I do not endorse the irreverent humor of Seth McFarlane, nor do I watch any of his shows regularly. But I have seen the show Family Guy from time to time, and while I find much of it offensive, there have been some jokes that have landed right on the money. In one episode the Quahog public high school invited a youth minister to come and speak at an assembly regarding sex education. When he came out on the stage, he proceeded to turn a chair around backwards and sit in it. Witnessing his “youthy” posture, one of the students in the audience turned to his friend and said, “He sits like we do. Let’s listen to him.”
McFarlane is right about that. How silly is it to imagine that if we demonstrate how cool we are, we will earn a hearing for Jesus in an unbelieving world? The world sees right through our phony attempts to impress them and win respectability on grounds other than the content of our character and the boldness with which we stand for the truth. Relevance is so irrelevant. Pragmatism just doesn’t work. Being cool is so uncool. Trendiness has gone out of style.
Now imagine this: what would happen if committed Christians (heeding the advice of Christian organizations like Biologos) began embracing with zeal the theory of evolution and began modifying some of their less popular ethical stances, like the view that human embryos ought not be destroyed for the purpose of scientific research? Would the scientific community and the unbelieving world marvel at how progressive we had become and then say, “You’re not so bad after all. Let me hear more about Jesus”? Would Stephen Hawking turn to Richard Dawkins and say (through his computer voice machine), “They believe in evolution like we do. Let’s listen to them”?
No. They would continue to call us clowns. In fact, that is exactly what they are doing right now to an amazing scientist who also happens to be a Christian, Francis Collins.
The bottom line is that respectability is an idol every bit as seductive as greed, lust, or the desire for power. But at least with greed, lust, and the desire for power, you often get some kind of payoff for your sin. Respectability remains ever so elusive to Christians who continuously try to walk the tightrope between biblical faithfulness and cultural relevance. The attempt to modify the Christian faith to make it more palatable to its cultured despisers is an error that goes all the way back to the Gnostics (see what John had to say about their forbears in his first epistle). It has happened over and over throughout the history of the church, and every time it happens it sets a trajectory for abandonment of the gospel. It’s high time we stopped imagining that we have to earn a hearing with the world by telling them what they want to hear. Even that won’t make them listen. Proclaim the gospel in all its offensiveness, and let the chips fall where they will.