Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

Gang Bangers and the New Perspective

A local entertainment club company is taking heat for implementing a new dress code in downtown Kansas city clubs. The rationale for the dress code is that it is an effective way to disarm the perception that downtown venues are not safe, but the complaints against it are that the dress code successfully discriminates against hip-hop culture. Right or wrong, this slice of real-life is an excellent example of the kinds of problems that the Gospel addresses, and exactly the kind of barriers between peoples that the Gospel is breaking down.

Or so might N.T. Wright say, present day Bishop of Durham and modern biblical scholar that is throwing a five hundred year old reading of Paul into a tizzy with a New Perspective. The entire reformed tradition of Bible interpretation is founded upon what Martin Luther thought Paul the Apostle was saying: mainly that the point of the Gospel was that men have to trust that God’s salvation is given freely, and is not based on their own merits of exemplary behavior. And given the oppressive religious climate in Luther’s day, it’s easy to see how he could have read Paul’s letter to the Romans, looked out his window, and thought, “I know exactly what this guy is talking about.”

But did he? N.T. Wright points out that Paul’s idea that men can’t save themselves by behaving good enough (justification by faith) is not just a New Testament idea. While Paul’s writings have a fantastic application for Luther’s battle against institutionalized hypocrisy, Paul was probably fighting a different kind of hypocrite, and one that is more common to the human race, especially to modern Gang-Bangerophobes. And here’s how: Paul and the Jews of his day knew all the Old Testament verses about how no one’s efforts could possibly buy them a ticket to heaven (the kind of tickets Luther’s hypocrites were actually selling). The question was not “how do we get saved” but rather, “who is include in the group of people that are going to get saved.” And the answer is not found in a person’s doctrine, but in a person’s clothing style.

And far more. The “works of the Law” that Paul’s Jews were confusing were a laundry list of items that defined their culture. They had to do with dress, and diet, and (gulp) circumcision. So when non-Jews started getting born again, naturally they started wondering if that meant that these heathen converts had to stop eating pork and get circumcised too.

And naturally this question betrays a form of hypocrisy fundamental to humans, like when Peter ducked down in the backseat of his Gentile buddy’s Saab so his Jewish friends wouldn’t see him in the Pork-Filet drive through. The issue that defined Jewish culture for centuries was, among other things, their peculiar culinary preferences; and Peter didn’t want to suffer second class status in the eyes of his Jewish compatriots by being seen crossing that line. But Paul insists, in letter after letter, that the Gospel deliberately crosses the most sacred of lines and includes patrons of all restaurants in the people of God– provided they submit to Jesus the Messiah.

Now this Gospel actually speaks nothing into the dance club dress-code situation of downtown Kansas City; people do what they do, and sue who they sue. But it does address the church in this city at least: don’t define membership like a dance club would. The dance club demonizes anyone who wears bandanas, work boots, sports jerseys, and thick chains. But what would happen, I wonder, if God initiated a great move of His spirit and ushered thousands of young adults into salvation out of the Hip-Hop movement? Would people wag their heads and doubt the genuiness of their faith? Would we redefine what the “people of God” looked like, or would we make them trade in their work boots for Crocs?

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July 12, 2008 - Posted by | Christ

1 Comment »

  1. I’m always looking for fresh examples from real life of how we define the ins and outs culturally; there are so many, and they nearly all have value judgments attached to them.

    Comment by bretmavrich | July 13, 2008 | Reply


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