January 27, 2021

No Riffs/Just Read: Jared Wilson on the “Cool/Uncool” Christian Videos

jaredw.jpgIt’s not often that I don’t have anything to say, but I would insult you to try and add to anything my brother Jared Wilson says in this post lamenting the “cool Christian/uncool Christian” video ads used by some churches.

This is raw, honest, real stuff. It’s the lament for and about the gospel we need to hear in pulpits and pews.

Read: Jared Wilson on “A Gospel Rant.”


  1. I love how everyone turns it into an us versus them video. People HAVE to realize that their churches and practices are alienating others. It ever amuses me that you endorse such a view of the videos, Michael, since just yesterday you were arguing for the same point of view. There are obviously several things missing and broken about the evangelical and fundamentalist traditions (and alas, that’s where the stereotypical ‘Christian’ is found). I think that these videos place some of those things at the forefront to make a point.

    At any rate, I hope that everyone will take the time to read this interview with the creators of the videoes: http://www.faithvisuals.com/help/articles/creatingaviralvideo.html

    And just for fun of stirring the pot, the reason that I am Emergent IS the gospel, not because it is hip or cool. I seriously doubt that anyone would find my own spiritual praxis to be “cool” by any means [‘High’ UMC worship, weekly ‘high’ liturgical Eucharist gathering, etc.]. Additionally, because I take the gospel seriously, I take its call to action seriously. The shift away from mere-propositional faith to a praxis-based faith is a positive one (not another ‘behaviouristic’ gospel) and one worth nourishing.

    So instead of using this as yet another platform for railing against “those people”, why not take the time to figure out what they might have been doing when they created the videos in the first place? Why not take the time for self-reflection, rather than just another ill-conceived hypocritical rant?

  2. “Created” would be an overstatement Matt. Ripping off Mac creative would be more accurate.

    And “just another ill-conceived hypocritical rant” would be rather nasty hyperbole, would it not?

    Might I also suggest that Michael’s response to the Lifeway nonsense is consistent with his response to the Mac-rip off videos.

  3. Read it. Not impressed. Sorry.

    When you make the point that one listens to U2 and the other to Christian radio, how is that anything to do with the Gospel?

    I listen to U2. I look more like the guy on the right and ahve more in common with him.
    So I’m not feeling poked by this stuff.

    I just find it silly and needlessly divisive.

    And if you think the iMonk (or me, I guess) don’t take time for self-reflection . . . where have you been?

  4. Creativity has run its course folks. We’ve had enough.

    “Hypocritical.” Couldn’t you be more creative? That’s just plain ignorant.

  5. OK Matt. I’ve had time to digest what you’re saying.

    1) If you go to the watchblogosphere, my other blog is currently being called out as emergent.

    2) I’ve defended the EC over and over here.

    3) Your knee jerk reaction makes certain EC stereotypes seem rather credible.

    4) You were doing great till you got personal. Where do you get the right to move past the topic and start calling people “hypocrites?” You don’t know anything about me or Jared.

    5) If you believe your way is beyond criticism becomes it’s so sincere and creative, let me be the first to disavow you of the idea that methodology is sacred if someone says it works.

  6. 1) My comments were aimed at the post in question, not to Michael per se. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and agree with you on many issues. It’s not personal, I promise… 🙂

    2) It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve been following this for a while now, ever since I first saw the videos on YouTube and the comments that followed. I’m genuinely surprised that this is your view on them. We’re all trying to figure out what it means to be Church and be Christian. The point of the videos was to be a stepping stone towards that conversation. Why are we all assuming the worst? How about understanding where they may be coming from? (A criticism very easily turned around, I realize.)

    3) Perhaps hypocritical was a poor choice, but allow me to explain what I meant. He starts his post by being upset that the videos turned “us” versus “them”, but by the end of the post he himself is engaging in “us” versus “them” commentary. “They”, “Them”, and “These People” are all used in the final paragraphs. It had nothing to do with either the original author’s or Michael’s actions in their respective lives. So perhaps, “inconsistent” would be a more accurate term. That said, how is the post supposed to be taken as non-decisive? “Those EC folks, they just don’t care about the gospel. They are just care about being hip and cool.” Eh?

    4) I don’t believe that ANY position or methodology is above criticism. There are many things about Emergent that I don’t care for (their commitment to Post-Modernism for one). Reasoned critique is welcome and fruitful. However, even the original author knew that his post was “a rant”.

  7. I think I referred to EC exactly once, in the phrase “em-church poseurs.” Poor phrasing, as I was referring to an aesthetic facade meant to pass for authenticity, not necessarily to the emerging (or emergent) church.

    Read the whole thing.

    How, Matt, do you criticize someone without making a division?
    Is criticism ever okay?
    On what basis may one criticize?

    Do you see a difference at all in the “them” I’m calling out and the “them” the videos are?

    As you acknowledge, I did know it was a rant. I said it was. I said it would appear disjointed.

    No one has yet mentioned (noticed) that I conclude the piece by confessing of my own idolatry.

    I do believe the enemy is “us.”

  8. The word “authentic” has become the new “religious”. It has lost about all informational value and these videos kind of show that.

    I do think Jared and Michael are correct in their criticism of the clips, Matt. This doesn’t fix anything that is broken in evangelicalism. It doesn’t even give “information” that is different than what it is criticizing. It works on impressions and feelings. The guy on the left, “religious”, doesn’t make me feel as good as the guy on the left, “authentic”. Therefore it is good to be authentic. This is exactly what is wrong with the church…no information, just feeling.

    The “religious” side of the church has their faux-holy armament like the videos portray, and the “authentic” side uses their “coolness” to Bible-beat just as hard as the fundamentalists.

    People read McClaren’s “Generous Orthodoxy” as somehow an open-handed attempt to be ecumenical among American Christians, but it is just as much a polemic aimed at conservatives as John McArthur’s “Truth War” is aimed at emergents.

    Authenticity and Postmodernism vs. Divisive Convcition and Orthodoxy. The sad pairings of opposites leave us forgetting that orthodoxy can exist within a sphere of openess and true authenticity. And conviction need not be divisive if it is lovingly corrective and not mere labeling.

  9. Ah, Jared. The famous Pogo quote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” You’re much too young to remember the Walt Kelly comic, aren’t you?

    On further reflection, perhaps the Pogo strip is a prophetic foretaste of the blogosphere. This This Walt Kelly character reminds me of a certain always-right watchblogger who really should give Photoshop a rest.

  10. Scott Eaton says

    Thank you for linking to this, Michael. And thank you, Jared, for writing it.

    Permit me a moment of transparency. As an overweight, 40 year old (in October), graying, unathelic, not so cool pastor who loves Jesus and people and finds his only hope in the gospel, the cross, and grace, your post encouraged me deeply.

    Many times I get so discouraged in ministry precisely because I am “not cool.” How stupid is that? Yet, this is the message communicated today. If you are not cool – wearing cool clothes, cool glasses, with cool facial hair, having a cool staff, a cool building, a cool sound system, a cool band, a cool (fill in the blank here) – then you are irrelevant, washed up and ineffective for Christ. It has been enough to make me wonder if, being rather “uncool,” I should continue on in ministry.

    But this is foolish and silly. I will not quit the ministry for that reason (I am not that pathetic!). I was called into the ministry by the one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Additionally, “he was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Sounds completely “uncool” to me.

    And I hope I do not have a “cool” ministry, but a minstry that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, centered upon Christ, focused upon the cross, and glorifying to God. A ministry where the “cool” and “uncool” alike can gather together to worship our crucified and risen Lord. A place where people of diverse social, econcomic and racial backgrounds can come together. A place where the Bible is faithfully taught and Jesus is enthusiastically praised.

    Now that would be cool.

  11. This has been a beef of mine for years. Not a beef, really, but something that brings sadness to my soul. Why do so many Christians find the need to prove to the world that they are “cool” above everything else? That you can follow Christ and still be cool. Your music, clothes, speech, entertainment can be just a cool. Doesn’t Christ make us new creatures? I don’t get what hipness, coolness, whatever you call it, has to do with it. God is the God of all the universe, but loves all; the cool and the uncool. Romans 12:2 tells us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,…”; it does not tell us to be as cool as can be.

  12. Scott, your comment has encouraged me deeply.

    Hope you don’t mind if I share it sometime soon at Gospel-Driven Church.

  13. I am decidedly uncool (actually the “uncool” guy in the ad would look pretty cool next to me), but I guess I took the ad to be making pretty much the same point noted by several above:

    “Traditional” churches can create barriers by implicitly privileging a way of dressing, a way of talking, a set of political opinions & etc.

    To be sure, nontraditional churches can do the same thing, and it’s equally bad. But I guess I didn’t take the “cool” guy to be saying “you gotta dress like me to come to my church.”

    Maybe the mistake was to make the alternative guy look too cool. Maybe if they had chosen a frumpy, 40-something ex-hippie or something, then the ad wouldn’t be taken as a sneer rather than as a warranted criticism.

  14. Scott Eaton says

    Jared – I don’t mind a bit.

  15. Regardless of what we think of the content of Jared’s rant, I wonder if anyone else was disturbed by the tone and the language. The anger was obvious and extreme, as was the language: pissed off, lying bastard, antichrist, etc. For those called to be the meek, the peacemakers, the ones who return blessings for curses, I can’t see how such language honors Christ or furthers his purpose. No judgment here, just an expression of concern. I do not know Jared and have no right to questions his motives or his sincerity. How he expresses his concern is another matter…

    Peace of Christ,


  16. OK. He is angry. Is he angry at something that God isn’t angry at? I really want to know. No snark.

  17. When I was in high school, our choir performed the musical Oklahoma. I auditioned for the part of Curley. I didn’t get the part (so I should probably warn that what follows may be the result of unresolved bitterness). I made an observation. Curley is usually played by someone fairly good looking with an average or better voice. On the other hand, Judd (the evil, wicked, mean and nasty villain) is usually played by someone who is not so good looking (often over weight by the ‘in’ standards of the day) with a very good voice. I’ve seen several high school productions of Oklahoma since then and have not seen this pattern broken. Perhaps I should be outraged. How dare we teach that evil is manifested in appearance and not in what comes from the heart? Does it not seem odd, however, to get that worked up over such a silly musical?

  18. I’ve been pondering the issue a bit, and after finally being able to watch just two of the videos (we have the accursed dial-up), and after admittedly giggling to myself a bit (sorry, but the caricature of the guy on the left reminded me of people and in-laws I know), I think I’m seeing some of the problems… Obviously the questions are rhetorical.

    1) Like Jared said, “reverse pharisaism”. They’re criticizing a representation of an outward, showy spirituality, and contrasting it with/promoting just another outward image, rather than focusing on the heart of the people involved. The level of sinful pride could be identical in both characters.

    2) Criticism of “formulaic” Christianity and replacing it with a different formula — “less is more” or “less-showy spirituality is genuine spirituality.”

    3) This is supposed to be an advertisement for “authentic Christianity”– so why are “Authentic” and “Christ-Follower” portrayed as having it “all together”?

    I’m not sure how to comment on Jared’s rant as it relates to the charge of ‘reverse-reverse-pharisaism’ per se (I have mixed feelings), but I guess I could ask this to take the issue further:

    Is there a “correct” way to do a similar video?
    Or is the whole premise of the character contrast unredeemable and unhealthy? (I’m talking about the idea of contrasting the stereotypical evangelical character with an assumed more “healthy” character).

    Let’s put it another way… Is there a way to poke fun of the stereotypical overtly-spiritual, pharisaical, evangelical character’s negative (unhealthy) attributes in a way that does NOT devolve into a “reverse-pharisaism”????


  19. First time poster. Tho I believe I might have something to contribute from a unique perspective, I’ll keep it short out of respect to the elders.

    Do not chase after the things pagans chase after.
    Do pagans chase after what is “cool” and trendy?

    Are all things “uncool” Christian or appropriate because it has a Christian label attached to it?

    I fear the Church is headed for a rude awakening,
    or a reformation, in the next 20 years or so.

  20. Temoc…

    Now you have me curious! I am very interested to hear what you think is going to happen in the Church, and what factors are going to bring it about.

    You posted just a few words because you are a new poster. You are off to a good start. Tell me more!

  21. For more than a dozen years, I worked in youth ministry to “at-risk kids.” (All kids are at risk nowadays.) I had the opportunity to work with various affluent and respected churches. At times, the opportunity arose to integrate some of these youth into those churches. This is one perspective on the American church and another perspective on a subculture.

    I have made Christian friends in various third world locations in this hemisphere and have brought Americans to missions trips to these locations. This is another perspective.

    Currently I work in the criminal justice system and have the responsibility to meet with the “worst” of society (murderers, child rapists, etc.)This is the third perspective.

    I can say with a good degree of confidence that the average American church member is completely incapable of ministering to “those people” and does not even dare take the biblically mandated step in that direction. Further, the average American church leader is incapable of ministering to “those people” effectively.

    The majority of church youth do the very same things and have almost the same belief system as pagan youth, except when they are in church. Then they change their external actions, the same as a good student and cheerleader would change her actions at the school pep assembly.

    The typical modern churchgoer has little to no understanding of Christian sacrifice nor holy desire. As the corruption in society becomes pervasive, the church is becoming insular and less invasive.

    I have a book’s worth of “war stories” about the church unwilling to enlist in basic training, much less go to war.

  22. I should have written the last paragraph thusly:
    “I have a book’s worth of war stories and as soon as some publisher contacts me with a juicy offer on the promo package and royalty rights, I’ll sit down to write it.”

  23. Well, I’m a little confused. As such, I’m going to take the dissenting opinion on this one. I like the videos. They present pieces of satire that, as Matt’s article indicates, were meant as lead-in illustrations to teaching moments. So they were meant to be part of a sermon series rather than shown on TV to advertise a particular church over/against another. That criticism is reserved for recent commercials put out by my own denomination.

    The chief issue presented by them is not “cool” vs. “uncool,” although of course it’s a natural byproduct of both the Mac/PC versions and these because of how each representation is…uh…represented. As best I can tell, they present different attitudes toward the Christian life. There’s room for criticising the presentation, as satire always draws that sort of criticism.

    Where I’m confused is, for instance, how the video where the “religious” guy is covered in Christian bumperstickers may be criticised, but a few posts above this one (and elsewhere) we’re picking apart the Christian junk that bookstores sell. Another video has the “religious” guy blaming his being laid off on spiritual warfare, and a few weeks ago here we were discussing the question of whether we can be too “God-centered.” The former is satirical, the latter is more straightforward polemic. Apart from that, however, I don’t see a tremendous difference. Is the main criticism the presentation, or is there something else that I haven’t been able to see? Because it seems that those who are coming down so heavily against them may agree with their basic message if they’d been presented differently.

    (FWIW, I do see the irony in the “religious” guy wearing a t-shirt takeoff of MySpace in a video based on the Mac/PC ads. Like I said, there’s plenty to critique, but the basic message is much the same as I’ve seen in many corners of the blogosphere…including here.)

  24. Jeff
    First thing to notice about the video is the religious guy was a caricature. The authentic guy is not.

    I’ll grant that some “fundy Christians” wear their religion on the sleeve and have trouble connecting with real humans, but let’s take a second and see how it would look if the tables were turned.

    How would an anything-goes, the-world-is-one, Bono (not Sonny… well, him too) accepting, pierced-from-head-to-toe “Acceptance” Christian fare against a Biblically literate, gives to the poor, loves his kids and his neighbors “True” Christian?

  25. Interesting thoughts Jeff. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this.

    Bryan L

  26. Yes Temoc, the “religious” guy was a caricature. That’s a satire trademark. Again, I’m asking if the problem with these videos for people is the presentation.

    If I’m appalled at some of the stuff that Christian bookstores sell and the implication that buying that stuff makes me look more Christian, and yet I’m also appalled at a video that tries to depict that implication in a humorous way, what has changed?

    Again, there is plenty to critique. The video does have an “us vs. them” quality, which again is a byproduct of the chosen medium. But a visual caricature of Christian bookstore junk and a written polemic against Christian bookstore junk ultimately are meant to convey the same thing. In the case of the latter, think of the “authentic” Christian writing the polemic instead of standing next to the caricature.

  27. Mike Taylor says

    I dunno. Like most people, here, I am pretty unhappy about the videos, and also about various other developments in the contemporary Christian scene. But I’d want to be VERY sure of myself before calling someone an “anti-christ” or a “lying bastard”. Surer than I ever expect to be in this life. I’d want to keep Matthew 5:22 in the back of my mind (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matt%205:22).

    Speaking as an evolutionary biologist, I have plenty of opportunities to emphatically disagree with the position held by many prominent Christians. (I wish I didn’t!) I think that, just we hate the sin but love the sinner, we need to make a distinction between how we view a person’s teachings and how we view the individual.

  28. Scott, seriously, if you were near me, you’d be my new pastor. I’m hungry for men of God like you in my life. Seriously achingly hungry.

    Keep going man. “Cool” changes with the seasons. God never changes.

  29. Temoc writes: How would an anything-goes, the-world-is-one, Bono (not Sonny… well, him too) accepting, pierced-from-head-to-toe “Acceptance” Christian fare against a Biblically literate, gives to the poor, loves his kids and his neighbors “True” Christian?

    Hard to say — there are, after all, so few of the latter anyway. Especially in light of how Jesus defines “neighbor.”

    By the way, why do you assume the pierced-from-head-to-toe Bono acceptor isn’t Biblically literate? 🙂

  30. Black Angus says

    My beef with the videos lies in a different direction. I’m sick and tired of Christians ripping off secular ideas and doing it worse than the pagans. As someone has noted, doesn’t the plagarism of the Mac ads nullify claims to ‘authenticity’?
    Francis Schaeffer demanded that Christians be at the vanguard of good art, where we ought to be. Yet there are only a few good Christian movies. Christian rock is generally a poor imitation. And don’t get me started on Christian fiction!
    If people believe they are authentic and cutting edge, then let’s see something original, moving, and dare I say it, artistic.
    Sadly though, when I have seen people do just that (Rob Bell’s Nooma series, JK Rowling) they get hammered by the self-appointed guardians of our souls. I guess you can’t win either way…

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