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Jesus & The Coolness Factor

Cool dude

by Dennis Pollock

I was watching a morning news program in early January when the various program hosts shared their New Year's resolutions. One attractive, articulate woman shared her resolution to increase her time in meditation, and then another joined in and declared that she, too, needed to do more meditating. It would have been amusing if it had not been so sad to see these top-notch media professionals talking about such things. Practices like meditation are quite fashionable these days among celebrities, and are certain to win a nod of approval from their peers. How different it would have been had one of them said that they had resolved to pray more, or read the Bible more, or that they wanted to spend the year in getting to know Jesus better! Such a pronouncement would have likely been followed by an awkward silence. Jesus Christ, the Bible, and prayer to the God of the Bible have never been considered very cool in the eyes of this world.

Worldly Cool

The concept of cool is in some ways reminiscent of the comment by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in speaking of obscenity. He admitted that he might not be able to clearly define it, but said, "I know it when I see it." In the same way, cool is something people generally recognize when they see it; however one group's version of cool may be quite different from that of another group. Still, there are some factors that are fairly widespread and pretty much universal. Pretty people are generally considered more cool than ugly people, everything else being equal. People with a great sense of humor are cool in most people's eyes; people who rarely smile are not. Glib, articulate individuals are often considered more cool than those whose words come stumbling out of their mouths. Outgoing is cool; introverted is uncool. People who thrive at parties rise very high on the cool-meter; those who stand in a corner without anyone to talk to are at the bottom. Athletes are cool; math teachers… not so much!

And then there are those factors that do not relate so much to personal attributes as to position – things like power, wealth, fame, and influence. In every group, club, society, culture, and nation there will be certain people who rise to the top levels. Politicians, athletes, billionaires, and celebrities are looked up to, not always because of their personal coolness, but because they are what they are and they have reached a level of which others can only dream.

Jerusalem Cool

During Jesus' day, the cool folks were mostly related to the Jews' religious beliefs and practices. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the scribes, the theological "lawyers," and the chief priests were the movers and shakers of Israel, the kind of men every Jewish momma wished her sons to be when they grew up. These men were given the best seats at the feasts and parties, and the most prominent positions in the synagogues. They walked the streets of Israel with great pride and a little religious swagger, knowing how incredibly superior they were to the common folks who looked on them with awe and reverence. In the view of the ordinary Israelite, such men surely lived very, very close to God!

PhariseeWhen Jesus rose to prominence in Israel, He didn't fit in with this group at all. He rubbed shoulders freely with the most common and poor people, and even sat at meals with the despised tax collectors and other "sinners." What was worse, He paid virtually no attention to their many rules, traditions, and rituals. In short, Jesus broke about every standard for cool that existed in those days. And when challenged about His actions, the young Teacher answered back without respect for their superior position, and always gave better than He got. In addition to all this, this new phenomenon was from the hill country of Galilee. Jesus was, to put it in our terms, a "country boy" who had no training in the popular Jewish universities. He and His mostly Galilean disciples had come from the land of fishermen, and now He presumed to correct the Jerusalem-trained theologians and legal experts in Mosaic law! Given all this, along with Jesus' overwhelming popularity with the common folks, the resulting clash and His eventual murder were pretty much inevitable. It was just a matter of time and opportunity.

The Clash Today

Just as in the days of Jesus, today there is likewise a vast disparity between the world's version of cool and God's description of life in Christ Jesus. The problem today is not so far off from the situation that existed in Jesus' day – the people who have risen to the top of our culture and society are, for the most part, far from God. If coolness were merely defined by certain personality traits, there wouldn't be much of an issue. But in our world's version of cool there is something beyond personality. There is a certain irreverence, a bit of naughtiness, a dose of sexuality that has been mixed in to define what is cool. Cool people are not merely those who are clever, pretty, and outgoing. They are also slightly, or often significantly immoral and unwilling to live by Biblical standards of righteousness. The cool man is not just clever and funny; he also sleeps with every girl he dates and cracks naughty jokes at the office. The cool lady is not only pretty and outgoing; she wears tops showing half her bosom and curses freely. They probably feel they have no choice – to live chastely and morally would mean losing their membership in the coolness club, and they would be labeled with that most insulting of all slurs – a "goody-goody."  

The single most disqualifying factor in one's quest to attain coolness is the name of Jesus Christ. Of course you can use that name as a slang word without any problem. It will even add to your coolness rating to do so. But should you ever speak of Jesus reverently, any hope you may have of appearing cool will disappear like an ice cube on a Texas sidewalk in July. The world, with its ungodly focus upon glitz and glamour, with its preoccupation with sex and sensuality, with its worship of money, status, and position, has never been comfortable with Jesus, the One who declares, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). Actually the Bible tells us that it is far more than merely being uncomfortable. In fact there is an enmity between the world, with its prescribed version of cool, and Christ with His demands for righteousness, love, and humility. James writes: " Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Paul agrees, and writes: "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).

Solving the Issue

How shall we who are in Christ deal with this lack of coolness in the eyes of the world? The answer is not to try a little harder, be a little funnier, laugh a little louder, go to more parties, dress more fashionably, talk more, and read self-help books on social skills. Rather it is to follow our Lord's lead and give up entirely on any ambitions we have in this matter. Jesus didn't seem to mind that He was unpopular in certain quarters, and even rebuked some who were apparently too popular. He told them, "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). What a strange rebuke! These people were told by Jesus that the world could not hate them as though this was a bad thing – the world should have hated them but it could not. They were just too inoffensive. I wonder if there are some ministers today that are simply too popular. Everybody loves them. They smile beautifully as they tell the world that Jesus exists to make their wildest dreams come true, and that regardless of their sins and wretched lives, they look wonderful to God, and He thinks they are swell. Surely if Jesus offended the carnal people of His day, when He lives His life in us we will offend a few folks in ours. The world hasn't changed so much that it now values and honors those whose lives are all about Christ. The enmity still exists. Live all out for Jesus and somebody, sometime, somewhere, at some point will take a disliking to you and may even attempt to make your life miserable. "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

In the Church

Not many wisePaul dealt with the coolness issue as he talked about the makeup of the church. He wrote to the believers in Corinth:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

It was true then and it is still true today. Yes, we evangelicals have our intellectuals, we have our wealthy, we have our outstanding singers and beautiful people… but not too many. Most folks who rise to the top of society, whether it be in politics, entertainment, athletics, or business tend to be way too full of themselves to ever make room for Jesus. They can in no way "humble themselves as a little child" and enter the kingdom of God. And so we common people comprise the majority of the multitudes of believers that make up the family of God and the church of Jesus Christ.

Shaming the Powerful

Interestingly enough, Paul tells us God did it that way deliberately. He wanted to shame this world's intelligentsia. He wanted to bypass the beautiful celebrities who love to attend their awards ceremonies, dressed in their lavish and expensive gowns and tuxedos, and filled with self-importance and pride over their successes and accomplishments. Instead he reaches into the lives of ordinary housewives, frustrated store clerks, school teachers struggling to make ends meet, harassed insurance salesman, broken-hearted single moms, and exhausted construction workers, revealing to them the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, granting them in a moment the priceless gift of eternal life.

The real issue is, "Whose praise is the more valuable: man's or God's?" John tells us that some of the leaders refused to publicly acknowledge Jesus "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42,43). Jesus seemed to anticipate our inordinate desire to appear impressive before others, and how spiritually fatal this tendency can be, declaring, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed" (Mark 8:38).

Of course, in another sense Jesus was very, very cool. He certainly was attractive to the common folks who made up the majority of the people of Israel, and huge crowds by the thousands followed Him constantly. He was the biggest celebrity Israel ever had, and His name was on the lips of the entire nation. And then there were the miracles. Anybody that can raise the dead, walk on water, and heal blind and deaf people has got to be pretty cool. As in so many other ways Jesus didn't easily fit into a particular category. He was uncool, but He was incredibly cool. He was loved and He was hated. He forgave adulterers, but blasted the moralistic Pharisees. He refused the crowds who wanted to make Him king, yet demanded absolute authority over the lives of all who would follow Him. He had so much charisma that people came to Him from every part of Israel, yet was so offensive to the leaders of Israel that they determined to kill Him.

To all who dare follow Him today, He exhorts us through His inspired word, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" (Romans 12:2). Let us then follow our Master, rejecting the quest for coolness and this world's approval, and seeking always to please Him. He is worthy.

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