At a time when the once-vaunted unity of the religious right has eroded and the mainstream media is proclaiming an “evangelical crackup,” Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”
Now, this offends me. It's a silly theology, and thoroughly unpleasant, but more importantly, I don't want a bunch of Christians claiming one of my favorite movies as their own. Obviously they don't get the message, or just don't care.
I better back up. I'm going to assume that most readers of this blog, even if they're American Christians, while possibly knowing the name John Calvin and even having heard of Calvinism, have no idea what it really means. No reason they should. But if you want to know a lot more about Calvinism, check out the Wikipedia entry. As Wikipedia says:
A distinctive issue in Calvinist theology that often is used to represent the whole is the system's particular soteriology, its doctrine of salvation. This doctrine holds that humans are incapable of adding anything to obtain salvation and that God alone is the initiator at every stage of salvation—including the formation of faith and every decision to follow Christ.
Do you get that? You can't work your way to Heaven, nor can you be saved and get to Heaven. You're either going to Heaven or you're not, based on God's decision alone. Which begs the question, why bother? Why bother with anything if you're already saved? Well, as with most denominations it's not really about the details of the theology as much as how comfortable a fit a person finds the church, and evidently this church appeals to a lot of the "edgier" crowd.
In the lobby one Sunday not long ago, college kids in jeans — some sporting nose rings or kitchen-sink dye jobs — lounged on ottomans and thumbed text messages to their friends. The front desk, black and slick, looked as if it ought to offer lattes rather than Bibles and membership pamphlets. Buzz-cut and tattooed security guards mumbled into their headpieces and directed the crowd toward the auditorium, where the worship band was warming up for an hour of hymns with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
But what really makes this kind of church so appealing? Not it's Calvinist theology, surely, nor the fact that face jewelry is acceptable (since it's far easier not to go to church in the first place), but rather its "manlification" of Jesus (I know, that's not a real word).
New members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any “modern” interpretations of the Bible. Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”
What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
Transformed? Here's your problem, guys: the Jesus of the Bible is not presented as some kind of brawny, hairy-chested anti-feminist, bare-knuckled boxing bringer of the message of God. Nobody had to "transform" him into the guy who fed the thousands with the loaves and fishes, or tell everyone that they were to love each other, or showed endless compassion by healing the sick. If you're going to accept the truth of the Bible, well, that's the truth. Even in the churches I grew up going to, which were the completely non-liberal kind where the pastor spent a solid hour yelling at us about damnation and the fires of hell and the Bible is the written word of God, there wasn't any doubt that Jesus was a man of peace and love. It was God who'd send you to hell unless you accepted Jesus into your heart. In other words, the emasculation is all on you, not Jesus. If Jesus doesn't work for you, you're going to have look somewhere else, like the Vikings.
But hey, what do I care about their doctrine? It's not like it's going to affect me one way or the other. People inside the movement may feel the need to justify it or elevate it in comparison with other "softer" versions of Christianity that are out there, but I really think that, as always, it's a matter of exclusivity. There are always some people who don't feel comfortable belonging to "the mainstream". You start seeing this in high school. Everybody wants to belong, but some people want to belong to the fringe crowd instead of the main group. No reason church should be different, although the idea of Jesus coming back at the rapture and kicking people's asses while knocking back cold ones seems pretty silly to me.
The other reason that this kind of Calvinism is appealing is because it makes more sense in one regard at least: God is responsible for the bad stuff happening too.
Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says the 20-year-old Brett Harris, who runs an evangelical teen blog with his twin brother, Alex. Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan. “There are plenty of comfortable people who can say, ‘God’s on my side,’ ” Harris says. “But they couldn’t turn around and say, ‘God gave me cancer.’ ”
I guess it's the logical conclusion of the idea that "bad things happen for a reason". Obviously, that reason is because God said so. This really makes sense in the context of believing there's a God who's omniscient and omnipresent. If you were a believer, you could really find that comforting.
If you've read some of my blog posts before, you know I don't believe in that kind of thing. I don't need some manly Jesus to strengthen me in my masculinity. I don't need to believe that everything happens for a reason to cope with living in a world where insane and unfair things happen every day, and I certainly don't feel the need to blame it on some cruel god who predestines us to heaven or hell without any regard to what we do in our lives. But hey, I'm not a joiner anyway. I was the guy who rebelled against rebelling in high school by wearing stuff that kept me from being identified with any cliques whatsoever. I guess this is what counts for "cool" with Christians. Which, to me, makes it about as pathetic as the kids desperately trying to be cool in high school, but if that's what helps you sleep at night, whatever.