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Vulgar Christianity

Thursday August 13th 2009

by Paul Armstrong

an empty seat


Every generation has its revolution, its moment of clarity in the ever evolving values of what compromises 'Christianity'. Whether it be the massive outreach and impact of mega-churches or new ways of thinking about our faith (open theism), each generation somehow seems to find its own way of bridging their faith with the culture. I believe much of my generation (and younger) could be said to be in what I term, "Vulgar Christianity".


**DISCLAIMER** If you cannot read this post without the basic understanding that 1) this is merely a reflection of what I think our current generation (consciously and unconsciously) believes 2) anything without wisdom and discerment is pointless 3) this does not delve into the terrority of a liberal belief (such as the inerrancy of scripture, the sovereignty of God; these are things I hope are still held deeply and is assumed to be apart of the "vulgar" Christians belief system) then please do not read, as it will frustrate and perhaps maybe even cause you to curse and drink (I'm kidding, I'm kidding, ssshh, it's ok kitten).


Most of my friends — 40ish and younger — grew up in the long standing traditions of a fundamentalist household (which raises kids with little ability to make wise decicions, or decisions at all, thus many of my friends went through long rebillious periods; some return to a version of their faith, some never come back). In an effort to feel connected to the world at large while also maintaining a set of distinct beliefs from those that we grew up with (yet keeping the fundamentals of the Christian faith) I feel our generation has come into a form of what i call, vulgar Christianity.


By vulgar, I mean the simplest defintion of the word vulgarity: "Something, such as an act or expression, that offends good taste or propriety." The object of our offense is our old traditions. We openly drink, curse and talk about things that were entirely taboo to generations before us. We watch Rated-R movies. We listen to 'secular' music. Sex. Marrage. Children. Life and all it's problems; things many of our fundamentalist counterparts would consider vulgar (and wholly un-Christian). We see the need for honesty in what is wrong in our lives and the world, to be a faith that has action and not merely words. We care about the people outside our walls, not merely our own theological purity. We crave impact and meaning but find it in everything around us, not merely a watered down, "safe" version of life for the sake of Christian chastity.


Yet we don't mesh with our own culture's embrace of humanistic ideals and hostility of faith. We don't condone blind allegiance to any political party. We don't adhere to a grocery cart of beliefs that make us feel comfortable (at the moment). We find the abscence of faith or belief empty and disappointing. We care about people and our world and environment, but never at the cost of what it means to worship God over his creation, and man's special place in that world. We don't care to embrace the notion of a 'private faith' because we're unashamed of what we believe. We crave monogamy, eschew and abhore promiscuity. We detest hypocrits, but don't expect the impossible (understand that hypocrisy is a human trait not merely one cast upon Christians).


We fit with neither the distorted view that the world puts upon Christians nor the distorted view that traditional Christianity put upon the world. We are vulgar. Brash. Coarse. Gross. Dirty. Naughty. Obscene. We fucking love Jesus.




Comments for "Vulgar Christianity"

Love this post!!! I think from time to time about the term vulgar and I think you hit it perfectly. Read a blog post the other day asking if you would consider yourself a "cussing christian". Most of the comments were from members of this Vulgar Christianity saying that cuss words were words deemed wrong by society and it is our choice to determine how it influences our walk, our faith, our spirit.

Thanks for writing this, and thanks for the last line. You sir, as usual, are genius!

Thanks Ben! I think cussing Christian leaves out the whole worldview of our collective new "Christian" outlook. Its not just cussing, its drinking, music, movies and even church culture (which is why I thought the term fit). Perhaps there's a potential book in the making ... if only I could write ...

Sounds like you might be stretching the notion of grace there a bit Paul. I believe the Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil. While I don't care what other people think of me personally, if (by smoking, drinking, cursing), I turn that person away from Christ because of my actions then shame on me.

I'd love for you to, in your current mindset, to re-read Romans 6:1-7. I don't consider drinking a sin, or smoking, or even cursing actually. The problem though is that those actions I think lead people into a false sense of "freedom in Christ" to "just be myself", or "this is who I am". Remember that the Bible tells us that we must be born again.

While this is such a cliche, ask yourself would Christ smoke, or drink, or say that "he fucking loves you Paul"? I suspect that he would not. Do you think that drinking, smoking, and cursing are good role models for your children?

I've just had too many of my friends go over to what I would consider the liberal side of Christianity and lose their true sense of the God of the Bible, and of personal accountability. David Bazan is a perfect example. He started questioning, then started writing songs which questioned, which put him in an even more questioning mindset. Now he claims that he doesn't believe in God at all. Read this article about him and let me know what you think:

Love you dude, please take this comment in the spirit it was open conversation between people who love God and want the real truth.

With anything in belief if you can't temper your actions with wisdom, then there isn't much hope for you. Of course I don't condone recklessness. What's to say what causes someone to stumble? Its to easy to simply say "drinking is a stumbling block", "cussing is a stumbling block" to non-Christians. But that really has to go back to wisdom. In a quick blog post I can't get into all the instances of where and when you have to be wise, if you can't decipher that, then you'll find all sorts of difficulty in life; and that will be true regardless of what you believe in. I can say I've had more experiences of changed lives because they actually wanted to experience life in a church, life with Christ, that didn't involve them feeling as if they had to achieve some sort of perfection for God to love them (to have the rungs on the ladder removed, keeping them from getting to God). God doesn't ask us to be perfect to come to Him; He comes to us in our imperfection. Why? Because it is _impossible_ for us to be perfect. That isn't to say we don't try, but it's also an understanding of who we are, and how we fit into the world.

The Bible asks us to be salt to the world. What does salt do? Its not merely a flavor enhancer, it also dissolves. It meshes with what its applied to and changes it. Now, we're not to become the world, but to change it, by being in it, by relating to it. Again, wisdom. If you can't be apart yet different, then you will find life difficult. I hold FAST to my beliefs in 1) importance of organized fellowship, we're not meant to be private 2) Christ as Redeemer and Savior, the literal Son of God, sent to die for us on the cross. I honestly can't say what Christ would do, I didn't grow up 1000's of years ago in a culture completely foreign to the one I'm in now. I can say that Christ associated with those we'd find abhorrent. And I can say that the church does not endear itself for people to want to be in it. But overall, Christ changes lives through the Holy Spirit, despite myself. Despite any of us. If we're dumbasses and just being douchebags because we believe "I'm covered in grace", than that is woefully missing the point of our freedom in Christ. At the same time, I don't believe that drinking, cursing, listening to music and watching movies, being honest, forthright and direct about life does anything but make us human.

This is also a reflection, by me, on where I see our generation. Not necessarily an endorsement, but the way it is; or what I sense and see.

Interesting thoughts, Paul. At what moment do you think obedience to God's word transcends our need to be culturally and generationally different from our fundamentalist roots? For instance, Ephesians 4:29 says "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." or Ephesians 5:18 says "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit." or 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 says "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire, do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil."

I enjoy my pipe and a good Belgian ale and watch R-rated movies and listen to secular music, but I think there are definite lines drawn in scripture that challenge us to use wisdom and discernment in our choices. I think a big part of the issue here is that our generation doesn't know God's word, doesn't read God's word, doesn't cherish God's word, and therefore in some degree doesn't follow God's word. The way we live should be a direct reflection of our allegiance and reliance on what God has given us through his word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

I also think that its a worse role-model for my children to be a dishonest person, to espouse something that I don't live. Its worse to be act like a Sunday Christian and the rest of the week be about your career, your money, your status. Its worse to be an abusive person. All of these are worse than cursing or drinking (again, moderation and wisdom). I try to live what I love. I love my life. I love my Lord. I love exploring this journey of life. I am vulnerable. I am imperfect. I am accountable. I am teachable. I am growing. I am not about to act as if everything is fine if they are not. I'm not going to shelter my kids from everything (nor allow them to do whatever they want, again, wisdom).

The world is full of people with good intention but lack wisdom on how to temper it; on both sides of the aisle.

@Ryan. I totally agree. I can't help people who aren't serious about their faith. I am very serious about it. I know more than I should about theological and am at heart a TULIP guy.

What entails unwholesome talk? To whom? Does building up others mean you can't be honest? How do you speak truth in love, without actual truth? If someone is offended by cursing, then duh, don't curse around them. Sadly, too many people expect some formula for faith, exacting do's and don'ts because its much easier than actually thinking about what you believe and why. I can't help if others aren't willing to do that; and it doesn't matter what you believe, those people are everywhere.

I never speak of getting drunk, I said drinking. If you can't tell the difference, then life will be hard (not you specifically, but anyone).

I grew up Presbyterian, (of PCA, not those liberal USA ones) and I hold fast to those views, and I don't find it incongruous with what I'm stating.

I'm also not necessarily condoning this, as much as saying this is our current generation unspoken attitude and beliefs as it comes to the church.

Yes, I would consider myself a vulgar Christian (though probably even more vulgar than you, Paul). It's interesting that vulgar originally meant common, and I think this is relevant. There's a sense of separation akin to caste or rank separation between traditional Christians and the average person. Much of this separation depends on superficial, traditional things that don't really have any bearing on faith. I think that Vulgar Christianity, as Paul (the Armstrong, not the Apostle) describes it is stripping away those superficial differences. And vulgar (common) language is just one aspect of that. It gets to the heart of the meaning of what is said rather than the superficiality of the specific words used.

So, in short, yes, Jesus is the shit, now and forever more, amen. But there are some people around whom I would not say that, in respect to their feelings about specific words.

As for avoiding the appearance of evil, I see traditional, conservative Christians viewed consistently as evil by many, many people. People who have been hurt by Christians' judgment, people who don't fit the mold of the traditional Christian, people of different faith, people of liberal social opinions. I think that vulgarity, in both the common and coarse senses of the word, can actually be a way to avoid the appearance of the evil, judgmental, hypocritical, closed-minded Christian. It's a way to say to the non-Christian that I am not intrinsically better than anyone you, and I know it. I'm saved because of Jesus, not because I have white-washed myself with polite language and conservative opinions.

That said, I know I need to be more Christ-like. But I'm going to focus on the deeper issues rather than the surface ones: Loving my neighbor, forgiving those who injure me, giving of myself to God, visiting people in prison, giving a drink of water to someone thirsty... you get the picture.

Paul - I agree with you. Western fundamentalism has definitely drawn its own lines in what is "unwholesome" or even "sinful" outside the context of scripture, which is why I think it's more important than ever that our generation becomes saturated and wholly dependent on God's word as Truth with a capital T.

In terms of being honest or authentic, sometimes I think we can use these words as excuses to not strive for Godliness. Considering what Solomon went through in the last days of his life, I feel like you're only as wise and authentic as your next decision, not the decisions you've made in the past. If not, how will any of us grow? I think there are a lot of Christians in our generation that will have a hard time growing or will even fall away from Christ because they play the "authenticity" card. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where God encourages someone to continue in disobedience because otherwise they won't be authentic or honest. Christ lives inside us and has redeemed us. We are the most authentic to our nature in Christ when we are abiding in his will. If we are Sunday Christians, Sunday is our most authentic day because of who we are in Christ, and we should push to carry THAT authenticity into the other areas of our lives.

I struggle with this all the time. I was brought up to think that drinking, dancing, smoking, and R-rated movies were evil, without question. I still feel that pinch of guilt, however, even though I no longer feel that way. However, to me, I realize that my guilt is not imagining Jesus shaking his finger at me...but my parents.

I think it's hard for people to understand that we're supposed to be like Christ and not Moses or Abraham or even Paul. Why does everyone quote his letters of advice, instead of Jesus' words? Which has higher authority? Why would Jesus turn water into wine if it would tempt those into sin?

In my opinion, the gossip and condemning that can occur in fundamental circles are far worse than simply being a part of my generation.

@Paul @Lindsay

As Ryan mentioned earlier. We're not called to be a part of this generation, but to be set apart. If you're simply doing the same things as the rest of the world, what makes you stand out, what would make someone say "There's something different about that person."?

The Bible does tell us to be salt to the world, but it tells us to be light as well. Why be the same as everyone else, when you can be an example in dignity, and love, and caring?

Everyone has their own definition of what is it to be an effective witness for Christ. I certainly don't have the final answers on that, nor would I pretend to know how Christ is to use anyone or anything for his glory. I personally feel that I can be more effective to a non-Christian by (as Mike said) acknowledging that I'm not some white-clothed, perfect Christian who speaks this foreign Christ-talk of happy flowers and sunshine always and Biblical quotes — that to me is more a stumbling block than (responsible) drinking (not drunkedness) and cursing (appropriate, not off-the-hook hip-hop style cursing). Its like boycotting a business because you want them to adhere to your values.

How disheartening is it for someone to think that for Christ to accept them that they have to talk a certain way, become some perfect person; I see NO Biblical basis for that. Christ changes people, so that we can come to Him ("NO MAN can come to the Father, but by me." John 6:44). Or the entire chapter of Colossians 2.

I in no way want anyone to think that this is some well thought out, well reasoned theological manifesto. Again, its just reflection and thought on where and what I see our generation gravitating towards. More meaning, more humanity, less show, less artifice, less rules without purpose.

At the very least, we can dialog about how and what we can do as Christians, as a church, to effectively reach out to those who despise and hate what we believe (and believe me, those people grow daily, and its typically because of "well intentioned" Christians who pridefully and shamefully represent the faith as a sort of shame-gun to non-believers to repent).

What sets us apart from the rest of the world is that we're not lying selfish douchebags. We actually care about people, we just cuss and drink as we care.

I read the following, this morning, and thought of this discussion:

"The last book of the bible, the Revelation to St. John, is frequently indicted for its violent language and vindictive spirit against the wicked. But St. John learned it all in the school of the Psalms, and from Jesus who was also, as the mountain people say, a good cusser. Jesus called Peter the very devil, the Pharisees vipers on their way to hell, and shouted down woes on the heads of those who used religion as a way to make themselves comfortable at the terrible cost of oppressing the weak and exploiting the poor (Matt. 16:23, Matthew 23). As the end approached Jesus took the cruelest verb in Psalm 137 and used it against Babylon, alias Jerusalem, as the enemies of God prepared to murder the messiah of God. 5"

[from the endnotes] "5. The 'cruelest verb' is edaphidzo (Luke 19:44), 'dash [your babies] to the ground.' This is its only occurrence in the New Testament."

I suppose this could be used to bolster both sides of the argument. To Paul (Armstrong)'s detractors, it points out that yes Jesus would, and did in fact, cuss. Think hard about the biblical witness before you decide what Jesus would and would not do. Then again, it appears that Jesus saved his choicest words for the most appropriate targets -- the deforming, devaluing, deceiving agents in this world, who strain a gnat and swallow a camel, who oppress the weak and exploit the poor. Those are, as it were, the m*f*ers. And I have the sneaking suspicion that "oppressing the weak" has new application in the Church, where the more dynamic characters in the Body, by way of their force of personality, overcome with their example their less demonstrative brothers and sisters, and ultimately impoverish both themselves and their kin.

Anyway, that's about 2 cents. The reference comes from a chapter entitled 'Enemies' in Eugene Peterson's 'Answering God: the Psalms as tools for prayer' (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989, p. 102).

Wow. That was awesome. I'll have to ask you to contribute to my book ;-)

You saying "We fucking love Jesus" built me up in my heart! :-D

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