The church has the most important piece of knowledge in history: God is real; He walked the earth 2,000 years ago; and He lived, died, and was raised on the third day. But this does not mean the church has a monopoly on all knowledge. God has gifted many men and women throughout history with amazing knowledge and wisdom and they have heavily influenced our culture. Learning from culture may not to make our churches bigger or turn everyone into dynamic preachers, but it just might help us all become better communicators of the gospel.
In the old show Boy Meets World, Mr. Feeny was a pillar character. If you saw that older gentleman walking down the street in his vested suit and glasses and heard him calling a bunch of junior high students Mr. and Ms. so-and-so, would you classify him as “cool?” Neither would I.
But we are not supposed to see Mr. Feeny as cool. We see him as respectable. We respect him, not because he fits into our model of “cool,” but because he doesn’t. Nor does he care that he doesn’t. He is who he is. He knows he has something to offer that is much more important than impressing students with the ability to model the latest fad. He has a job to do and is too focused on being successful at that task to give time to coolness.
The church wasn’t created to be cool. She was created to be transformational. It seems many churches in America have forgotten that. Our beliefs do not line up with the values of a culture that celebrates sin, so we try to compensate for our uptightness by singing cool music, wearing jeans and cool shirts on stage, or using cool video illustrations from popular movies on massive screens that bookend an amazing stage. None of those practices is sinful, but if we worry more about them than being certain that people are receiving and understanding the gospel, we have missed the point.
Google, Apple, Chick-fil-a. Each company is out to do one thing. Be a great search engine. Create a simple, elegant computer. Craft an amazing chicken sandwich. They may add lesser projects such as Google Cars, Apple iEverything, and amazing Chick-fil-a waffle fries with Polynesian sauce, but they are still primarily focused on and primarily known for their central products. Chick-fil-a could probably make a tasty hamburger, but that is outside of its core mission.
The church also should be about one thing: the gospel. Everything we do, say, think, sing, speak, should point to it. There are many things the church could be very good at, but if it does not fall under its primary mission, we must turn it away. If this sounds like we should be obsessed with the gospel, well…
Think of Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Sherlock, everything on Tumblr. With anything that exists, there are people obsessed with it. They schedule their days around the hour when their favorite show comes on. They will turn their phone on silent during that time, unless they are live-tweeting the episode. They will decline invitations to hang out with friends because they can’t miss the thing they love so much.
When was the last time we were that excited about Christ? Are we willing to schedule our day around time spent with God? Are we willing to say no to friends on Saturday night because we do not want to be tired in Sunday morning worship? Do we share and invite them to join us in a pew with the same enthusiasm we would invite someone into our living room?
If I find a new show and become excited about it, I cannot help but bring it up to my friends because I want them to experience the awesomeness that is my show. My friends know what I geek out about (my kids, Doctor Who, a specific brand of water bottle). But I don’t believe they would classify me as obsessed over Jesus. That is a heartbreaking confession to type for the Internet to see. But I am willing to bet I am not the only one that statement is true for.
One of my favorite scenes from the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Authur Conan Doyle, and portrayed excellently in the contemporary television series, Sherlock, is when Dr. Watson becomes bemused by Holmes’ ignorance of the solar system. In A Study in Scarlet, Watson expresses his surprise that a man in the nineteenth century does not know the earth goes around the sun. Sherlock responds, “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it… I consider a man’s brain is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.”
The church does not have to know all things and excel at all things. This means there will be things that are not necessary to know. I know many great, godly people who cannot tell you a single New York Times bestseller. They could not name any movie in the running for the Oscars. But they can articulate who God is and why He chooses to love you. They can see your needs and minister to you with love, sacrifice, and humility.
Does that mean we can’t have other interests or be knowledgeable about things like books or movies? Of course not, but it does mean those other interests should fall subservient to our primary focus. It also means when someone is astounded we do not know a piece of pop-culture, we can embrace our uncoolness and simply explain the beautiful gospel we are obsessed with.