far at times.

24   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:41 pm

i find it ironic that those deeming a sub-cultural dress as “worldly” appeal to the perceived societal norms for validation.

Pick an example for me to compare to the societal norms and I’ll run the numbers for you. :-)

25   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 4:41 pm

John (#20), no problem, I was just teasing you — hence the smiley. You got it right the first time — that’s what was odd later. ;-)

26   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

For the sake of argument the problem is not having a sub-culture cleaning up its act before the church witnesses to it, but should the church take on the outward appearance of the sub-culture as a part of that mission effort?

you are focusing on but one example in a greater illustration. you are correct that sub-cultures are smart enough o see through people dressing like them to just fit in.

but the issue is not just dress, it is not even taking on outward appearances. the issue is assuming that capitulation has taken place based on appearance.

and this is pretty much the SOP of most of the so-called discerners we address from time to time.

27   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Neil,

“dress modestly” has to mean something. Perphaps Chris L could put it into 1st Century Jewish context for us.

well, since i didn’t say otherwise, need i agree?

ok – i agree…

28   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Neil,

I am finding it hard to discern where my comments are being “judgemental of motives”. I thought I was being fairly balanced, at least that is what I try to do. Please expand.

29   Eric    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

“…may often create…” should read “…many often create…”

30   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

First, the word “relevance” or “relevant” is many times used as a quick and easy way to excuse unbiblical various behaviors.

eric,

this is true to some degree. and brendt may have overstated his point in the attempt to make it.

that said, much of what we have seen mocked on odm sites over the years were legitimate attempts to apply the gospel.

“relevant” is much like “contemplative” – if ya use it it means you can be categorized.

31   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Second, when using the word “relevance” or “relevant”, may often create an implication of the “irrelevance” of pure gospel presentation or of the actions of other Christians.

this is true as well. it is also true that many many christian are irrelevant. i know that my church is irrelevant to many subcultures, but that neither bothers me, nor does it cause me to question those who are.

32   Eric    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Neil,

I do believe that I agreed with your sentiment toward the end of my comment. I stipulate that some will over react to use of the word and inappropriately criticize a legitimate and biblical effort to be relevant.

And, to be sure, there are many words used by all people that enable them to be categorized…ODMs certainly don’t have the market cornered on categorizing people based on certain words or phrases.

33   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:52 pm

re 28: i read too much into your comments on why people dress the way they do – i retract that comment.

34   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

re 32:

agreed

35   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Eric (#23), you answered the semi-rhetorical aspect of my question very well and I fully agree with you (especially your last 2 sentences).

I guess my follow-up would be this (and it’s not directed at you):

The authors of the blowback usually portray those that misuse the term as the unwise, naive, ignorant weaker brother (assuming they’re charitable enough to allow for the possibility that God is big enough to save that person — otherwise, forget the “brother” part).

(They long ago established that they care not a whit about Galatians 6:1, so I won’t even bother going there.)

Yet for all their wisdom, lack of naivete, knowledge and strength, these “discerners” can’t (or won’t) distinguish between proper and improper use of a term, but just knee-jerk and roll their eyes as soon as they hear it.

36   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

i would still argue that jesus is the ultimate example of one who changed his outward appearance and his ery being in an effort to reach the lost… to fit in… to become relevant.

and he was mocked and redressed for it.

37   Eric    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Neil,

Maybe I’m being picky with language, but I think that you might mean “the actions of many Christians are irrelevant” more than the Christians themselves are irrelevant. I’m not sure how an actual person can be irrelevant, especially a Christian, who certainly cannot be irrelevant to God.

38   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Yet for all their wisdom, lack of naivete, knowledge and strength, these “discerners” can’t (or won’t) distinguish between proper and improper use of a term, but just knee-jerk and roll their eyes as soon as they hear it.

and but one example of this is lighthouse trails when they list all the christian schools who have compromised bu offering courses in spiritual development.

the criteria for being on the list is having a class with a certain word, or words, in the title.

39   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

We are talking about sub-cultures within the Western culture. The acceptance by “traditional” Western Christians of the actions of its missionaries in order to be relevant to abboriginal cultures and their non-acceptance of the same tactics when witnessing to Western sub-cultures is a false arguement. Revelance to Western subcultures **is** defined by outward apppearance (language, dress, music, income, drug of choice, etc.) So, “So why, exactly, does any mention of relevance in our culture get poo-poo-ed on so quickly and thoroughly by so many?” is somewhat of a false argument in my opinion. All I am saying that in some cases these are legitimate arguments e.g., dressing like a hooker to witness to hookers.

However, I agree with M.G. points in #9

40   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

eric,

that’s fair. certainly no one (christian or otherwise) is irrelevant to god.

that said, i think a lot of christians are irrelevant to a lot of lost people.

41   nathan    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

why do these discussions have to go to issues of “modest dress”?

in my experience, if someone appreciates and is connected to punk culture and has blue hair and 16 face piercings –not a modesty issue–they still get told they’re worldly because they have blue hair and don’t look…well…like “normal” middle class folk.

The need to immediately raise issues of modesty, when they aren’t part of this discussion per se really misses the point and is a bit myopic.

TO THE QUESTION IN THE OP:

I see the problem as rising from an inability on the part of many evangelicals to understand the middle class social respectability does not equal Christian witness/identity.

I also see the problem as rising from an assumption about the culture as having its center in that middle class sensibility.

This way people can “acknowledge” sub-cultures, but see ministry to them as these incredibly rare exceptions, but for most people looking like corporate manager is normative for all.

Finally, I’ve NEVER met anyone who is trying to justify sin with their use of the word relevant.

You may think they are trying to do that, but the attempt to speak the language of a culture is not a sinful betrayal of the Gospel.

round and roun and round we go in…3, 2, 1.

42   Eric    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Brendt,

I would agree that there are those in the “discernment camp” that show an appalling lack of grace and lack of ability to separate between biblical and unbiblical relevance. However, don’t be too quick to lump them all together. There are many balanced voices out there that extend grace and give thoughtful critique of misused relevance. Perhaps we are reading in different places, but I don’t think it is accurate to say that “the authors of the blowback usually…”. Usually to me would mean “almost always”, and I have observed many instances where this is not the case.

43   nathan    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

@ John Hughes,

but it’s rarely expressed in “dress like hookers”…

it’s mostly taken to task for “playing music I don’t like”, etc.

44   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

re 39 – i reject your accusation of a false argument as a false argument.

in other words, i reject you distinction between culture vs culture and culture vs sub-culture.

what you list as the IS – the externals of appearance that distinguish a subculture from a culture are also the IS’s that distinguish cultures from cultures.

45   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:06 pm

re 39 – i also reject the “**IS** .

the outward things you list are part of what distinguish a subculture, but there is much much more. there are attitudes, beliefs, values, etc… all things that are much more than outside appearance.

46   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Neil, #38. agreed. And PB your statement about Jesus incarnation did prove just the opposite of what you intended to argue. Jesus is the perfect example of taking on the appearance of man in order to become relevant to man.

But at the same time He didn’t walk around in the market place with just a gourd on. :-)

47   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

in my experience, if someone appreciates and is connected to punk culture and has blue hair and 16 face piercings –not a modesty issue–they still get told they’re worldly because they have blue hair and don’t look…well…like “normal” middle class folk.

which is the irony i pointed out… they are called worldly because they do not look like the world.

48   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

John (#39): Revelance to Western subcultures **is** defined by outward apppearance…

Wow, you just hit a home run, dude. In just a few words, you managed to crystallize the (hideously incorrect) viewpoint of those that I was addressing. How incredibly sad when a subculture gets reduced to its outward appearance.

Of course, on the plus side, you *did* finally get around to inadvertently answering the question of the OP.

49   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Nathan, #41

You have not addressed why subcultures dress differently, e.g., blue hair and multiple piercings. Is not the root rebellion against some preceived standard? It’s a two way street.

50   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Neil, #45. I agree. My list was not meant to be exhaustive.

51   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Eric (#42): Usually to me would mean “almost always”, and I have observed many instances where this is not the case.

Your earlier proposal that “[p]erhaps we are reading in different places” is apparently accurate. I’m happy to add a “in my experience”, but I stand by my “usually”.

52   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Neil, #45. I agree. My list was not meant to be exhaustive.

the issue is not the exhaustive nature of the list. the issue is reducing sub-cultures to the outward appearance.

in other words – what i meant to say is what brendt said in 48.

53   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Nathan, #41

You have not addressed why subcultures dress differently, e.g., blue hair and multiple piercings. Is not the root rebellion against some preceived standard? It’s a two way street.

why they do it is irrelevant. and certainly not the point of the op.

54   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 5:19 pm

John (#49): Is not the root rebellion against some preceived standard?

Man, you’re on fire. Another home run.

It’s possible that, for some, your statement is accurate. But you take the illogical leap to over-generalization and tacitly declare that it’s accurate for all.

Same coin, other side.

55   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:19 pm

How incredibly sad when a subculture gets reduced to its outward appearance.

and then the reason for that appearance is demonized.

is a lot of sub-sulture stuff rebellion – sure.

but a lot is not.

and even that that is rebellion may be rebellion against something that needs rebelled against.

56   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:20 pm

this whole discussion reminds me of pastorboy choosing a picture of some sub-culture looking folks as representative of unbelievers.

57   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
January 28th, 2010 at 5:24 pm

You have not addressed why subcultures dress differently, e.g., blue hair and multiple piercings. Is not the root rebellion against some preceived standard? It’s a two way street.

I would say that’s a big leap in judging someone’s motivation. I suspect that a lot of people simply dress and have the tattoos and piercings they do simply because they think they’re cool. I mean, if your mom and dad are OK with it, what exactly are you rebelling against at that point?

Actually, a lot of the people I know who are tattooed and pierced now are in their 40’s. Kid’s rebelling against their parents today probably listen to classical music and threaten them that they’re going to vote Republican.

58   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Kid’s rebelling against their parents today probably listen to classical music and threaten them that they’re going to vote Republican.

for example

59   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
January 28th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

But this argument against the so-called traditional Church’s outcry against “relevance” is just a much a straw man on the part of emergents.

Brendt? Are you a Reformed Emergent? That’s odd to me, though, since that’s not the tradition I thought you followed…

Give me some specific offenders please.

Uhm… How about a certain self-ordained talk-show hostess whose initials are I.S.? I recall a tirade of hers a year or so ago tearing apart churches whose informal “dress code” is jeans & T-shirts.

“dress modestly” has to mean something. Perphaps Chris L could put it into 1st Century Jewish context for us.

This was part of Paul’s instructions for women’s hair and jewelry – and for men not to wear long hair. Each of these things was, in essence, a billboard that said “I’m a temple prostitute for hire…” [I actually have some pics I took of a sign carved in the streets in Ephesus pointing to a house of ill repute...]

First, the word “relevance” or “relevant” is many times used as a quick and easy way to excuse unbiblical various behaviors.

I would agree – but just because someone misuses a word/concept for their own ill end does not make the usage of that word/concept illegitimate. If that was the case, I’d best go toss every tool out of my garage, starting w/ the screwdriver (which has many non-screwdriver uses).

Second, when using the word “relevance” or “relevant”, may often create an implication of the “irrelevance” of pure gospel presentation or of the actions of other Christians.

Since, definitionally, a “pure gospel presentation” is often in the eye of the beholder, it’s awfully hard to do anything without insulting someone. In some ways, ‘relevance’ is just a way of designating the intention to target a cultural niche that is not currently being adequately served by the church (for whatever reason). I don’t know that this means that the part of the church *not* serving it is completely “irrelevant” – it is just “irrelevant” to that particular group.

60   Brendt    http://csaproductions.com/blog/
January 28th, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Chris L (#59): Brendt? Are you a Reformed Emergent?

My soteriology aligns with being Reformed, so I’ll go with ‘yes’ for that part.

I’ve been told incessantly by those who purport to be much smarter than I that I am Emergent. This usually occurs when I do such heinous things as quote a Bible verse that they don’t like or suggest that literally crapping on Doug Pagitt may not be perfectly Christ-like.

Frankly, I don’t see it — but apparently I am.

Chris L (#59): I’d best go toss every tool out of my garage, starting w/ the screwdriver (which has many non-screwdriver uses).

And (gasp) shares its name with an alcoholic beverage.

61   nathan    
January 28th, 2010 at 9:31 pm

@John Hughes…

rebellion against what?

middle class social sensibilities?

sure…maybe…

but since when are those sensibilities privileged or more christian.

62   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Chris L: This was part of Paul’s instructions for women’s hair and jewelry – and for men not to wear long hair. Each of these things was, in essence, a billboard that said “I’m a temple prostitute for hire…”

The temple prostitute inference is beside the point (or actually supports it really) and you are mixing two different contexts. The long hair on men vs. short hair on women is from 1 Cor 11:15 passage which has nothing to say regarding dress styles.

The dress styles issue is from 1 Tim 2:9 and is repeated almost verbatim by Peter is 1 Peter 3:3. Although the veiled reference to “appearing like a prostitute” is an accepted and valid possible background reference made by Paul and Peter in these passages, it is also true and accepted this this could equally refer to the wealthy women of the Greco/Roman society of that day (or any era for that matter) who wore expensive jewelry for attention as the many frescos from that era attest. The preferred adornment of Christian woman is good deeds. Most scholars do not content this prohibits any jewelry at all.

But let’s bring this into the context of this discussion. Do you believe Paul would turn around and tell Dorcas, for example, that it was OK for her to dress like the prostitutes of the day in order to witness to them?

63   John Hughes    
January 28th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

#57 – That is certainly a possibility.

#61 – but since when are those sensibilities privileged or more christian.

Well in the absolute sense middle class sensibilities are not necessarily more Christian, especially in America’s money crazed society.

Again, I think the key is to look at people through the lense of Christ, i.e, at their potentiality in Christ, not at their external appearance. This takes discipline as it is only human nature to look down on those who are different than us. But again, in our society we tend to make heroes out of rebels and what is seen as a negative for the “normal” middle class, when, truth be told, the fringe looks upon the “normals” with just as much if not more disdain because of their outward conformity. I read the palatable disdain by many here of the prejudices of “normal” folk (perhaps rightly so) but no disdain for the equally prejudiced views of the “fringe” against the “normals”. Again, in my opinion, the rebel is idealized.

So I will return to my original premise: “If” a person’s outward appearance is based on rebellion against a perceived norm, is that something a Christian should emulate? “If” a person’s outward appearance is intended to sensually entice the opposite sex, is that something a Christian should emulate? If a person’s outward appearance is intended to draw attention to themselves is that something a Christian should emulate?

64   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Do you believe Paul would turn around and tell Dorcas, for example, that it was OK for her to dress like the prostitutes of the day in order to witness to them?

this may be an interesting question. but it is absolutely irrelevant, or at least way too anecdotal, to the op.

65   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 10:17 pm

So I will return to my original premise: “If” a person’s outward appearance is based on rebellion against a perceived norm, is that something a Christian should emulate? “If” a person’s outward appearance is intended to sensually entice the opposite sex, is that something a Christian should emulate? If a person’s outward appearance is intended to draw attention to themselves is that something a Christian should emulate?

maybe
no
and maybe

now, can we dispense with the tangent of outward appearance?

66   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
January 28th, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Do you believe Paul would turn around and tell Dorcas, for example, that it was OK for her to dress like the prostitutes of the day in order to witness to them?

Well, since the profession of prostitution is, itself, sinful, then no. But that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to modern subcultures, which are not ontologically sinful…

67   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 11:13 pm

re 65…

ok, maybe the whole outward appearance question is not tangential… but it is certainly shallow. appearance is simply the veneer of what constitutes a sub-culture.

68   Neil    
January 28th, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Well, since the profession of prostitution is…

and why jump to an obviously extreme and immoral example?

69   john hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:20 am

modern subcultures, which are not ontologically sinful…

Many subcultures are ontologically sinful.

Many biker subcultures are ontologically sinful.

Gang banger subcultures are ontologically sinful

The Hollywood subculture is ontologically sinful

The mafia subculture is ontologically sinful.

The Wallstreet elite subculture is ontologically sinful.

Many, many people emulate these.

Many music based subcultures are ontologically sinful.

70   john hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:21 am

“Pants on the ground”, guys!

Goodnight!

71   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:52 am

the longer this goes on, the more brendt’s point is illustrated.

72   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
January 29th, 2010 at 8:10 am

Many subcultures are ontologically sinful.

Many biker subcultures are ontologically sinful.

Gang banger subcultures are ontologically sinful

The Hollywood subculture is ontologically sinful

The mafia subculture is ontologically sinful.

The Wallstreet elite subculture is ontologically sinful.

Many, many people emulate these.

Many music based subcultures are ontologically sinful.

I don’t really see how this even relates to what Brendt wrote, other than that you may be saying that since these cultures are “ontologically sinful” it is simply wrong to do anything special to try to be missionally relevant to them. By the way, it wasn’t uncommon among people to criticize missionaries to foreign lands by saying that the cultures they were trying to reach were inherently sinful. Thankfully, most missionaries ignored this criticism.

Also I’d say that I’d question calling something like the “Hollywood subculture” ontologically sinful. Does that simply mean that a Christian cannot be an actor, producer, or director? Yes, there are certainly plenty of things that come out of Hollywood that aren’t good, but to condemn the whole thing outright – well, I just don’t get it.

So I will return to my original premise: “If” a person’s outward appearance is based on rebellion against a perceived norm, is that something a Christian should emulate? “If” a person’s outward appearance is intended to sensually entice the opposite sex, is that something a Christian should emulate? If a person’s outward appearance is intended to draw attention to themselves is that something a Christian should emulate?

Again, what id the perceived norm? The perceived norm can change from family to family. Was John the Baptist rebelling by wearing clothes made out of camel’s hair? I could see your point about wearing clothes to entice the opposite sex (as if that’s something I could ever do anyway…). As far as drawing attention to ourselves, again I’d say go into certain parts of the city wearing a suit and tie, and you’ll definitely draw attention to yourself.

73   John Hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 9:14 am

Phil,

#72 was in response to one of Chris’ comments.

I don’t really see how this even relates to what Brendt wrote, other than that you may be saying that since these cultures are “ontologically sinful” it is simply wrong to do anything special to try to be missionally relevant to them.

That is taking what I have been arguing way beyond what I have ever intended.

I think a person should just do what God would have them do, dress like God would have them dress and not loose any sleep over what people like me think about their behavior. that’s what I think. ;-)

74   John Hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 9:26 am

Great observation Brendt. The church in America today is so quick to judge, so hypocritical and so superficial they can barely see past the foam on their latté’s. I am so glad we are not like that.

75   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 10:35 am

Many biker subcultures are ontologically sinful.

Gang banger subcultures are ontologically sinful

The Hollywood subculture is ontologically sinful

The mafia subculture is ontologically sinful.

The Wallstreet elite subculture is ontologically sinful.

Many, many people emulate these.

Many music based subcultures are ontologically sinful.

first – no one has advocated that someone join a biker gang, run drugs and guns, all in the hopes if reaching them. – therefore irrelevant!

second – these are sweeping generalizations that are comically stereotypical – therefore insulting!

76   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 10:40 am

this raises the important question on whether or not a culture or sub-culture can be ontologically sinful. Is this even acceptable language?

i have met many navajo believers who, as children, were forbidden from speaking navajo, dressing navajo, acting navajo – because an anglo missionary told them that their culture was evil.

and if we decide a culture or sub-culture is ontologically sinful – does that mean others (ours most likely) are not?

77   Eric    
January 29th, 2010 at 10:56 am

Chris L,

In Re: #59, wherein you made the following comments/responses to my original comment in this thread:

“I would agree – but just because someone misuses a word/concept for their own ill end does not make the usage of that word/concept illegitimate. If that was the case, I’d best go toss every tool out of my garage, starting w/ the screwdriver (which has many non-screwdriver uses).”

and

“Since, definitionally, a “pure gospel presentation” is often in the eye of the beholder, it’s awfully hard to do anything without insulting someone. In some ways, ‘relevance’ is just a way of designating the intention to target a cultural niche that is not currently being adequately served by the church (for whatever reason). I don’t know that this means that the part of the church *not* serving it is completely “irrelevant” – it is just “irrelevant” to that particular group.”

To be clear, I was certainly not attempting an aplogia for what I have observed, rather merely attempting to provide Brendt with an answer to the question that he posed. Perhaps I should have left out the “pure” and stuck with “gospel presentation”, as we can distinctively define the biblical concept of the gospel and we can observe that there are areas of modern Christianity that bandy the term “relevant” around quite frequently and are noticeably deficient in presentation of the gospel.

So, to conclude, my original answer to Brendt’s question was an attempt to show that there are legitimate roots and grounds to many uses (or abuses) of “relevant”, but as with many categories of legitimate objection, some will over-reach and provide unbalanced analysis. Just as illegitimate expressions of “relevance” do not cause us to throw legitimate expressions of relevance, so also illegitimate critiques of relevance should not cause us to discount throw out legitimate critiques of relevance.

78   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
January 29th, 2010 at 10:59 am

Eric – I agree… thanks!

79   Paul C    http://www.thepath.cc
January 29th, 2010 at 11:03 am

this raises the important question on whether or not a culture or sub-culture can be ontologically sinful. Is this even acceptable language?

Yes.

80   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 11:05 am

good thoughts eric

81   bretts    
January 29th, 2010 at 11:40 am

I’d best go toss every tool out of my garage, starting w/ the screwdriver (which has many non-screwdriver uses)

Just make sure you hold on to the duct tape for survival.

82   John Hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:14 pm

second – these are sweeping generalizations that are comically stereotypical – therefore insulting!

Sorry Neil. Didn’t mean to insult the Mafia. Please tell Guido I’m sorry. :-)

83   John Hughes    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Eric. Very well put.

84   nathan    
January 29th, 2010 at 12:34 pm

middle class social respectability is an ontologically sinful sub-culture.

it tends to pride itself on acquisition, image, living out of fear of perception–i.e man-centered, self-fulfillment. I could go on and on with generalizations that could support an argument to eschew this whole culture in the name Christ.

Why should any of that be privileged or the norm?

The “mafia” may have features of “culture”, but the mafia is in itself a criminal conspiracy with systems of operating…not a culture per se.

I’m sorry, John, but the whole Hollywood culture thing…gimme a break.

Hollywood is reflective of the culture at large.

There is no Hollywood cabal…

85   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 1:21 pm
this raises the important question on whether or not a culture or sub-culture can be ontologically sinful. Is this even acceptable language?

Yes.

and of course i would say “no”

to speak of a culture (sub or otherwise) as being ontologically sinful is arrogant and condescending. it implies that there are those which are not… and this fromthe perspective of the one saying the other is sinful.

this is ethnocentric imperialism.

it’s smacks of western christendom that sought to export not just their faith but their culture as well.

cut the hair of the native!
dress them in shirts and ties!
make them more like proper civilized englishmen.

tell the punks to wash the die form their hair!

tell those with bikes and tattoos and vests covered with patches that they are sinners!

unlike us – of course.

86   Paul C    http://www.thepath.cc
January 29th, 2010 at 1:37 pm

to speak of a culture (sub or otherwise) as being ontologically sinful is arrogant and condescending.

By nature man is sinful, therefore the culture in which he lives/grows up in will also be sinful. It will miss the mark.

Whether it’s the Amish or the Vodou practitioner of West Africa. But there are varying degrees of evil/sin (missing the mark) present in different cultures. There are some cultures in which the Devil seems to have a greater foothold than in others.

If you research some cultures, you will see that some of them are extremely more self-destructive (not even speaking of religion) than are others.

87   Neil    
January 29th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

re 86

this is true. but what you say in 86, that various cultures have varying degrees of evil/sin in them is significantly different than calling someone’s culture ontologically evil.