No One Wants a Church That is Embarrassed by its Churchiness

Seeker-friendly Christianity tried to revive the church by infusing it with the logic of the marketplace. Hipster Christianity tried to revive the church by obsessing over newness and relevance. Both of these approaches were efforts to address Christianity’s PR problem, attempting to convince an increasingly secular population that Christianity isn’t as weird, stodgy, traditionalistic, legalistic, homophobic, judgmental, anti-intellectual, regressive and conservative as they thought it was.

An admirable goal, to be sure.

Yet as typically happens the pendulum with these approaches swung too far in the other direction, to the point that Christianity became more about apologizing for itself and affirming the culture than about extolling Christ and transforming the culture.

Rather than pointing confidently to the way of Christ, the church has narcissistically critiqued itself and praised the culture, all while Christ is relegated to a supporting actor role. In our echo chamber we’ve busily churned out books and blog posts about all the things we’re bad at and all the ways we can learn from Breaking Bad, Buddhism, David Foster Wallace, and [insert a Zeitgeisty pop culture item here]. But apparently we’re too bored (or ashamed) to bother with what we can learn from the Bible (ugh, so clichéd!).

Instead of celebrating the fact that Christianity has contributed good things to the world for two thousand years, the increasingly unpopular church feels the need to talk only about the bad things she has done. Rather than drawing from her rich heritage of time-tested tradition, today’s church chooses to adopt last week’s fashion so as to be relevant again.

We’ve become bored with our story or just ignorant of it, and so naturally others have too. We’re a bride who forgets why she fell in love in the first place. We’re a bride who often takes off her wedding ring in public. We’ve lost eyes to see the loveliness of the covenant we are in because we’re too preoccupied with how skeptical onlookers see us. We assume the only way hipsters and seekers and anyone else might like us is if we offer a “safe place” Christianity, one with endless caveats, asterisks, apologies, and trigger warnings (and fair-trade coffee).

Yet seeker-friendly and hipster Christianity failed to invigorate contemporary Christianity because they’ve been too embarrassed to lead with the admittedly uncomfortable truth that a Christianity with no teeth, no offensiveness, no cost and no discomfort is not really Christianity at all. It attracts the masses to something vaguely moralistic and therapeutic, but mostly just affirms their “eat whatever fruit you want” freedom and status quo comfort.

On the contrary, uncomfortable church is what grows and stretches and builds the body of Christ to be effective in the world. It may be seeker unfriendly, but it will be friendlier to seekers in the long term because it will actually transform them.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community (Crossway, September 2017).