But You Just Can’t Dress Like Jesus After Labor Day

Christians who engage culture must also identify its trends, such as the new sexual moral majority.
on Aug 31, 2017 · 7 comments

No, I can’t join the New Sexual Moral Majority. But sometimes I wish I could.

They seem so excited, truly thrilled, about their beliefs. Indeed it would be exciting to find that all along —plot twist—Jesus actually did approve some things we thought He viewed as self-destruction. Even better, we could discover this truth at the exact moment when the Church needs to regain respect, and possibly majority influence, among our neighbors. We could better help a hurting, impoverished world, and we could introduce them to Jesus.1

This idea would also give Christian-made speculative novels a huge boost. At last month’s Realm Makers conference, a panel of agents and publishers were asked about publishing trends. Agent Steve Laube answered first: the big trend is LGBT stories, all the way.

But alas, many (not all) New Sexual Moral Majority advocates say things like, “Come on, it’s 2017. You just can’t belief those particular things now that it’s 2017. It simply isn’t done.”

And all I hear is a silly, strange “argument” based in the language of mere fashion: “Come on, it’s Labor Day. Nobody wears white after Labor Day. You’re just not supposed to do it. And also it’s 2017 and everyone knows you just can’t dress like Jesus after [name of year].”

This sort of critique represents the absolute worst of popular culture.

About this worst element, all the fundies, the separatists, and the grumpy legalistic Christians who never bought a TV are absolutely right. Popular culture is infected with trends: ideas/memes/beliefs that opinion-makers declare are “in,” that is holy and righteous, simply by virtue of their existing and seeming to catch on with a lot of people.

If you catch the trend, you’re In. You’re cool. People will listen to you and you can become an influencer yourself. If you’re a Christian, maybe people will stop calling you a racist and will actually listen when you speak about an eternal Savior who loves people.

But if you don’t catch the trend, you’re Out. People will not listen to you. They will likely call you a racist, or associate you with other sins you may or may not actually be guilty of doing.

This isn’t to say that anyone who adopts a particular fashion is doing it just to be cool. That would be slanderous to say (as some have said against Christians who believe that we can better engage with people for Jesus’s sake by engaging the stories and culture they enjoy). No, that’s not always our prime motive. Sometimes we just happen to follow a trend, to like the culture’s “color,” at the exact moment it’s trendy. That doesn’t mean you’re sinning.2

Rather, I’m speaking against the notion of following trends just because they’re trendy.

I do believe such trend-chasing is sinful. It’s opposed to the teaching of Jesus, who would often emphasize his people’s need to oppose other moral value systems. The Pharisees wanted to condemn Him for teaching against their legalism. And even His disciples wanted to use Jesus’s influence for their own short-term “free us from the Romans” political ends.

However, Jesus has His own mission: to preach that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,”3 and to die and resurrect to show He must carry out justice yet also mercy and love.4

This was His agenda, utterly fashion-free. He kept above such trendy notions swirling about Him, and expressing mild exasperation when His disciples continually missed His points.

Even if He were only a human, Jesus demonstrates such glory, devotion, and earnestness for His actual cause, that He naturally makes vapid fashions and catchy trends look absurd. However, He is not just a Man, but God Himself. From the supposed backward archives of the past comes His thunderous yet merciful plea: “Repent of your sin. Believe in me. Join my kingdom. Become like Myself. Dress like Me.”

And in response, too many plaintive voices in our culture sputter, like flustered Pharisees, “But you just can’t dress like Jesus after Labor Day. It simply isn’t done. Because it’s 2017! Now that it’s 2017, everyone dresses in these New Sexual Moral Majority garments.”

I’m sorry, I’ll need a better reason than that.

Yes, I know our friends among this religion offer better reasons. And as I mentioned earlier, some of them claim their beliefs are actually the real, lost fashion of Jesus, unearthed from secret treasure trunks in Christianity’s attic. I don’t buy this either. It has the unmistakable feel of someone trying to resurrect old cultural trends—and yet not nearly old enough.

Naturally, the Christian fantasy fan’s hero, C.S. Lewis, remarked upon this very problem:

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.

… But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate his horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will.

… The Enemy [God] loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done.5

Even as we engage popular culture, often more than our forebears, we must stop being foolish and naïvely sheltered about such vapid trends and superficiality of popular culture.

Lines that sound like “But it’s 2017”, “Your belief is so last year,” or “This is The Future and history will belong to these people” betray an appeal to trendiness-for-only-trend’s-sake. Christians should ignore and reject such thinking, just as we ignore and reject the myths or even hate some Christians have shown to other people. Don’t follow trends. Follow Jesus.

  1. Unfortunately, some of these hopes—that Christians could make a difference in the world if only we changed or quieted our beliefs about marriage and sex—are frankly naïve. They show that Christians aren’t quite past our well-intended but shallow beliefs in “seeker-friendly” evangelism. Deep down, we believe that people already assume basic Christian belief, and only reject Jesus because they aren’t fully educated or have met bad Christians. This is true for some people, but not all. If we pretend everyone is like this, or that most people would adore Christians if we only follow Jesus 100 percent—is total escapism.
  2. For Christian fantasy fans, rejoice. We’re not automatically guilty of something—at least, no more than usual! After all, fantasy is no mere trend, and you likely love fantasy for many reasons other than just “all the cool people like fantasy these days.” As Christian geeks have pointed out, they got into these stories before they were cool. They were used to acting outside the majority culture, and in so doing, reflected the “weirdness” of Christianity.
  3. Mark 1:15.
  4. Romans 3:21-31.
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Travis Perry says:

    Good post.

    Yeah, it’s escapism to imagine we’d all be instantly loved and approved of if we could only be more like Jesus. Jesus offended more than a few people–not for the sake of offense itself, but because of his dedication to truth.

    Following cultural trends can be hard to avoid. Some are harmless and there’s no particular reason to avoid them–while others, like the Screwtape Letters noted, are a vital part of Satan’s influence campaign to change our values and persuade us (all of us humans, but especially Christians) that wrong is right and right is wrong.

  2. Julie D says:

    I thinkit was Chesterton who said something to the effect of ‘saying someone only believed X because he was from Y time period is ridiculous because he still could believe X today”….

    • I’m not sure what the point of this comment is. We know you are not a spammer, notleia, but a comment consisting solely of a link looks quite spammy.

      • notleia says:

        You go clicky-click on the linky, read the thingy that is linked. Saying “Hmm, yes, quite,” after reading is optional but highly recommended.

      • Can’t do that because the article is terrible. It takes a great many words to repeat a very simple and dull canard: “If you believe in and defend the biblical definition of marriage as one man, one woman, for life — the Christian belief that all Christians of every denomination believed and defended until literally the last few years — then you are a legalist and a Hater.” And this notion is utter nonsense.

        • notleia says:

          Which is why I posted a linky rather than a screed because I know how far that goes around here, yet I feel obligated to put up some kind of pushback against the implicit gay-bashing, what with the Nashville Statement being in the news and at least 50% of generic complaints about Unapproved Sex being about gay people.

          And “Hmm, yes, quite,” is actually a thoroughly noncommittal thing to say if you say it Britishly enough.

What do you think?