Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#216 Things that edify

Christian culture wants to edify and be edified. Edification is mentioned several times in the New Testament, basically saying we should do stuff that edifies ourselves and each other. It’s a lovely concept and Christians want to take it seriously. But the Bible doesn’t give a whole lot of specifics as to what is edifying and what isn’t. Christian culture wants to know exactly what that means, so they have filled in the blanks.

Christian culture has guidelines about which sorts of things are edifying and which aren’t. There will be instances in which you find something to be edifying that your Christian culture compatriot does not, and you’ll be afraid to tell them because they are swift to express their concern. In the same breath they are likely to cite Romans 14:19, I Thessalonians 5:11, II Corinthians 12:19, Philippians 4 or Ephesians 4 as scriptures which reference edification. This is a good start to an edifying conversation, for real, but should you persist in your contrasting opinion then they are likely to pull out I Corinthians 10:23. Christian culture likes to keep this verse holstered. It’s their trump card. It says “all things are permissible but not all things are beneficial” and it’s often the last word in a ruction such as this. Christian culture doesn’t give much credence to the “all things are permissible” part. Surely Paul didn’t mean that. He says we have freedom in Christ but that is kind of ridiculous. They give weight to the “not everything is beneficial” bit. It usually ends the discussion (and puts a damper on any relationship that was taking place) by quieting the mistakenly-edified party with a familiar dose of shame.

Everyone within the wide expanse of Christian culture knows exactly what is considered edifying. The ideas are so specific and far-reaching that you’d think they’d sent out a memo, yet they’re mostly unwritten and the whole of Christian culture holds to them with remarkable tenacity. For one, everyone understands that you need to choose your friends carefully. This is a big one: you need edifying friends. Common sense dictates this anyway, but when Christian culture says it it’s code for “Christian friends,”or more specifically, “friends active within Christian culture.” The unwritten rule says you may speak with unsaved people or Christians of a weaker stripe but you shouldn’t linger except for intentional, directed witnessing. You should also be an edifying fixture in your workplace. Your coworkers should be aware that you are a Christian, otherwise any edification you might bestow on them would not receive its due as being explicitly sourced in Christ.

Edifying movies and television programming are insisted upon. Edifying speech is another big one. There is to be no gossip (except by the prayer request loophole) or coarse joking. Dick jokes are verboten. Helen Keller jokes are pushing it. Your speech is to be edifying in the manner that Christian culture says they are edified by. This is why you hear people say “I’m really ticked” or “P.O.’d.” (Christian culture knows nothing of the Greek word scubula aka shit which Paul used with the Philippians, but that’s another blog post entirely.)

Edifying music includes Christian radio, new country, Celine Dion and Coldplay. Carrot Top is edifying. Neil Hamburger is not. The Stuff Christians Like blog is edifying. This one, not so much. Worship leaders work their tails (not asses) off to bring you the single most edifying worship experience every Sunday. At conferences they urge fellow worship leaders to examine the songs they lead. First off, they say, are the words Biblical? Does it teach about the Gospel? Is it Christ-o-centric? Does it stir my soul to worship God? Have I myself worshiped the Lord in listening to this song? I guess NWA and Gwar are getting crossed off the worship roster. No gosh-darned way. The worship leader says he is opening up more to other styles “but if the end result is that if I’m not worshiping the Lord as I listen to this song, if it does not stir me one bit, if the truth isn’t solid, and if the melody doesn’t match well with that truth, I don’t know why I would lead it at my church.” They really say that: the melody must match well with that truth. Bet they won’t be singing “Come Thou Fount” to the tune of “Killing in the Name,” even though that’s a well truthful song.

Abstract art isn’t considered edifying. The abstract scares Christian culture. They aren't edified by anything not overtly literal or immediately accessible. They prefer art that is easy to “get,” especially if it represents creation. Talking about one’s sinful past does not edify unless it’s for the sake of sharing your testimony, never for the sake of reminiscing. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling? That seems a little crazy. Better stick with the culture’s ideas of what’s edifying just to be on the safe side, and school those who get it wrong. You can’t possibly be edified by that. Would you use that language if Jesus were here? You’d watch that movie if Jesus were sitting next to you? No you would not. Christian culture is sure that they know. It’s what they do.

Here are some handy graphics to guide you in your next interaction with Christian culture.

Here's one more thing Christian culture finds edifying:

...but this picture makes them nervous.


Rocky Presley said...

That was fantastic. Great post, especially the pics in the end. And no, the assless chaps are not edifying...not one bit. I was laughing so hard that my coworkers thought I had broken something.

Steve said...

Loved it. So much that CC calls edifying, I call stomach-turning. I especially liked the contrast between this blog and Stuff Christians Like, which I increasingly find to be totally lame-o, to the point that I only go there maybe once a week. And I *really* like your last example of edifying/not-edifying.

Anonymous said...

My whole reason for visiting the Stuff Christians Like blog is for reading the comments of Michael Wong, the resident atheist. He knows how to school CC members.

Sarah said...

Fucking brilliant, Stephy.

I still have PTSD flashbacks of shame when I hear the word "edifying." No one who is not from CC uses this word. I remember all the "edifying conversations" we were supposed to have all the time with our friends in youth group, at church and at college...but really that was only when we were having lunch with our accountability partners and meeting for all girls' Bible studies (because studying the Bible with boys wouldn't be EDIFYING, due to the temptation to lust). Any other time we made lots of dick jokes and swore like be-bosomed sailors. By that point I was pretty pissed off at Christian culture though, and so were my friends, and we wanted to be as un-edifying as possible. At lunch and dinner my group had a little contest: to have the most unedifying conversations at the loudest possible volume and see how large a radius around us we could clear as people picked up their trays and moved. (I think our record was three solid rows of tables.)

I dunno, that felt really edifying to us.

Jordi said...

This is why I keep coming back. You keep hitting the nail right on the head. I can't even remember how many times I've heard the words "edify" or "edifying" or "edification". To this day, I have no idea what was meant by the word. Then again I doubt that those who lectured me (usually the youth group volunteers who typically weren't all that much older than I was when I was going to youth group) knew what it meant, either.

Todd VDW said...

I just realized I still use "edify" all the time, despite not being a part of Christian culture since I was 18. Man, old habits, hard to break, etc.

Steve said...

Oh, and I also love the picture of the Mormon missionaries. I work for a large public university in the midwest and you can't through a rock without hitting some of the Mormon missionaries who are on this campus.

Ryssa said...

I'm loving these longer posts!

Anonymous said...

It was interested that you brought up that Christians don't understand abstract art. I have seen examples of Christian abstract art. It's often a bastardised version of Abstract Expressionism, the kind of painting you'd see in a hotel lobby, but with a Bible verse painted onto it. But not Colin McCahon-esque. Just a 'artistic' way of displaying Bible verses on the living room wall.

urname said...


esp. the part about music and abstract art. and the final pics.

so glad ur back on ur own domain.

Kurt said...

Sure American Christian Culture is stupid and often does more harm than good. Franky Schaeffer wrote a book in the 80's sort of about this; "Addicted to Mediocrity".

It's says Christians embrace too much junk when it comes to art and have forgotten true quality.
Good book.

However, there is also the other side of this debate. The cool Christian. The outsider Christian. They snuggle up to the sexual immorality of the world as close as they can get. If you call them on it they say they are witnessing for Christ and "Christ ate with sinners".

When in reality these Christians are just wanting to indulge in sexual immorality, drunkeness and worldliness.

I know, I have been on both sides of the fence. Uptight church Christian (very right wing politcally and arrogant about it, of course) and I've been the outsider too wrapped up in the things of this world and sneering at the church. Now I am very moderate politcally, thank God (see I am giving credit to God so every one knows I am "Christ centric").

The danger is the cool Christian begins to crave worldly approval and starts to throw out sound doctrine because the world doesn't want to hear about Jesus.

Anyways, love this blog.

Jonesy said...


Also, after discovering this blog, I went back and read all 215 past entries and kept thinking, "Yes! This is why I'm so glad I'm out of this, hopefully forever."

What a relief.

stephy said...

@Kurt: "The danger is the cool Christian begins to crave worldly approval and starts to throw out sound doctrine."

@Kurt: do they always do this? Or could they be starting to live into being more fully who they truly are? Being cool does not even enter the equation. Being cool is a lie. Christianity is about being truly oneself.

Another Sarah said...

I gather it is a sign of just how non edifying my life has been that I recognize Obama at his book signing but have no idea who the "edifying" author is next to him.

Oh, and my non CC mother would use the term edifying to describe those things that are dutiful and helpful but not necessarily a good time like eating your vegetables etc. which I think is closer to its original definition.

One of the things that has always been a clear indication that I am dealing with Christian Evangelical Culture is that words in the English language suddenly carry new, secret, coded meaning that I'm pretty sure the dictionary isn't familiar with. By not knowing the code, I expose myself as a "lesser" Christian and suddenly face intense witnessing despite being baptized.

Tony D said...

Your second paragraph gives a good description of white Evangelicalism's favorite game, which I call "Bible Ping-Pong." The object isn't to actually communicate, it's to blow the ball past your opponent.

Another Sarah: Just from hanging out here, I think I can guess who the other book signer is. Is it Beth Moore? (I've never heard of her outside of SCCL but I think it's a safe bet.)

CAPTCHA: synodabs. Is that a bringing together of Brylcreem users?

Kurt said...

@Stephy: Sure being cool is a lie but being truly oneself is also not what God calls us to in the Bible. We are new creations when we are born again through faith in Christ (sorry to go Bible on everyone).

If I am a hate filled arrogant jerk, I am commanded to forske that and walk in love towards those in the church and outside of it. This might be who I truly am but its not what God wants.

I remember attending a college age Bible study and someone brought a beer to it. I was offended because things done just to provoke others are just as dumb as some of the trappings of Christian culture. Its not love to flaunt our freedom in Christ to other believers who aren't mature enough to understand that freedom.

stephy said...

"Sure being cool is a lie but being truly oneself is also not what God calls us to in the Bible."

@Kurt: What do you think about Hans Rookmaaker's quote "Jesus didn't come to make us Christian. Jesus came to make us fully human"?

Jess P said...

"The abstract scares Christian culture. They aren't edified by anything not overtly literal or immediately accessible."

Great stuff, Stephy. One of your best posts.

Bill said...

@Kurt: God can only change who you are once you are who you are. If you are busy trying to be not who you are, you are trying on your own--and likely listening to a man, not the Holy Spirit, which is a kind of idolatry, and embracing formula, which is pharisaical. Following that road leads to the damage so many people here have experienced.

The problem with the phrase "walk in love" is that CC often uses this as code to enforce certain actions, eg, action x is love, action y isn't. I think that's wrong. Love is naturally empathetic and recognizes the humanity of the next person; proper action will flow from it. That's why Jesus's responses to people in the Gospels is not as inconsistent as might first appear: he responded to people where they were, in the voice they needed to hear.

That's part of the miracle of Incarnation, and it depends on honesty and forgiveness, both of ourselves and each other.

Kurt said...

@Stephy I like that quote alot. I had never heard it. However, being fully human is something only God can know perfectly what that is and looks like. We humans can't define it and then say to God "hey its just who I am".

That being said I know that God is not the Christian Culture. He is and He wants us to be like Him and not in a fake plastic way.

Modern Christian Culture needs skewering so keep it up. I am reminded of the quote in 1st Corinthians "your meetings do more harm then good".

This is how I feel about most churches and their cultures.

@Bill I think I understand what you are saying and agree with it. I think in church we all put on our false faces because we can't allow our fellow Christians to see our pain and mistakes. Unfortunately, the church in general will not accept people who have screwed up ( I speak from experience) or people who have needs (especially financial) and those people need to move on because church seems like its only for winners and those who are doing OK. Once you are a Christian you are not supposed to make mistakes.

Whereas Jesus will take our pain and sins and make something good out of them.

Tony D said...

I guess I really will never "get" CC. What could possibly be wrong with bringing beer to Bible study? Unless you didn't bring enough for everyone, of course.

On the Jesus-Bin Laden picture: I'm reminded of the best church marquee sign ever: "You only love Jesus as much as the person you love the least."

Zrim said...

"Christianity is about being truly oneself."

Actually, I think that was Shakespeare, as in to thine own self be true (Hamlet). It's good temporal advice. But I think Christianity has a more eternal reach and is about being reconciled to God.

Also, Kurt and Stephy, with apologies to Rookmaaker, we are fully human. As soon as we are conceived we are fully human. Our condition may be sinful but our essence is just fine. So I would rather say that Jesus came to repair our condition, not our essence. To say that Jesus came to make us fully human seems like a way to undermine our very good creation. Which is so CCish to me. You know, how it contsructs redemptive versions of creation, and badly to boot.

stephy said...

From where I stand, Christian culture reduces people's humanity. It encourages them to repress it and they're controlled by guilt and attempts to measure up to a standard.

If you believe in a sin nature, it makes sense to me that you would also believe that it would bind you. From there it seems to me that someone who believes in a sin nature would allow that Jesus came to bring us out of what binds us.

Kurt said...

This has all been very edifying.

I will now put on my petra cds and rock out.

gaypet said...

"If you believe in a sin nature, it makes sense to me that you would also believe that it would bind you. From there it seems to me that someone who believes in a sin nature would allow that Jesus came to bring us out of what binds us."

Exactly! If there is no sin then there is no need for redemption. THAT is good news. And true freedom.

Zrim said...

Stephy, you wrote; “If you believe in a sin nature, it makes sense to me that you would also believe that it would bind you. From there it seems to me that someone who believes in a sin nature would allow that Jesus came to bring us out of what binds us.” I think I understand, and agree. But if it’s true that Jesus came to set us free then I don’t think it’s really kosher to say that he came to make us fully human. We are fully human, but also fully captive to sin by nature.

Or think of it this way: the liberators of concentration camps set the captives free, they didn’t make the prisoners fully human. They were always fully human (which is what made their captivity and persecution so gruesome) but imprisoned, but now still fully human but free. I don’t imagine any of them thanked their liberators for making them more human, but rather for their work of liberation. Does that make sense?

stephy said...

I do see what you mean now. It strikes me as a technicality.

Annabelle said...

My kids had a teacher at their Christian school who wouldn't allow "coded cursing", e.g., shoot, gosh, darn, frick. As a parent, you try so hard to tell your kids to respect the authorities over them, but that was a little too ridiculous not to laugh at.

Chrissy said...

Annabelle, Your story reminded me, that in 8th grade I had a teacher who would rebuke us if we said "God bless you" after someone sneezed. She'd say "Do NOT say that! Superstitions are not allowed in my classroom." I guess superstitions aren't only unedifying; they're borderline evil. People are so weird...

Bill said...

I remember teachers like that. Now when people sneeze I rush to it. It's one of the few places in modern life you can openly bless people and not be thought crazy.

Tony D said...

No, no, no...you're supposed to say "You're SOOOOO good looking!"

Evan Scott said...

Simply a great post, and the truth of it only heightens the tragic humor of it all. It reminds me of the many times CC invokes "God's will" or "the leading of the Spirit" either to demand conformity or sanctify (occasionally well-reasoned, but usually selfish) decisions.

This is my first time commenting on here, but your post has been a nice island of clarity (and hilarity) in a time of confusion and uncertainty. And you do it while avoiding sounding too acerbic! Incredible!

I guess that's my way of saying, "Thanks! Keep doing what you're doing."

aorto said...

Reminds me of pointing out to a coworker that if, as Christians, we are called to love our enemy then the end result of the bin Laden saga was a complete failure.

A puzzled look overtook him as if he wasn't sure I was serious.

Anonymous said...

I think the Greek word is "skata," as in "scatalogical."

clematis88 said...


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Amaranthos said...

All I really want to say is, thank you; with all of my heart, thank you. I've been questioning my own faith recently, and "the way things are done." And I came up short on pretty much all of it.

So I've been trying to separate God from Christian Culture, and with the social circles I have, that's been a very lonely job. All my non-christian friends love and respect me and what I'm doing (now), and maybe three of my lifelong Christian friends have NOT questioned whether or not I'm a Christian in the first place.

It got to the place where I literally thought I was crazy for a week or two. This entire blog...I started with your most recent post and have been (will continue after this!) just going down the list reading everything you have.

I seriously did not know that other people like you existed. Thank you, and may God bless you to keep doing what you're doing. I've already rambled on long enough, I know; but I'd like to share a quote from one of my non-christian friends with you.

"I think you give Christianity a good name when lots of other people give it a bad name. You're weeding out people who don't practice what they say they believe, and in this way repairing the damage that has been done to the reputation of the religion over many years. I admire that."

Keep changing the world, one post at a time.

stephy said...

<3 <3 <3
Thank YOU. This community has been incredibly healing for me as well.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious that the photo for "edifying use of microphone" includes the lead pastor of my former church.

Sam said...

I don't know why people haven't heard "edify" in a non-evangelical context. I've always known it to be synonymous with "inform."

Deena said...

How is it that I identify passionately as a Christian, but identify culturally with nearly every example on the right??? :-D

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