You’ve heard of something being “cutting edge,” right?
And even more progressively, “bleeding edge?”
It seems to be everyone’s holy grail. For example, Madison Avenue tries so hard to be “bleeding edge” so that something connects and goes viral that they can push the envelope to the point of it being returned to sender.
For example, some of the biggest names in marketing, including Ford Motor, General Motors, Hyundai Motor, Reebok and PepsiCo, have been forced recently to apologize to consumers who mounted loud public outcries against ads that hinged on subjects like race, rape and suicide.
The marketing gurus raced to the edge on such matters, but then fell off.
For example, PepsiCo found itself meeting with civil rights leaders and the family of Emmet Till — the teenager whose death in Mississippi in 1955 helped energize the civil rights movement — to try to quell multiple controversies involving its Mountain Dew brand and its over-the-edge racial attempt to market the soft drink.
Just like Madison Avenue, churches can find that being bleeding edge can cut against them.
A number of churches are tempted by the idea that being hip, and progressive, is the primary key to making inroads into the culture and reaching people for Christ.
But sometimes you can out-hip yourself.
Not simply by trying so hard to lead culture that you end up alienating it, but that you end up mirroring it.
It’s fashionable to bring up things that come between “culture” and Jesus, like gay marriage, and instantly trivialize the matter because you want to connect with culture.
I’ve actually heard people say, “If gay marriage is a barrier between them and Jesus, then let’s just accept gay marriage in the name of winning them to Jesus.”
But such maneuvers miss the larger question: how did Jesus Himself feel about such things? What did He make trivial and cosmetic, and what did He not?
But then they go further with a theology that seems to make what Jesus said, and only what Jesus said, the only source of theology. If Jesus didn’t speak to something, then it’s not important.
But if you say, “Well, Jesus didn’t say anything about (fill in the blank),” are you then saying that if Jesus didn’t speak to it, it’s up to us? Or that the rest of the Scriptures were not as equally inspired as the gospels?
If you weaken the rest of Scripture in the name of Jesus, you forget that we only have the teaching of Jesus through those very Scriptures.
So a word to those who feel that culture should dictate doctrine and morality: no, not when such doctrine or morality contradicts the Scriptures. And not just the ones you select, but the entire canonical witness.
The goal is to be in the world, to be sure, but not of it. Salt is meant to arrest moral decay, not affirm it or make it more pleasing to the senses.
In other words, being “bleeding edge” is not always best;
…sometimes it just means you’re bleeding.
James Emery White
“Trying to Be Hip and Edgy, Ads Become Offensive,” Stuart Elliott and Tanzina Vega, The New York Times, May 10, 2013, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.