This video made me squirm. It was so dead on and so disturbing. The first thing I thought when I watched it was “what do any of these words actually mean?” and I was convinced that, for most of them at least, I did not know.
Now, I grew up outside of any sort of church setting and didn’t attend a church (with maybe two exceptions) until I was sixteen years old. Until then, “secular” music was known as “music” and “guarding my heart” was done with Kevlar in a guerrilla warfare situation. And lo and behold, my first experience with a church was a small, Acts 29 church plant of 30-odd young folks. From there I learned some of the evangelical jargon, but stayed away from other linguistic patterns that I found trite (I still think one of the great exegetical swindles of the last 150 years was the use of the phrase “guard your heart”…don’t get me started…). From early on, I was critical of the church’s lingo and sought not to say things that I didn’t mean, I blame it on the fact that I was a reader growing up.
But as I survey the cultural landscape of evangelicalism, particularly young theologically conservative (if not Reformed) Christians, I see a lot of great things; sacrificial communal living, theological depth, caring for the poor, engagement in intellectual dpersuit, et cetera. But this video is a helpful reminder of cultural and spiritual tendencies of young evangelicals that range from sinful to just plain silly.
Spiritual Code Switching
One thing that I have noticed about young evangelicals is the way that they (or should I say, ‘we’, as I am among the ranks) talk normally and the way that they talk about ‘spiritual’ (or gospel, as some might say) topics varies in vocabulary and tone. Notice at about 12 seconds in when they go through the ‘how’s your heart?’ sequence and at about 30-36 seconds when they are praying for ‘traveling mercies’ that the vocal inflection is softer, like a loud whisper almost that varies from a normal conversational tone. This is when you are likely to find the most Christian jargon words per sentence.
I have noticed this when talking to people at a small group during the ‘discussion time’. During small talk or non-spiritual talk, the voice is more ‘at home’ but when it is time to talk about God-stuff, the spiritual voice comes out. I think this is the product of quite few different things. First, it seems to denote subtle discomfort when talking about spiritual subjects. As if it is a straining or an unnatural thing. This makes sense considering the privatized spirituality that is expected in the culture at large. And even when a Church culture is very intentional about ‘going beyond the Sunday service’, as some might say, it is still seen as culturally wrong to speak about spiritual things consistently. And while we fight it, we still have to ‘code swtich’ when we talk about things that are (although sometimes unconsciously) relegated to the ‘private sector’ of life.
The part of the video that makes me squirm the most (and in turn, giggle like a schoolgirl) is at around 1:40 when they start talking about guarding some girl’s heart. I love it because nobody really knows what that means. Let’s be honest, we all have an idea of what it could mean but we aren’t so sure. Besides being nice and not having sex with someone that you aren’t married to, it’s as clear as Lake Erie in the 60’s. But nevertheless, after being told to ‘guard this girl’s heart’ quite austerely, the dude responds with an equally as ambiguous ‘will you hold me accountable for that?’.
What saddens me about ‘catch-all words’ like ‘accountability’ and ‘guarding your heart’ is that they lose meaning and become meaningless assumptions. This has happened with the word ‘gospel’ in some circles. When you attach gospel to everything somewhat spiritual, unless the word gospel has been truly meditated on and expounded, can become flaccid when passed down. Sure, the guys writing the books about ‘gospel-centeredness’ may not have that issue, but it’s transference can become cultural jargon if it isn’t expounded and meaning isn’t searched for in it. What is funny about this video is that what they are saying really doesn’t mean all that much. Ironically, it is important to young evangelicals how it is said
We love marketing
They nailed it here. We, as a young, plugged in, advertising saturated culture love to market our churches like soda pop. We trust churches, seminaries, blogs, et cetera that have sleek designs, good websites and catchy names. We don’t have the desire to sit through a service as St. John’s Dutch Reformed Church of Brattleboro, but ELEVATE sounds appealing. Maybe this is because of the change in the way that we receive information (google vs. books) and the declining attention span of our generation or maybe it is an attempt to attract the google generation. Either way, it is streamlining church and changing the way the body of Christ interacts.
This video is so funny for young Christians because it is so, so true. It is not all bad, because culture is not all bad. But if we are aware of our cultural tendencies, it becomes easier to put them on and off as needed. And it so doing, acting more as salt and light to the culture around us.