Skinny jeans a la 17th century. Could you imagine Phil Johnson preaching in this garb?

I dunno! Every time I listen to a Phil Johnson sermon it seems he’s having a go at someone in the Church.

He has issues with the non-reformed theologists. Why wouldn’t he? He’s mentored by John McArthur, who even has a conference dedicated to chewing out evangelical charismatics.

I was listening to another gruelling session where Phil complained endlessly about people without giving a single example of what he opposed, when, towards the end, he actually named a name and threw a spiteful sideswipe in the direction of Carl Lentz, who is a young minister successfully reaching New Yorkers with the gospel in a dynamic way.

Here’s a portion of Phil’s rant.

 ‘Paul was no publicity hound or hipster, either. From the way he describes himself here, and the way he defends himself in 2 Corinthians, it’s clear that no one ever thought of Paul as a pop idol. He did not cultivate the kind of stylish charm and charisma that the world notices and admires. No one ever would have nicknamed him “the apostle of cool.”

     That’s the title secular men’s magazine bestowed on Carl Lentz, pastor of the Hillsong Church in New York City. Here’s how that article opens and introduces pastor Lentz: “With the Lord as his swagger coach, the 34-year-old pastor is turning Hillsong Church in New York City into a Pentecostal powerhouse and a destination for the in crowd. Drawn by his concertlike sermons and pop-idol looks, Lentz’s fast growing flock of groupies includes Justin Bieber, NBA superstars, and young Hollywood celebs.” And then this secular men’s magazine asks the million-dollar question: “Whom, exactly, is this new apostle of cool seeking to glorify?”

     I think I’d resign from ministry and drop out of sight in embarrassment if a men’s style magazine ever referred to me as “The apostle of cool.” (And can I just say that I don’t think any leading figure in church history has ever thought of the Lord as his “swagger coach.” Bieber has a “swagger coach” too, by the way. For the record, I don’t.) But the sad truth is that thousands of young men in full-time ministry would love to have an article like that written about them.

     Then there are the hipster pastors – a subculture of unkempt 20 and 30 somethings who favor skinny jeans, weird glasses, scruffy beards, and so-called progressive ideas.  Hipsters have become the brunt of almost every joke in secular culture. But evangelicals who chase fads always lag behind, and hipster religion is still trending among evangelical young people.

     This year’s fashions will be followed by some other notion of what’s cool as the fad-driven church presses on. Stylish evangelicals seem to love their own flamboyance far more than they care about lost souls. A lot of what’s called “ministry” these days is mere spectacle – bad performance art. It is precisely the kind of thing Paul condemns here in our passage.’

Well, of course, Paul could never have been a pop idol in the same way Justin Bieber is. He was, however, the leading Pharisee persecutor of the Church who was apprehended by Christ on the way to Damascus before he could do any more damage to Christians. But what does Paul say to the Corinthians?

1 Corinthians 2:18-21 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

So no mention, here, of what we should look like, or how we should present the gospel. Nothing about never being a ‘hipster’. Certainly not a word about ‘skinny jeans’, or ‘weird glasses’.

Was Jesus a hipster in His day?

What’s weird about Carl’s glasses, anyway? I don’t think he wears them, does he? I believe Jesus had a beard. Probably never trimmed. It was standard in His day. He wore a seamless tunic, which was also top of the line. And sandals. He’s always pictured with long hair, which was typical of His day amongst Jewish Rabiiis, and still is.

Carl Lentz may dress in a way that encourages the media to call him a hipster, but what has that to do with the way in which he ministers the gospel? Is Phil looking at outward things? God looks on the heart. God calls the foolish, base, weak and despised to confound the wise.

Clearly Carl is being effective with his preaching. The church he pastors is growing at a rapid rate through conversions. That must be what counts here. Not what he wears, or how he presents the ageless message of faith, hope and love.

He is known as a fiery preacher, not as a motivational speaker.

Skinny britches of the 18th century, modelled by husband in a typical family circa American Revolution.

It is the Word of the Cross that saves people, not how we present ourselves. Dress sense changes over the centuries. There was a time when men wore tights and wigs, and even make-up, including the clergy. It was just the way things were in that era.

No skinny jeans for Phil

Maybe Johnson is upset with people like Carl Lentz because he can carry off skinny jeans, but Phil might have trouble getting into them. He is definitely visiting the oversize department when shopping for trousers. Actually, Phil, skinny jeans are quite comfortable, and an excellent incentive to get some of the weight off.

Doesn’t Phil know that, through the ages, skinny trousers have been in and out of vogue, just like the wide European suits he wears.

What is it to anyone the way the media describes a person, anyway?

Phil says, “I think I’d resign from ministry and drop out of sight in embarrassment if a men’s style magazine ever referred to me as “The apostle of cool.”‘ That is grossly unkind and spiteful.

The phrase ‘apostle of cool’ means nothing, really. It merely says that the writer identifies with Carl in a certain way, and as close to a complement the unsaved media can give, really.

It was the media article that referred to the Lord as a ‘swagger coach’, not Carl. That is their ignorance shining forth, and nothing to do with Carl.

Phil must know this, but he still determined to embellish his sermon on pet hates with this gossip. It is even more ignorant to demonise Carl for having been lumped with these clumsy attributions by a secular magazine.

As Paul says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

The gospel is what counts, not trends or opinion

Maybe the fact that, as Phil pointedly points out, Carl is amongst the weak, low, foolish and despised qualifies him to be able to preach the cross week after week and see thousands come to the Lord in New York City. That way God gets the glory, not Carl.

Cool glasses, trimmed beard and wide suit trousers make the man.

Perhaps the skinny jeans and manicured beard have nothing much to do with anything.

Perhaps Carl merely wears these things because he is younger than Phil Johnson, and slimmer, that is what younger people with a slighter frame than Phil often wear, and maybe Phil should just wear what he is comfortable with and get on with preaching the good news, instead of tearing into other ministers who are working in another part of the vineyard with the people to whom God has sent them.

Maybe then Phil will be too busy making disciples of converts to even spend time reading secular reports in the media or preparing negative sermons about other ministers of the gospel.