What If Christians Are *Supposed* to Lose the Culture War?

Over Christmas break, I received a text from my friend Trevin. He asked if I had yet read a book called The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church by David John Seel. I replied that I had not, and he told me I should read it so we could talk about it.

So I did, and oh man.

This isn’t really a proper book review. It’s more of a review of a major idea of the book. Trevin wrote a great review of the book here.

I do want to explore one of the concepts of the book I found particularly troubling, though, and that is the idea that the church losing cultural clout is a huge problem.

American Evangelicalism Is Losing a Cultural Foothold

Dr. Seel shares a lot of astute observations about culture and the church in the book, but as a Millennial myself (and as one who has done a bit of writing on the subject), I think he grossly overestimates the importance of American evangelicalism being “culturally relevant.”

He writes:

…it is becoming harder and harder to deny that evangelicalism is losing its hold on American culture. But because it has maintained such large market share for so long in the Bible Belt, it is easy to deny potential threats to its demise. The cultural dominance in the South and Midwest masks the increasing irrelevance of the church among those who curate the national social imaginary—the collective stories and myths we tell about the nature of reality and the shape of the good life. (p. xxiii-xxiv)

Here in this paragraph in the introduction to his book, Dr. Seel sounds the warning bell about American evangelicalism losing its grip on culture and those who influence culture. Later, he chastises American evangelicalism for how it dramatically influenced culture in the age of the Moral Majority and presently through its overwhelming support for Donald Trump.

It sounds like Dr. Seel is more concerned with American evangelicalism influencing culture in ways he thinks are inappropriate than whether or not American evangelicalism influences culture at all.

But generally, I agree with Dr. Seel, and I think we should accept his proposal: American evangelicalism does not influence American popular culture. I just hesitate to say it’s “losing its grip” on American popular culture, because I’m not sure American evangelicalism ever really influenced Hollywood or other architects of the social imaginary.

The point Dr. Seel makes is this: American evangelicalism is losing its grip on the people who stoke the American imagination, and this is going to make them look foolish among imaginative Millennials.

The Church: Playing the Part of the Fool

Dr. Seel characterizes his book as a “pan-pan” warning, a nautical term which is less urgent than a “mayday” warning.

He writes near the end of the book:

How we [American evangelicals] respond to the warning discussed here will determine the future direction and viability of the evangelical church. If we continue to play the game according to the old paradigm and habitus, we will be left holding a losing hand and will look the part of the fool. (p. 196, emphasis mine)

Dr. Seel says that if we American evangelicals do not heed his not-so-urgent warning about cultural irrelevancy and disconnection with Millennials, we “will look the part of the fool.”

Perhaps that’s the point.

Could that be the answer?

Maybe the right response to the present dramatic shift in American culture is not for evangelicals to try to ride the wave, but to swim against the tide?

Could it be that we are called to be fools?

Could Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4 be for us?

“We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” (1 Cor 4:10)

Maybe American evangelicalism is called to play the part of the fool.

Jesus Is the Hope of the Church

In the introduction to his book, Dr. Seel lays out the general idea of each part. He says this about the final part:

“Part 6 explains why the coming generation of millennials is the hope of the church.” (p. xxvii, emphasis mine)

He writes later:

“The church cannot hope to survive without grappling with reaching millennials.” (p. 27, emphasis mine)

I, too, wrote a book about Millennials. I only recently shut down a blog about Millennials that I maintained for years. So obviously I think it’s important for the church to understand, reach, and equip them.

But let me be the first to reiterate what I wrote in my book: Millennials are not the future of your church. Disciples are the future of your church.

The future of the church relies more on Christians willing to be fools for Christ than it does on Christians working to influence popular culture.

Be willing to play the part of the fool.

My Favorite Things of 2018

Here are some of my favorite things from this past year in various spheres. I recommend these things to friends, family, and now to you.

Note: (These are favorites this year because I interacted with them this year. Not because they were “new” this year.)

Favorite Music

Above & Beyond — Common Ground

CThis album is special to me for a number of reasons. 

I was introduced to electronic/dance music in high school by a manager at the pizza place where I worked. He pointed me to a weekly two-hour podcast of trance music called, at that time, “Trance Around the World with Above & Beyond,” now called “Group Therapy with Above & Beyond.” This group has been one of my favorite listens since I was introduced to them in 2007. 

Common Ground is their newest album, released in January 2018, and their world tour passed through a small venue here in Nashville.

You have to know that Above & Beyond is a world-famous electronic group. That they came through Nashville is a big deal. They’re based in the UK. They normally play places like this:

But in March, they came to a small venue in Nashville two blocks away from my office. I had to go. And I did. And it was amazing. Here’s some video of a ritual they do every show. It’s called “push the button,” during which they invite a fan up on stage to push the button to make the beat drop. It’s an epic moment.

Favorite Online Content Creator

Ninja (Tyler Blevins)

He won Content Creator of the Year at The Game Awards a month ago, and for good reason. Here is the room where is streams. He went from having no YouTube channel to having 20 million subscribers in a year. That’s never happened…and not even close.

It is hard to say whether Fortnite benefitted more from Ninja or Ninja benefitted more from Fortnite. Each played a significant role in the success of the other.

If you need background on who Ninja is, I don’t have time to write it all out, so you can just watch this:

I have tuned into Ninja’s Twitch channel countless times this year. I bought Ninja merch. He’s made his content clean. He’s a blast to watch. Even my wife likes watching him play Fortnite with me. Here’s my favorite moment from his stream this year, which I watched live and died laughing at:

Favorite Book

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

This was, by far, the best book I read in 2018. I resounded with so much of it. I’ve seen so much of it. I wrote a review for the ERLC here, and here’s a bit of that:

The problem with microaggressions, say Lukianoff and Haidt, is that people often unintentionally offend others simply because of their life experience, and that does not line up with the meaning of “aggression.” They write, “Aggression is not unintentional or accidental. If you bump into someone by accident and never meant any harm, it is not an act of aggression, although someone may misperceive it as one” (p. 40). That is where the phenomenon of microaggressions and The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning collide. The authors identify a shift in morals on campus—a shift from “intent” to “impact” (p. 43). What people intend has taken a back seat to how their act made someone feel, regardless of what the “aggressor” intended. The authors contend, “A faux pas does not make someone an evil person or an aggressor” (p. 44).

Go read that book. It’s a great explanation of the oversensitivity of America’s young people.

Favorite YouTube Channel

PewDiePie

I just think he’s really funny. I like how he pushes back against “safe” content creator culture. I like meme review. I like Pew News. I like his chair. “Subscribe to PewDiePie to beat T-Series” has been one of the best YouTube memes this year.

He’s offensive and controversial. But I watch him a lot because, being the most subscribed YouTuber in the world, he has a dramatic effect on culture.

Favorite Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Headphones

I had a nice contract gig earlier this year. I wanted some awesome headphones because I listen to music while working all the time. I asked Susie if I could use some of the money from the contract gig for these headphones, which I have wanted for a long time but never could justify buying. 

She said yes. And oh my goodness these things are amazing.

I don’t mean to sound bougie(?), but I never thought a pair of headphones could be worth $300—like I was ready to send them back as soon as I got them when I would inevitably realize they weren’t worth the money—but I was dead wrong.

If these things were stolen or destroyed tomorrow, I’d buy a new pair by the end of the week. They are just that good.

I listen to them 4-6 hours a day the whole work week and usually just charge them on the weekends. They charge super quickly. They pair immediately with my laptop and phone. Super clean and easy.

Seriously these are one of the highest quality products I have ever purchased. Worth every penny.

Favorite Video Game

Super Mario Party

I am 28-years-old, and I like to play video games. Spare me your shame. Someone on Twitter probably said something racist 10 years ago, go shame them (cuz apparently that’s a thing now).

I played a number of the most critically acclaimed games this year, and I liked them. Red Dead Redemption II was great. Celeste was amazing. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are both super fun. But none of those have been my favorite game of the year.

Super Mario Party has been my favorite game of the year. Not because it’s the best (that goes to Celeste or RDRII), but because my wife loves to play it, friends love to play it, and the students in the youth group I lead love to play it. 

I have had more fun playing Super Mario Party this year than I have with any other game. 

Favorite Twitter Follow

Kinja Deals

They always alert me to the best deals online. Most of the time they’re pointing to Amazon, but they often point to other areas as well. 

We have saved a lot of money because of these folks, I think, just by buying things we need at the right time when there’s a good deal. Highly recommend following them.

Favorite Accessory

Apple Watch Series 4

I received an Apple Watch Series 4 for Christmas. I received the first Apple Watch for Christmas when it was released three years ago. Every day when I get up and get ready in the morning, I put it on. I’ve done this for three years. My original Apple watch was starting to slow down a bit, as these products do, so I asked for the new edition for Christmas.

It’s great. It’s something I wouldn’t buy for myself, but I would ask for as a gift. It’s beautiful. It’s helpful. It tracks workouts and fitness really well. Highly recommend.

Favorite App

Dark Sky

I never, ever spend money on iPhone apps. I use every free app I can for anything. After years of using all sorts of bad, ad-laden, free weather apps for my iPhone, I finally decided to spend a whole $4 on the Dark Sky weather app. 

It is easier to read. It depicts weather information in clean, easy-to-understand ways. Best of all, it doesn’t have any ads that slow the app and clog the experience.

It is well worth your $4. You should buy it if you ever check the weather on your phone.

Favorite New Music

Jon Bellion

In this category I want to recommend music that was new to me in 2018, even if the music itself wasn’t released this year.

Just a few weeks ago I was introduced to Jon Bellion. I quickly became a fan of his music. I especially like his newest album Glory Sound Prep. You should give it a listen. It sounds good and has some pretty profound lyrics.

He’s coming to Nashville this summer and I may try to go see him.

Favorite TV Show

Narcos: Mexico

My favorite TV show this year was, without a doubt, Narcos: Mexico.

I have been a fan of every season of Narcos so far. The two Colombian-based seasons were fantastic. The newest season based in Mexico followed in line with those.

I love how much of these shows are in Spanish. I took 12 years of Spanish, so I actually understand a good bit of what is being said even without the captions. And I just love listening to Spanish as a language. It’s beautiful.

The show is fascinating to me because it is a dramatization of real life events. So it sort of feels like a docu-drama like Band of Brothers or the like.

I highly recommend it, but it is pretty raw, just so you’re aware. It doesn’t hold back on all that comes along with cartel culture.


So those are some of my favorite things from this year!

Have a wonderful 2019!

The Hype Train Doesn’t Deliver

I am, admittedly, more into video games and gaming culture than the average 28-year-old man. I own that.

I’ve played video games in some form or fashion since before I could read. I remember going across the street to my cousins’ house to play Super Dodge Ball on the NES before I owned a Sega Genesis and eventually an N64 in early elementary school.

This Christmas season, I have had a number of friends five or 10 years older than me inquiring about the Nintendo Switch what all needs to be purchased for a family to enjoy the games together.

I watch other adults play video games on Twitch pretty regularly.

I watch YouTubers whose primary content revolves around games and gaming culture.

For a long time, until the last couple of years, gaming culture has been a fringe culture. Only nerds played video games when I was growing up.

This is no longer the case.

Video game culture is blending into mainstream pop culture in unprecedented ways. But that’s another post for another day.

The Hype Train

When I get time to play video games these days, which is usually a couple of hours on the weekends, I am spending most of my time on the Nintendo Switch. I think it’s the greatest video game platform of all time (also another post for another day), and I love a number of the games available on it right now.

In the months leading up to a video game release, there is what is called “the hype train.” This phrase should be pretty self-explanatory, but, in short, it is the anticipatory build-up and conversation among fans of a game in the months (or even years) leading up to its launch.

In video game culture today, the primary corner of the internet through which the hype train chugs is Reddit.

As a social media platform, Reddit has always been more gamer-friendly, and the ability to create subreddits around various games is unmatched when it comes to building community and fueling the hype train for a video game.

Game developers watch subreddits of the games they are producing before and after release to get feedback from Redditors about what they want added to or changed in the game.

It’s a powerful system of communication between fans and game developers and among fans themselves.

It is in these subreddits, like this one for Super Smash Bros. which has a new game releasing this week, that the hype train is fueled.

The last couple of years, as I have joined the subreddits of a few highly-anticipated games I’ve purchased, I’ve noticed a common thread that runs between all of the games, no matter the platform or genre.

It’s sad, but every single time it has proven true:

The Game Never Fully Satisfies

Watching the hype train rev up and speed into the station is astounding. It truly is a cool experience.

A community of thousands of fans who have spent the better part of a year theorizing, sharing strategies, reviewing trailers, and more all coming together around the shared love for something truly is special. It is fun to experience and neat to watch.

Leading up to the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game releasing later this week, I have participated in the subreddit a good bit and it has been cool to build community with others.

But, sadly, I know what is going to happen as soon as the hype train pulls into the station and the anticipation disappears because the game has arrived.

It will just be a game.

It will be fun.

It will blow away some expectations.

It will not live up to some expectations.

But eventually, whether it be two weeks or two years down the road, the game will go away. And another one will take its place.

Now, some of the people aboard the hype train are probably fine with that. They understand that video games come and go and aren’t meant to be around forever.

But I read some of the anticipation and fervor around the release of some of these games and I just have to think to myself, “It cannot provide that for you. This game will not fulfill you!”

It’s almost as if many rabid fans of these games are looking to find meaning in some of these games. Looking for purposeFulfillment.

And don’t think I’m pointing a judge-y finger. It’s not like I haven’t been there before—I certainly have.

But as I’ve watched this phenomenon the last couple of years, it never goes away. It’s always the same.

It’s because a lot of folks are expecting more out of the game than it can give them.

But…

It’s More Than Just Video Games

I’ve used video games as an example throughout because its where I’ve seen this phenomenon most present in my own life.

But the eager anticipation of a hype train pulling into the station and the ultimate dissatisfaction of our souls isn’t limited to video games. We’d be foolish to think that.

We do it with marriage.

We do it with careers.

We do it with children.

Throughout countless areas of our lives, we fuel up hype trains of various kinds with the desperate hope that when the train pulls into the station our lives will have more purpose, more meaning, more value.

It’s just idolatry. That’s all it is.

We expect the things of this world to be something they can’t.

Enjoy the hype. Lean into anticipation. Just don’t put your hope in it.