Rebellion from Within

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 11, 2005

I recently picked up Nation of Rebels a book arguing that the American counter-culture is dead.  Our counter cultures have been embraced by the consumer culture.

So much of my generation’s re-envisioning of church is wrapped up in embracing the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel.  That’s cool.  Unfortunately, many churches do counter cultural things in the conventional sense–they embrace an edgier style and challenge the status quo with no clear reason for doing so.  This is a sort of rebellion of externals. "We reject the status quo because it doesn’t seem to fit.  So we’ll do things that seem counter-cultural–like get tatoos and play edgy music, and hang out at bars." I’ve known many Christians who revel in drinking beer because it is against the evangelical culture.   I’ve known Christians who tatoo themselves or get pierced because they perceive it to be an act of liberty.  These sort of things are counter-cultural in a sense…but they aren’t counter cultural in the Christian sense.  Most of what Christians consider to be counter cultural are no longer counter culutral.

Let me be clear–it isn’t that drinking or tatooing are wrong.  They just aren’t exactly world shaking.  But the Gospel is.  And sometimes we let externals shape our sense of being a counter culture, rather than embracing what it means to be a Gospel community.  Truly embracing the Gospel is counter cultural and will always be so–for the Gospel runs counter to human nature.  The kingdom cannot be seen naturally.  When we embrace the Kingdom, it will always be a counter cultural act.  And when we do this, our sense of being counter cultural will flow from within.  When we understand that, then we can quibble over elements of style.

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21 Responses to “Rebellion from Within”

  1. Anon A Mouse on October 11th, 2005 9:53 pm

    Like, I went to the mall to buy my super cool Goth stuff at this chain store that’s like in every other mall, but I didn’t go the Mall of America because it’s, like, so *commercial*. I want to be different just like my friends! We sit around at the church coffee shop, which is kind of edgy that a church has a coffee shop, and we roll our eyes at the old people, like, over thirty, and talk about how they are so behind the new wave of God. But not ‘New Wave’, because that was so ’80’s. By the way, why do I hear Ska music on Christian radio, but not on secular? Any way, are you telling me that just because I act differently from the status quo I’m not nesessarily being counter-culture? I’ve paid out so much money! Can I get a refund from my youth Pastor?

  2. Van S on October 11th, 2005 10:14 pm

    Mr. Mouse…I hear the 80’s preppy look is the new look for the counter-culture.

  3. Suzanna Bond on October 12th, 2005 2:46 pm

    I was just thinking about this today driving down my street. To be really walking the kingdom, I should be getting to know these people. But it’s too scary and I think I really won’t like them. I am facing a need to repent from my petty fake counter-culture that doesn’t really make changes, but merely makes me feel more accepted by the “cool” people.

  4. blorge on October 12th, 2005 3:45 pm

    I’ve been giving it some thought and I’ve realized that it’s ok for people to go out and start drinking beer and getting tattoos so long as they try to separate them from our ecclesiology.

    What I’m trying to get at is the fact that we all have to establish our own independence from our parents and institutions that have shaped us. It’s natural to push away at various points in our lives (let’s not be harsh on teeniebopers or frat house boys because they’re not the only ones).

    It’s ok, in this sense for people to start being “counter cultural” in this sense because they’re showing the conservative church that they have a culture that isn’t necessarily worth keeping in tact.

  5. Surly Dave on October 12th, 2005 4:25 pm

    “It’s ok, in this sense for people to start being “counter cultural” in this sense because they’re showing the conservative church that they have a culture that isn’t necessarily worth keeping in tact.”

    So blorge, are you for being counter-cultural just as an act of rebellion, or are you for being counter-cultural because God is leading you down a path of restoration?

    Because if people are being counter-cultural just to be “in-your-face, man!”, then all they are doing is helping harden the views (and hearts) of people who are part of the conservative church.

  6. Chris on October 12th, 2005 6:42 pm

    I think the important thing for me is to understand what we mean by counter-cultural. A counter-culture is a culture that is set up in direct contradistinction to another culture. In that sense, maybe there are lots of cultures that are counter-cultural, or at least started that way. I think that better than saying there are no counter-cultures in America is to say that any counter-culture in America is only a sub-culture and not a fully realized culture.

  7. T.J. on October 13th, 2005 10:35 am

    Someone’s got an itch that needs scratchin’…
    Do these pathetic and desperately misguided people have names? Or are you painting a very simplistic picture of people you don’t really KNOW? Look at the condescending attitude that results in the follow-up posts when you make caricatures out of people. I agree with your “affirmative” statements about the gospel being counter-cultural; the statements you make about christians who get tattoos and piercings would make me sneer at them on the street, if I weren’t one of them. I think you need to take a look at what you are breeding in people’s hearts, read the posts after you write these things, and ask if you are really bringing truth to these issues, or are you helping these posters feel superior to others simply because they have evolved enough to recognize the futility in other people’s lives. Really, Mark, “christian punks” are your brothers and sisters in christ, and if anyone has made an idol out of appearance they should be addressed individually and privately; rather than painting them with a broad brush. If your “friends” here, on this blog, walked into the salvage yard church, what would their assumptions be, besides WRONG?

    P.S. Drinking is a completely different issue.


  8. Van S on October 13th, 2005 11:20 am

    Hmmm…I can hardly be blamed if someone desides to air their angst against punkers. Only one person actually said anything that much against punkers. This blog has lots of readers and we don’t all agree. I don’t censor people and if you want to address him directly, please do so. I’m not sure why you’re upset at me.

    If you read my post, you’ll notice that I never say anything negative about anyone. My point wasn’t to make fun of people who do counter-cultural things any more than I want to make fun of people who don’t. My point is that these things are pretty irrelevant when it comes to the heart of the Gospel, which is the actually counter-cultural thing. The whole point of this post wasn’t to say “hey look at punks–gee they are silly.” It is to challenge many new churches that are starting up and say “hey, you are definitely exploring some edgier things stylistically, but make sure you focus on what makes us truly distinctive.”

    I have really no issue whatsoever with punkers, and it wasn’t even punkers I was thinking of. If I was picking on anyone it is people in the emerging church, who upon finding new freedom decide to push boundaries. Unfortunately, they often tie their experience of Church to their new freedoms. I just want to challenge that a bit.

  9. Chris on October 13th, 2005 11:32 am

    If I were to walk into the salvage yard church, I think I would probably have the same reaction I have to just about any church like it: “The decorations are different, the structure is the same.” That’s not an indictment of the people that go there, because I understand there are groups of people in the church that are trying to do something different, and that’s fine. I just don’t think the level of rethinking present is really high enough to do anything. BTW, painting people with a broad brush might include putting the word friends in quotes and making really blanket statements about commentators on other people’s blogs.

  10. T.J. on October 13th, 2005 6:06 pm

    Mark, I whole-heartedly agree with the point you are making. I just wonder how many conversations you have had with people who embrace edgier styles of music with no clear reason for doing so; or people who think getting a tattoo is world shaking; or people who get pierced as an expression of their liberty? The reasons you give for these people is what comes off as condescending, how can we not stand aside and think “these people” are ridiculous, because if they do exist, they are ridiculous. The problem is now discernment, how do you separate the “posers” from the sincere ones; I guess you have to talk to each one, or let each person who fits the appearance fend for themselves… and the whole thing is, we never had to go down this road in the first place. What you said is true for everyone, it could have been said positively and we would have understood. When you simplify the reasons why people make certain decisions it is hard not to pass judgement. Obviously, I was personally offended by your entry, I thought, is this what Mark thinks of me? I waited and yes, prayed for years before getting my nose rings, I think nose rings are just pretty, but I waited to see where God would be calling me, I never wanted my appearance to be a roadblock. People’s reasons for doing things are sometimes more complex than are convenient for us to write about in a short entry. The “christian punk” idea was from the end of your green day post; and finally, I know many people who fit your description in appearance, but personally, I do not know anyone who doesn’t recognize first that it is the gospel message that goes against the grain. No hard feelings?

  11. Van S on October 13th, 2005 8:30 pm


    I’m sorry if I sound condescending. I think you hear me saying something completely other than what I am saying. I don’t think that anyone who gets a tatoo or drinks or whatever (I gave these sorts of descriptions arbitrarily anyhow) is silly at all, nor should we try to discern why they have a tattoo or drink or are pierced. My point is that these things are irrelevant to the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel. In all sincerity, I don’t think any less of anyone who is piereced (like my brother) or tatooed (like my father or all of my brothers) or who smokes (like everyone in my family except me and my father) or drinks (like me). These things are sincerely irrelevant to me. What bothers me–is when Christians make cultural expressions of counter-culture part of their Christian expression of being part of the Kingdom of God. And this happens. I don’t think there is anything condescending whatsoever to ask people who, when experiencing freedom to explore things unconventional, to not equate that to the freedom and edginess that is found in the Kingdom of God. No hard feelings.

  12. Van S on October 14th, 2005 9:44 pm

    Just wanted to update:

    TJ and I are friends. Blogging sometimes makes it easy for two people to miscommunicate with each other. We’ve continued an email dialogue and have worked things out. I think the point that I was trying to make is a good one, but the way I made it wasn’t thought out very well and it is easy to see why a punk or the friend of a punk would get a bit irked. It is in situations like this that I am reminded that online dialogue is not the same as a community. My friendship wth TJ in the real world is perhaps the only reason we are able to come to an understanding at all. It is very difficult to know someone’s heart without really knowing them.

  13. knightofpan on October 14th, 2005 10:09 pm

    What could be more counter culture then totaly surrendering your will and individuality to a slave god?

  14. Van S on October 15th, 2005 1:37 am

    I’m not sure what point you’re making.

  15. knightofpan on October 15th, 2005 4:44 am

    A lot of American counter culture is a reflection of the individual to establish himself as seperate from the social norms. Christianity is the opposite: the surrender of one’s will and individuality to another’s (God’s) will. In other words, counter culture seeks to reflect individuality, Christianity seeks the conforming of one’s will to a master.

  16. Mike on October 16th, 2005 9:47 pm

    Yep, couldn?t agree more. Trouble is we desire to be different but embrace the same methods of getting there that others have. We dress different, listen to edger music, claim to reject standard Christian values, we say “I?m not being like them”. But we haven?t got to the heart of it. That is “what is it to be a disciple of Jesus?”
    That?s what make?s us different. Early Christians stood out not because of their tattoos but because their actions went counter to the culture, in obedience to Christ?s teachings. Some of this count-culture Christianity proves people have missed the point. How many of your neighbors, co-workers, fellow students do we really get to know and engage with the gospel? Maybe we can take our tattoo artist out for coffee?

  17. knightofpan on October 17th, 2005 7:00 am

    So tell me, why would you have a public blog, then alter comments posted by people? Are Christians incapable of dialogue with people who think differntly them them? The previous comments attributed to me are not mine!
    This one is:”What could be more counter culture then totaly surrendering your will and individuality to a slave god?” but you now attribute it to yourself!

    Just another example of a close minded people.

    Once again I ask, why host a public blog then alter people’s comments. It is not logical!

    You could have responded that you disagree, instead you chaange my reply to your post. The word that comes to mind is DECEPTION!

  18. knightofpan on October 17th, 2005 7:07 am

    Sorry for the last post, been a long night. The way your blog formats the previous bloger’s infor appears at the top, or in the same box as the current post. I stand corrected.

  19. Van S on October 17th, 2005 7:23 am

    I’m sorry that the way things are posted isn’t clear. Your reaction was pretty strong, I must say. You seem to be passionate about being free to explore truth without any sort of confines or limitations. Would it be safe to say that you think you are more free than people who follow the Christian path?

  20. knightofpan on October 17th, 2005 4:29 pm

    Where I’m at spiritually is a natural progression from my days as a Christian. After studying the Bible in Greek and Hebrew my beliefs changed after seeing the scriptures in the earlier languages. I saw big differences in the way the greek NT reads as opposed to the translations we have in english. I then went on to read the Nag Hamadi texts, etc and my views changed. This is a very, very abbreviated answer. I respect any true seeker of truth as long as they accept other peoples right to honestly seek truth themselves.

  21. blorge on October 18th, 2005 11:18 am

    Where has your path of seeking truth taken you? Do you as if it has been worthwhile?

    (I’m not trying to bait you, I’m just curious. It’s a question I ask of anyone who has made a conscious decision to leave Christianity).

    (feel free to email me, if you’d like: [email protected])

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