Big Mac Attack or Who’s Contextualizing Anyway?

Darryl linked to this post about John MacArthur’s critique of the Young, Restless and Reformed/New Calvinists. Blogger Julian Freeman gets frustrated by this line of MacArthur’s:

But for heaven’s sake don’t dress for hardball. HCo. clothes and hipster hair are essential tools of contextualization. The more casual, the better. Distressed, grunge-patterned T-shirts and ripped jeans are perfect. You would not want anyone to think you take worship as seriously as, say, a wedding or a court appearance. Be cool. Which means (of course) that you mustn’t be perceived as punctilious about matters of doctrine or hermeneutics. But whatever you do, donot fail to pay careful attention to Abercrombie & Fitch.”

I understand why this makes Julian bristle, he identifies with the YRR/NC (sounds like a boy-band tour) movement and so this is attack on his tribe if you will. Challies makes a clever observation about the same passage: “we all know he must have consulted with someone before writing of ‘HCo. clothes and hipster hair…'” I actually had to Google HCo. to figure out that it is an abbreviation for Hollister. What’s interesting here is that it is MacArthur who is contextualizing! He’s clearly taken the time to figure out where it is that younger people might buy the kind of casual clothes that makes them appear unserious to him. Is this not what “contextualization” amounts to: self-consciously tailoring one’s message or ideas to a particular audience?

Younger Christians, whether they are Reformed or Emerging or Missional or whatever are dressing simply in the same way that they are expected to dress in most cases for work and all other social occasions. By referring to casual attire as “contextualizing” MacArthur seems to be implying that the default clothing option for most Christians is still a suit and tie, that this is what they would wear if only they weren’t contextualizing. I put the picture of the Mad Men cast up there for a reason: in most jobs the suit is no longer everyday attire, that’s part of why Mad Men feels so exotic to us. In fact for those in their 20s and 30s suits are more to be associated with Mad Men theme parties, Tarantino gangsters, and ska bands.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing a suit, lots of men actually look better in a suit than in whatever else they might wear, but most of us under 40 now only own a handful of them, and we’d be more self-conscious than anything if we wore them every Sunday. I can put this another way: in the first Century, the classy garment was a toga. Now we no longer think of a toga as a classy noble’s attire, instead we think of John Belushi: