Jesus is for losers – or why Christianity will never be cool

‘Jesus is for losers; I’m off about a hundred degrees’ Steve Taylor

This Good Friday I somewhat reluctantly joined a ‘Walk of Witness’ organised by our local Churches Together group. Having not really intended to go at all, I nonetheless soon found myself bearing one side of a large banner and briefly fronting the rag-tag procession as it wove along the high street, occasionally holding up bemused traffic.

As such things go, it was actually pretty well done. The element of dramatic spectacle was enhanced by a full-costume Jesus flanked by armed Roman soldiers and assorted High Priests (although the crown of thorns was notably thorn-less, and ‘Jesus’ wore gloves to avoid getting splinters from the cross). There was an amplified dramatised adaption of the Passion narrative, some thoughtful prayers and reflections, and some fairly lively songs.

Nonetheless, and meaning no disrespect to anyone involved, there was also a faintly ridiculous and slightly cringe-y, even self-parodying, element to the proceedings. It would have been all too easy to mock. And it was hard not to notice that the event also seemed to attract a higher than usual proportion of the socially odd and awkward. I suspect there were more than a few for whom the post-walk tea and buns in the local Methodist church may have been the highlight of their social calendar.

I say this not to mock, but because I’m a little ashamed to admit that these were the reasons for my initial reluctance to join the Walk. They were also the very things that used to put me off becoming a ‘fully-committed’ Christian – embarrassing acts of street ‘witnessing’, and the fear of being associated with socially-inept oddballs.

Spectacularly missing the point

So for a few very human and un-Christlike moments during the Walk of Witness, I inwardly groaned that churches so often attract such ‘odd’ people; I wished that Christianity could be cooler and have a better image, and wondered why it wasn’t and didn’t. Why aren’t churches seen as exciting, happening places where normal people would want to be seen hanging out?

Of course, I dressed this up to myself as an evangelistic concern, a desire not to put people off Christianity. If I’m really honest though, it was more do with not wanting to be associated with it myself; not wanting to be seen as one of the oddballs.

And then it struck me, with the force of a minor epiphany, that I was spectacularly missing the point; that I was ‘off about a hundred degrees’. It struck me that there’s a very good reason why churches, and Christianity, and indeed Christians, tend not to be noted for their trendiness and street-credibility.

The reason of course is that Christ himself very specifically and deliberately welcomes the very oddest and least cool. He consciously reaches out to the most socially awkward, and those with least outward attractiveness and social appeal. Jesus is for losers, for misfits and outsiders, for those mocked, rejected or overlooked by others.

And it’s a good thing for me that he is. Because the main reason I don’t want to be seen with oddballs is that deep down I’m one of the oddballs myself, and I don’t want to be found out. So don’t tell anyone.

Why Christ doesn’t care about coolness

But why is Jesus so much for losers? I think there are a bunch of reasons.

For a start, God has no worries about his own image, and doesn’t feel any need to associate with cool people or things. He’s completely free of any such worries and blithely unconcerned about any such nonsense. And of course he has a very different standard for what he thinks is ‘cool’; a very different set of criteria for what he sees as worthy of admiration. It turns out God isn’t all that interested in or impressed by human posturing, presentation, play-acting or power-plays. He’s apparently far more interested in humility, integrity, kindness, compassion; in contrite hearts and merciful attitudes.

And let’s face it, we’re all to some extent misfits and oddballs deep down; some of us are just better at covering it up than others.

Secondly, God has total compassion on all those who are excluded or looked down on by society for being ‘uncool’ or weird or odd; those who don’t fit. He doesn’t exclude them and he doesn’t tolerate our exclusion of them. The church exists for such as these; for the least, the unlovely, the social outcast and outsider. If we can’t accept them, we’re failing in one of our core missions. Which is a salutary reminder for me, who would so readily sweep the embarrassing people under the carpet.

Furthermore, God isn’t looking for mere conformity to social conventions and norms. His ways and will are far bigger and better – and more freeing – than that. And for that very reason, those we see as embarrassing ‘oddballs’ can sometimes be far freer, far more likely to take risks and do things God asks, regardless of whether they might be humiliating. The biblical prophets, John the Baptist, even some of Jesus’ disciples, all had some characteristics that probably wouldn’t make them ideal guests at the best dinner parties. They were a bit weird to be frank, even a bit ridiculous perhaps; but God was pleased to work through them.

Of course I still cringe when I see ‘nutters’ preaching on buses and street corners; I don’t think this is the best way to go about sharing Christ. But I have to remind myself that ‘God chooses the weak things of this world to shame the strong; the foolish things to shame the wise’. I have to remind myself that ‘God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom’. I have to remind myself that even Christ himself was not ‘cool’ in any worldly sense; that ‘he had nothing in him to attract himself to us’.

Indeed, in the Incarnation and then the Crucifixion, Jesus identified with us in the utmost depths of our indignity, shame and humiliation. He let himself be mocked, insulted and spat upon; ridiculed, rejected and cast aside. The King of the Universe is also the King of the Outcasts, Chief of the Unwanted and the Outsiders. Perhaps that’s what ‘King of the Jews’ inscribed above the cross really means.

The last shall be first

Of course, all this presents something of a problem for us sophisticated, self-aware, cool-conscious Westerners; we modern victims of fashion and the need to conform. We don’t want to be associated with losers and misfits, or with a movement that appears to be so skewed towards the odd and awkward and inept. We have our pride and dignity, after all; our image to maintain. And it’s easy to justify this evangelistically – after all, don’t we want to make the church as appealing and attractive as possible to non-Christians? Who wants to invite people to a gathering of the odd and awkward?

I’m certainly not saying that Christians can’t be cool, or that Jesus loves you more if you’re a weirdo. And I don’t think we need to deliberately try to make church embarrassing or uncool, any more than we need to deliberately go out looking for suffering. What I am saying is that Jesus is for losers, and if we want to walk the way of Christ we’ll need to get used to that. And we’d better make sure our churches aren’t too cool and sophisticated to include the weirdos, saddoes, oddballs and socially awkward.

Indeed, I wonder if we even need to go one step further, though I’m not sure I have the guts to do it. I wonder if we shouldn’t be aiming to give the very highest honour and status to those people we least want to be seen with. It’s not enough to just grudgingly accept them, as second-class citizens who should be grateful that we tolerate their presence among us. Shouldn’t we rather exalt them, celebrate them, serve them gladly, welcome them exuberantly? I have a feeling that that’s exactly what the Kingdom looks like, where the lowly will be exalted and the last shall be first.

I used to have a card that said ‘The meek shall inherit the earth… if that’s all right with the rest of you.’ In reality though, the meek shall inherit the earth whether the rest of us like it or not. In that day the tables will be turned, and we the sophisticated and super-cool may be begging the misfits for their favour and mercy. For the upside-down Kingdom of God belongs first and foremost to the last and the least, to the overlooked and unwanted and cast aside. Jesus is for losers; I’m off about a hundred degrees.

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
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6 Responses to Jesus is for losers – or why Christianity will never be cool

  1. Doncher says:

    I realise this is an old post but I just read it and it made me cry. Thanks for writing it – it makes my heart so glad that Jesus is for losers and I think what you’ve written is beautiful! I, too, am too quick to dismiss or ignore the ‘losers’ and be attracted to the popular and the ‘cool’ but I love that Jesus can cut through all that. I love that the ‘King of the universe is also the king of the outcasts, chief of the unwanted and the outsiders’ – I wouldn’t be able to worship any other God, but I need reminding over and over that this is who God is!

    Like

    • Dear Doncher, thank you so much for your very moving comment, and I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to reply sooner!

      I think we all need reminding fairly frequently that Jesus is for losers, misfits and those who don’t feel acceptable – including us. Much of the time I feel like the most useless loser of them all, and I still find it hard sometimes to believe that God doesn’t view me that way – but I do know that he doesn’t.

      By the way, I’m always inordinately pleased when someone responds to an old post 🙂

      All the very best,
      Harvey

      Like

  2. i hate jesus says:

    I hate Jesus. I was a Christian for 3.5 years. So glad I got out of that cult. The bible is a book written by Jews to get the goyim to worship a Jewish savior that they don’t even worship. Screw Jesus. Live your own life. You bet Jesus is for losers and those that “fall short”.

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    • Hi ‘i hate jesus’, I’m really sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I’m also really sorry to hear about the awful experience it sounds like you had with Christianity. I know that some churches do operate basically like cults, but my own experience has been that there are also some very good people and (broadly) good churches – though of course we’re all human and imperfect.

      I do of course disagree with your point about the bible and that comment does come across as borderline racist, but I hope you didn’t mean it that way.

      As for Jesus being for losers – well, yes, that’s what I think too. But you see that as a bad thing, whereas I think we’re all losers and I’m glad Jesus is for us.

      I wish I could show you the Jesus I’ve known, which is very different to the one you seem to have experienced. But I can’t, so I can only say I wish you all the best. And I’m sorry for what Christians have done to you.

      Like

  3. luckyjim1980 says:

    You are entirely correct when you claim that Jesus, properly understood, is for losers. And this is the real danger of Christianity. When a large group of failures, defectives and imbeciles are assembled, the collective resentment unleashed on the rest of the world can reach scarily high levels of intensity. Witness the Evangelical movement of the past forty years, and you can see clear evidence affirming Nietzsche’s observation that Christianity is, at bottom, a cult of revenge.

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    • Hi luckyjim1980, thanks for your comment – I hear you, and agree to some extent, but I think there’s a bigger picture and that what you’re drawing attention to here is only a part of it.

      Firstly, I’d be a little cautious about using highly pejorative terms like ‘defectives’ and ‘imbeciles’ to describe anyone, Christian or otherwise. I’ve not yet met anyone who I would choose to label in those ways. ‘Annoying’, yes; ‘frustratingly obtuse’, perhaps; ‘frighteningly bigoted’ and ‘lacking in social graces’, definitely. But genuinely defective or imbecilic, probably not.

      And while I do acknowledge that a lot of Christians may be ‘losers’ or ‘failures’ from one perspective, I think the same could also be said of almost all people, depending on what you mean by those terms. I’ve not met anyone who had it all completely together all the time. Part of the human condition is to be to some degree messed up, and also to mess up fairly regularly. It’s why psychologists and lawyers will never be out of work.

      The crucial point for me is that while Jesus is for losers, he also gradually transforms people. I’m not expecting you to accept that, but it’s what I’ve seen and it’s what I’ve experienced for myself. It’s a slow process, and a lot of Christians can still be very irksome, small-minded and judgemental a lot of the time, but the process of becoming Christ-like is underway.

      And for myself, I’ve seen no evidence that Christianity is at bottom a cult of revenge. It’s many things, not all of them always lovely or beautiful, but that’s one I really haven’t seen.

      I genuinely wish you all the very best.

      Like

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