Chance the Rapper won the Grammy for best Rap album this year. His album Coloring Book, the first ever streaming-only album to win a Grammy, was praised for its strong vocals and blended genres as well as for its lyrics which mused on a variety of topics: family, Chicago gang violence, the music industry, and God—a lot on God. For his unlikely pairing of hip-hop and gospel, he has received a lot of attention, especially from Christians. My Facebook feed has hosted no less than three debates on the religiosity of Chance.
Also this year, veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s film Silence was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. However, the breathtaking picture received acclaim and attention mostly for its dealings with religion. Noteworthy is any movie centered exclusively on religion that is not from Sherwood Pictures and is intended for a secular audience.
And we—that is, Christians—are so excited about it all.
That makes sense; it’s high quality work, something enjoyable or demonstrating mastery of a craft. Everyone should be happy about that. But we get a special kind of giddy when we hear the tag, Christian.
I mean, I am certainly there with everyone. When I see on Facebook that Justin Bieber was baptized or when I hear in an interview that Hugh Jackman identifies as Christian, I get a special kind of delight. A brief scroller flies through my mind, “There we go—that’s another win.” And I go about my day, slightly more smug than before.
And usually when this happens, I am more willing to turn a blind-eye to behavior I would otherwise condemn. Language that is explicitly unholy, subject matters unfit for a meditative mind, even criticisms of the faith—as long as they’re coming from a friend—are all acceptable if we can get that quick nod to Christianity in verse 3. We lower our standards for what counts as “Christian art” if it means we can have them on our team, so we can show off our arm candy to the rest of the world and say, “Hey, look who likes us.”
Yet the standards thing isn’t even the real problem—the issue is desperation. Christians are more desperate than an 8th grade girl to be loved and accepted by their peers. Christians have become increasingly obsessed with relevance and even have an entire magazine named for their obsession.
This desperation is a fairly new phenomenon rooting in the secularization of culture, a trend since the Enlightenment and most pronounced during the 70s and early 2000s when the number of “nones” in the country spiked. Christians, while making up the majority of the population, have lost their cultural dominance and to some degree no longer make up the social elite. Christians crave to regain their position of power and not be taken as a joke.
Now I know, if anyone has, I’ve played into this. I’ve built up in the last several years a portfolio of sermons, blogs, podcasts, and videos all calling for the Christian to retake culture through the arts, to not sit on the sideline but be active participants in the grand play. And while I stand by those, I fear that I was culpable in this desperation for relevance; too often I asked, “How can I get others to notice my tribe?”
Yet as Christians, we don’t ask that (our minds are dedicated to loftier questions). Instead, we understand that our validity comes not from around us but from above. Our validity is based in Christ’s validity. We don’t have to lower our standards, we don’t have to plead for the cool kids to like us. We simply remember that “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Desperation is a sign of those who need something outside of their grasp. We don’t need anything the world has to offer; we already have it.